Newbury Spring Festival

Figo Young Artists Lunchtime Recital


Free Tickets for Under 25s


This scheme means those aged under 25 can come to Festival events free of charge.


Tickets are limited to one per person and are subject to availability. Proof of age is required when tickets are collected. Tickets should be booked in person at the Box Office or on the telephone.


Writing a review of the experience offers the chance of winning a cash prize (see below for Young Festival Critics competition details).


For a full list of events which are included in this scheme, click here, or look out for the logo on each event page.




Young Festival Critics Competition


How To Be a Critic
Register To Be a Critic
2019 Judges
The Competition Prize
Edward Seckerson


See a performance, write a short review and you could win £100!


We are looking for reviewers to cover events from our programme of world-class music staged in some amazing venues around Berkshire.


Becoming a Festival Critic is a great way to indulge your love of live music, hone your writing skills and enhance your CV or university application.


If you’re between the ages of 15 to 25, see a performance and then write a short review telling us what you thought of it, you could win a cash prize.


£100 first prize with two runner up prizes of £50.



Your review will be judged by a panel of professional judges


From the media and music world and will be posted on the Festival website. It needs to be approximately 250 words.


This year’s judges are:


Jessica Isaacs Head of Production BBC Radio 3
Kate Green Deputy Editor Country Life
Trish Lee Arts Editor Newbury Weekly News
Rebecca Johns PR Manager Premier



How to be a Critic


You can download a comprehensive guide to writing a review here


Please send your reviews to no later than 48 hours after the performance. We’re looking forward to reading them.


‘I have never experienced a show like this before but, I am now a true believer that opportunities like this are a once in a lifetime and would advise anyone with a chance to be part of it to get involved.’ Mark, 23


This year's entries

The Doric String Quartet

Wednesday 22nd May 2019

Englefield House, Theale




The stunning estate of Englefield House was host to a delightfully balanced programme of Haydn’s ‘Joke’ quartet (Op. 33 No. 2), Martinu’s 3rd quartet and Beethoven’s Op.131. These quartets span entirely different lengths, tonal worlds and eras, yet all reveal the string quartet’s power as a medium for experimentation.


The Doric String Quartet ensured this fact was not lost on the audience: the rubato of Haydn’s phrasing highlighted his inventions without self-indulgence, particularly in the single-finger portamentos of the scherzo’s trio and of course in the finale, where pauses become as vital as notes themselves. Martinu followed, maintaining Haydn’s zeal for experimenting, and resulting in a dense jazz-influenced score that needed the transparency of the Doric’s playing to prevent the narrative from being lost.


It was, nevertheless, the titanic Op. 131 quartet of Beethoven that took centre stage, which the cellist John Myerscough described as the ‘greatest quartet of all time’. Their love of it was enough to sustain the 40 minutes of playing without breaks between movements. A work of this length and depth requires a clear structural interpretation as well as a vivacity to prevent the work from dragging. The Doric provided such a masterclass, clearly articulating the haunting opening fugal theme and taking a full-blooded approach to the dramatic final movements.


Their performance was the perfect union of energy and intelligence, and I look forward hearing them a 3rd time, having already heard them in Bradford-on-Avon.


Michael Seath, 19

A Tribute to Benny Goodman
The Julian Bliss Septet

Friday 24th May 2019

Corn Exchange, Newbury




The world-renowned Julian Bliss Septet played an incredible performance to a packed audience in Newbury’s Corn Exchange.


When playing, the band’s enjoyment was evident and their energy transferred to the audience: within 30 seconds of stepping on stage, they had us laughing and, over the next two hours, we were stomping our feet in time with the swing, or sitting silently, captivated by the trills and slurs of Julian Bliss (clarinet).


The septet played pieces in the style of Benny Goodman, by artists such as Gershwin. The jazz ranged from slow, passionate pieces to songs that were so upbeat and fast that the drummer’s sticks and arms were blurs - we even heard a jazzed-up version of Paganini’s ‘Caprice No. 24’!


It was not just the jazz which made this concert stand out; Julian Bliss and Neal Thornton (piano) added another dimension by further entertaining the audience with snippets of information about Goodman, often accompanied by a witty comment.


Each musician was clearly very talented, illustrated by their improvisations. Led by Julian Bliss, one of the world’s most prestigious clarinettists, the band consisted of a piano, trumpet, bass, guitar, drums and a vibraphone. I had never seen a vibraphone in a jazz band before; it was an amazing addition and created a unique mix of sounds with the other instruments. Lewis Wright (‘vibes’) delighted the audience with his stunning solos.


I would highly recommend seeing this group, if only to marvel at Julian Bliss’s amazingly well polished and shiny shoes!


