Newbury Spring Festival

Young Festival Critics


2018 Winning Reviews
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2018 Judges
The Competition Prize
Edward Seckerson




2018 Winning Reviews

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Thank you to all those critics who took part in the scheme this year - the judges have all thoroughly enjoyed reading the reviews. The reviews from this year are below - with the winning three at the top - congratulations!


£100 Prize Winner

24 May Sansara


St Martin’s Church, East Woodhay, was the perfect setting for Sansara’s performance (it is believed that there has been a church on this site for at least 1000 years). One of the first impressions as the music began was the amazing acoustics and ambience. When the first note pierced the atmosphere, I knew I was in for a treat.

Sansura, meaning ‘continuous flow’ are a relatively young choir originally made up of old Quiristers and Choristers from Winchester. Unsurprisingly, they are now snapping up awards and quickly gaining an international reputation.

Sansaras’ unaccompanied voices perfectly captured the theme of grief and loss in the first half, dominated by Hubert Parry’s Songs of Farewell. There was something particularly spiritual about these songs; the angelic yet powerful sound touched the audience, hypnotising us as if we were under a spell.

A change of style in the second half perfectly reflected the hope and sunny anticipation of spring ( ironic as it was such a miserable rainy evening! ) including the beautiful Clear and Gentle Stream by Finzi.

The highlight was for me was the impressive complex harmonies, which filled every space. It was hard to believe these magnificent sounds were produced by a choir of only 17; like a well-tuned machine, precisely adjusted for the highest level of performance.

I left feeling I had been part of something quite magical. What an experience! What musical perfection! This was a performance you didn’t want to end.


Sophie Smith (15)


£50 Prize Winner

13 May Bernstein Revealed


“He was always on stage in one way or another”, reminisced Edward Seckerson at last Sunday’s rich and wonderfully intimate ‘Bernstein Revealed’ evening. Indeed, ‘the Lenny factor’ was as present and effective as ever as we were invited in to a personal and touching conversation about the man behind the music.

Jason Carr’s ‘Prelude of Riffs and Showtunes’, in which he sped through 13 Bernstein references in 3.5 minutes, was a remarkable opening and celebration of the great composer’s prolific range. From the infamous beauty of ‘Somewhere’ to the wonderful ridiculousness of ‘Trouble in Tahiti’, performed to their utmost thanks to the versatile talent of Sophie-Louise Dann, Bernstein’s music resonated in the audience “as if someone had popped open a bottle of bubbly”.

Yet in many ways, the highlights of the evening came from the heart-warming and insightful anecdotes shared by Seckerson from his long-awaited meeting with Bernstein in 1989. The love and admiration felt by our three hosts for “the angel of music” was palpable and infectious as they revelled in ‘West Side Story’s’ familiar yet “thrillingly exciting” score and the “pulsating rhythm” of the stunning ‘Age of Anxiety’.

Such enthusiasm was a poignant reminder that a great part of Bernstein’s legacy is what he inspired in others. From a ballet extravaganza at the Royal Opera House in London to this evening of music and memories at Combe Manor Barn, Bernstein’s compositions have a unique ability to affect anyone, anytime, anywhere. As the man himself said, “for better or for worse, nobody can write my music except me”.


Elivra Parr (18)


£50 Prize Winner

25 May Bach’s Mass in B Minor


Holy Cross Church in Ramsbury, for me, was the perfect setting to see Bach’s B Minor Mass. Immediately, placing the work within a religious context, the intimate size of the church also allowed you to appreciate the fine detail of Bach’s monumental late work.

Solomon’s Knot perfectly complemented the location. With just 10 vocalists and 20 instrumentalists, you could easily hear the intricate contrapuntal lines of Bach’s mass with an immediate clarity and directness. The transitions between movements, a much more awkward affair with a large body of musicians, was fluid and completely natural.

The musicians also clearly absolutely loved the music they were performing, which is obvious from the vocalists’ choice to sing the entire work from memory. They sang both to the audience and to each other with an air of conversation and conviviality. This particularly paid off in the movements scored for fewer parts, the most striking being a dialogue between a solo vocalist and natural horn, with the latter playing from the pulpit. This quasi-theatrical quality to the performance in no way diverted attention from the work itself, in fact for me it enhanced it as it created a genuine sense of involvement in the music.

The standing ovation received at the end confirmed how convincing the performance was and I can only feel gratitude at being able to see this for free.


Michael Seath (18)


12 May Philharmonia Orchestra


The opening night of the Newbury Spring Festival was a triumph. With such a variety of music being presented, there truly was something for everyone.

Beginning the concert was the premiere of a commissioned work by Hannah Kendall, which was composed to inspire the idea of newness and rebirth, and was communicated effortlessly by the Philharmonia. The antiphonal exchanges of the violins gave an almost conversational feel to the work, which will enjoy further success I am sure.

This was then followed by Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto. And what a mature and thoughtful performance this was. Being such an infamous piece of cello repertoire, it is easy to hear interpretations that are copies of what has been done before, but Sheku has clearly considered his version of the work, and his virtuosic playing allowed this to be communicated in a way that was both emotionally charged, and yet appropriately British. Of particular note also was the accompaniment provided by the orchestra, which was both sensitive yet expressive, and allowed Sheku significant freedom to command the work.

