Cambridge Music Festival
2019 Festival dates 6-14 November
Justin Lee didn’t grow up in a particularly musical family but an early habit of singing on the loo led to singing in the local church choir, studying music at university, and spending nearly 19 years in the orchestra sector working variously with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Academy of Ancient Music and the Southbank Sinfonia. When he took over as director of the Cambridge Music Festival in 2012, he had two aims in mind: to bring musicians of the highest calibre to Cambridge, and to programme a festival that does unusual things.
The 2019 Festival offers a hugely varied repertoire from Handel’s coronation anthems performed by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge with the Academy of Ancient Music, to music that explores sound almost for its own sake with Gérard Grisey’s Talea, haunting and mysterious, performed by Explore Ensemble.
There’s a decidedly French tinge to this year’s festival. The Trio Manouche play Django Reinhardt classics to recreate the intoxicating atmosphere of the Hot Club de France of 1930s Paris, and Steven Osborne plays the rarely performed, cult piano piece by Messiaen, Vingt Regards (or twenty contemplations) which encompasses everything from jazzy rhythms to melodies that are so beautiful they make time stand still. Grammy award-winning saxophonist Amy Dickson presents an evening of classical, jazz, Argentine tango and the minimalism of Philip Glass, and headline act Joshua Bell, one of the top violinists in the world, plays Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields (who are celebrating their 60th anniversary this year).
Justin describes himself as a relatively well-informed enthusiast not a musical authority. What he wants to share is his passion for live music, how it makes you feel, whether it’s beautiful, moving or even disturbing. It’s not an academic exercise – music is visceral. The festival programme, and the musicians performing in it, truly reflect that vision.