Kit Redfern, 16

Studio 5

Sunday 19th May 2019

St Mary's Church, Kintbury




I recently went to a ‘Studio 5’ performance in Kintbury Church as part of the Newbury Spring Festival. Being an avid trombonist myself, I was really interested to hear a trombone quartet. The programme was completely varied throughout the night, with Beethoven’s Germanic chords as well as Austrian processional marches (used in Beethoven's funeral march) in the first half, and jazzy melodies through the second half. It was a great choice of programme with contrasting pieces showing off the plethora of sounds the trombone can make, from harsh staccato notes to long chords. We visited Vienna, Operas and Teddy Bears picnics.

The light atmosphere was often due to the showmanship of Michael Buchanan, a
Newbury man and a leading trombone artist. His narration of the pieces and
contextual information meant the audience had a real grasp of the pieces, as well as
hearing solos and trios. We became aware of different trombones, with small, high
alto trombones, the regular tenor, and the deep bass trombone.

Being a trombonist myself it was really interesting to look at the techniques used by
the professionals and I was stunned by the clean articulation provided in the top
range, even when playing exceptionally fast, which from personal experience I knew
was very difficult. I was also in awe of the stamina of the players, nailing a flawless
concert with seriously high notes for 2 hours. It was a truly phenomenal
performance, showing the true colours if the trombone.

Felix Kind, 15

BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Saturday 11th May 2019

St. Nicolas Church



In this beautiful idyllic setting of St Nicholas Church plays BBC’s National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Jac Van Steen with his poignant, sharp style he conducts this strong orchestra.


Upon entering the church, I felt the anticipation as the orchestra were playing their instruments, getting ready for the concert. We had an opening arrangement by composer Johannes Brahms, dedicated to two women one of which created Newbury Spring Festival forty-one years ago who died recently.


I closed my eyes as the music was so mesmerizing as it indeed didn’t have any need for words. We also had some violin solo parts by Alexander Sitovetsky which were very sharp in one part and so peaceful in others.


Through the second half of the performance we had two arrangements by Beethoven which I’d never heard of before but enjoyed very much. It’s good to see that the orchestra was diverse with people of all ages as it means that a vital style of music lives on to another generation.


Myself, not being well known with classical music and orchestras I found it very relaxing, interesting and most importantly enjoyable.

Simon Ball, 24

Ballet Central
Tuesday 14th May 2019
Corn Exchange Newbury


In the historic Corn Exchange I get the chance to see Ballet Central. Ballet Central is made up of The Central School of Ballet’s graduating students. This tour gives the students the opportunity to get out and perform to audiences in the UK and around the world.


They started out with a “House of Birds” ballet which the hand movements they made together were so mesmerizing and the main bird looking very well dressed but extravagant at the same time. Altogether I found this ballet very delicate but as previously said mesmerizing.


Next we came to a ballet called “Dying Swan” which was very powerful and with one man being the main dancer I thought he was doing and amazing job playing this delicate role. “In Between” came next with most of the dancers portraying trees and two cutting them down/ bringing them back to life it reminded me of the deforestation we go through in this day and age. The dancers were absolutely amazing in this ballet and you can see they’ve rehearsed this many times.


In the second half we come to “Valses Nobles Et Sentimentales”, I thought that this ballet was very powerful, dramatic and emotional.


We come to the final routine, “Carnival Dances” which encountered a woman coming to see the carnival. It was a glamorous but also dramatic ballet with the goings on with the carnival.


Ballet Central didn’t disappoint with their amazing ballets, brilliant dancers and dramatic performances! Highly Recommended.


Simon Ball, 24

Sarod Maestros with Jennifer Pike

Thursday 16th May 2019
Corn Exchange, Newbury


I come into The Corn Exchange excited and open minded to Sarod Maestros with Jennifer Pike as I had looked up the artists earlier in the day.

Brothers Ayaan and Amaan Ali Bangash make up Sarod Maestros with the brothers playing sarods and Jennifer Pike on the violin. Ayaan and Amaan have toured across the globe including Carnegie Hall and The Sydney Opera House and Jenifer Pike at the age of twelve became the youngest person to win BBC’s Young Musician of The Year so I knew this will be good!


We start with Jennifer Pike in a sparkling dress coming out to play us some pieces by Bach which were played with sheer profession. Afterward we had Sarod Maestros come out dress in traditional attire to play us some world music, whilst listening I closed my eyes and it felt like I was transported to the streets of India and we also hear the table being played by Sanju Sahai with was a brilliant touch to the overall sound of the sitars.


The second half we hear all the artists together which they played two pieces: Sacred Evening and Romancing Earth. I found to brilliant how they could mix Eastern and Western cultures of music together and make it sound absolutely beautiful.

I really enjoyed the performance as I found it very unique and interesting.


Simon Ball, 24

National Youth Jazz Orchestra

Saturday 18th May 2019
Corn Exchange, Newbury


Once in the auditorium of the Corn Exchange I already hear the Jazz of the background music, I have high hopes for The National Youth Jazz Orchestra conducted by Mark Armstrong who is the Musical Conductor of NYJO.


Tonight’s theme is “Divas of Jazz” which they picked songs from female jazz musicians from around the world but also performed pieces by male jazz musicians too.


NYJO also performed a piece composed by one of their own members which was called “On The Road” which gave some smooth tones about them being on the road. It was interesting to see some drums and a bass guitar in a jazz orchestra but later thought that these instruments are vital to jazz.


There was also some poetry performed to some jazz music too. I really loved how everyone got a chance to shine with solo parts in different pieces too. The singing by singers Matthew and Helena was brilliant and really enjoyed their duet too. I also liked how every song they played had an origin to it, I found this very informative.

Overall, I really enjoyed The National Youth Jazz Orchestra’s performance with their smooth jazzy tones, amazing singing and their dedication to this performance.


Simon Ball, 24

Lucky Stiff

Thursday 23rd May 2019
Corn Exchange, Newbury


The Corn Exchange is vibrant and audience excited for this performance of Lucky Stiff performed by The University of Chichester’s Musical Theatre Festival Company. This musical is rarely performed and based on the novel “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo”. I also watched the film earlier in the week so I don’t know how they are going to perform this show on stage but anticipating a real laugh.


The story follows a shoe salesman, Harry Witherspoon who finds out that his uncle had died and is now to inherit Six Million Dollars...but there’s many clauses in his will and if Harry doesn’t complete them the six million in will go to The Universal Dogs Home of Brooklyn. With his former uncles gun-toting ex on their tracks after finding out about the six million this is going to be an interesting trip to Monte Carlo.


From when the lights came on this production was absolutely amazing with some brilliant acting and singing but also some well-acted comedy scenes too! We were all hooked into the storyline to see the twists and turns of Harry Witherspoon’s journey. They did a fabulous and imaginative job recreating every scene but also giving it their own twist too which I was very impressed with.


Overall I loved the production and the actors/actresses should be proud of themselves for bringing a rarely performed musical to stage with their amazing talents. I can’t recommend it enough and a must see!


Simon Ball, 24

Samantha Crawford
Young Artists Lunchtime Recital

Friday 24th May 2019
Corn Exchange, Newbury


I recently had the privilege to have experienced an excellent performance with soprano, Samantha Crawford who has internationally acclaimed awards such as the Golden Medal with Honours at the Berliner International Music Competition.


As Samantha Crawford and pianist, Gavin Roberts, strode onto the Corn Exchange stage in the Newbury Town Centre, the ambience of the room changed as it filled with applause from the engaged audience.


Throughout the performance, she sang masterpieces from composers, like Rachmaninov and Strauss with an outstanding level of skill. Each word was concisely executed with clarity as well as large dynamic ranges. Samantha also projected the higher notes with smooth, silky tones which made great contrasts between each movement.


The accompanist’s playing was meritorious. Whilst there was a great sense of communication between the two performers, each chord resonated and captivated the audience. It was mesmerising because the playing sounded as though a whole orchestra was present - with instruments such as the violins and French-horns.


In this concert, I particularly enjoyed the movement, ‘Im Abendrot’ from ‘Vier Letzte Lieder’. As the audience heard this beautiful piece, I noticed they looked rather emotional. The soprano voice really expressed the beauty of Strauss’ work, making this movement sound sombre and lament.


When the last note rang, the people of the audience were moved, applauding enthusiastically. Although I have not been to many opera concerts before, I shall hopefully plan to experience remarkable ones like this in the near future.


Jenny Tonge, 14


Edward Seckerson


Journalist and broadcaster, whose work as a critic has included Chief Classical Music Critic for The Independent, Chief Classical Music Critic for The Sunday Correspondent and Classical Music Critic for The Guardian, describes the art of criticism:


‘Criticism is still so misunderstood. Is it good or bad, the best or the worst, we critics are asked - and no matter how many times we care to explain that things are rarely black or white and it's the shades of grey in between that make something interesting or not the most sensational quotes will always make their way on to the hoardings and the well written, well balanced, review will more as not be put to one side.


For me the opinion has always mattered less than the way in which it is expressed and in an age where the most outspoken among us don't always feel it is necessary to substantiate their views in any thoughtful, meaningful, way it's great that schemes like Newbury's Young Festival Critics are giving a platform to budding young arts enthusiasts with something to say.


Sharing the experience of a play, a film, a concert, or piece of art or literature is what it is all about. The best critics make us feel part of that experience whether or not we were there ourselves. I like to think that doing so is an art in itself.’



2018 Reviews
2017 Reviews
2016 Reviews
2015 Reviews
2014 Reviews
2013 Reviews
2012 Reviews