The Philharmonia then performed Sospiri by Elgar, which with its sighing nature took on an almost religious feel in the beautiful venue of St Nick’s Church, whereas Schumann’s First Symphony created a rousing change of mood for the audience. The writing for strings within the work is particularly enjoyable, and the Philharmonia certainly did not disappoint. This was truly an event of world class calibre, available to us in Newbury.


Lucy Samuels (18)

13 May Llŷr Williams


This afternoon, I was transported into another world, thanks to the wonders of the Welshman and international pianist, Llŷr Williams. The Corn Exchange in Newbury, provided a welcoming venue for an even more enticing, yet varied programme. Once part of the Young Artist Programme over a decade ago, Llŷr returned as a seasoned soloist and the excitement was palpable.

Following the delicate and upmost sensitive playing of Schumann’s four Nachtstucke, Llŷr treated us to Debussy’s Suite bergamasque. The ever popular third movement, Claire de Lune, sounded to me as though it was the first time I had heard it. Llŷr’s interpretation results in such raw emotion, it seems to add another dimension to the music, one that is felt rather than heard.

Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse provided an exuberant conclusion to the first half, leaving the audience humming in their seats. The latter half of the recital showcased Llŷr at his technical best. Each Rachmaninov Prelude was technically sublime, full of character and charm. Sonata no. 5 by Scriabin was a real showstopper, resulting in astonished faces and cheers from the audience.

Llŷr left the audience smiling with some elegant, lyrical Schubert as an encore. Llŷr exemplifies a true soloist, captivating his audience from the moment he steps onto the stage. Diolch yn fawr, Llŷr Williams.


Jamie Baird (23)

14 May Misha Mullov-Abbado Group


An absolutely remarkable concert delivered by a group consisting of the finest jazz musicians London has to offer. Under the direction of Misha Mullov-Abbado, bassist and winner of the 2014 Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize, the combo consisting of a double bass, piano, drums, trumpet, and alto and tenor saxophones played a collection of compositions by Misha himself in an hour of nothing but world class entertainment.

Held at the Corn Exchange during lunchtime, it was truly an honour to see such talent in such an accessible fashion. From the first note played, the group had a vice-like grip on the audience, with anticipation of the next note taking over every member of the packed theatre, by the end every solo played was followed by a hearty round of applause. As a young musician myself, it was refreshing to not only see so many people my age enjoy this genre, but to see those performing have such a great dynamic with each other and to see each piece played with nothing but pure enjoyment.

To conclude, I thoroughly enjoyed this performance. Jazz is, and always has been, my favourite genre of music, and to have a group of young musicians play in such a virtuosic manner with such enthusiasm makes me interested to see what the future of Jazz looks like, no doubt with artists such as this, I can tell that it is in good hands. Following this concert, The Misha Mullov-Abbado Group has earned a fan.


Ella Townsend (17)

17 May Tre Voci (Voice of the Soul)


An inspiring concert performed this evening at St. Mary’s Church by ‘Tre Voci’ in the presence of HRH Countess of Wessex.

With the voice of an angel, Ruby Hues’ soaring vocals complemented the rich and warm tones of the cellist, Natalie Clein. Together, along with the pianist Julian Drake, the three of them painted a glorious picture on what Natalie Clein described as “the canvas that is silence” by paying close attention to detail and delivering what can only be described as a once-in-a-lifetime concert that was just fantastic to listen to.

My favourite piece had to be the Tavener, Akhmatova songs (voice and cello). The melody was simply entrancing and unlike anything I have ever heard before - mesmerising!

As a young cellist, I think that it is invaluable to be able to listen to quality, live cello performances and the standard this evening was just superb. The way that Natalie Clein’s fingers danced up and down the finger board and the way she just seemed to be in tune with the cello during the Kodály cello Sonatina; I didn’t know were the cello ended and Natalie began!

In conclusion, the trio’s performance was captivating and I would highly recommend to anyone. The ensemble’s passion for their music was clearly visible on each musicians face and the audience were obviously enthralled. As Natalie Clein said at the beginning of the concert, it was “one continuous musical thought,” and I thought that it was wonderful.


Anneli Giaever-Enger (16)

15 May Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers


It was through my grandmother that I came to realise the existence of, and then to watch, the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers. As I am at boarding school in, the extremely far away, Marlborough it was not usual for me to be anywhere at 7:30 on a Tuesday besides from sitting at my desk. However, I could not have been more pleased to find out that I would be seeing the Mugenkyo Taiko drummers, not because I would be missing school, but because I thought it would be a genuinely interesting experience.

On arrival in Newbury I had no preconception of the performance. I did not know what to expect. However, when I sat in my seat and the lights dimmed down and the audience went silent, and I heard the sound of instruments rose up out of the dark, I was immediately captivated. The beauty of the Shinobue and the deep rumble of the Odaiko drum sought out my ears and I loved it. As the piece developed the softer sounds faded and the commanding tones of the drums came into play. Being a kit player myself, as I read that multiple of the performers once where, I was amazed with the speed and complexity with which they played. Not only that, but the layering which they created, using all six members, was astounding and made an intense but soothing atmosphere. All of this coupled with the amazing synchronisation and choreography, made for one of the most enjoyable evenings I have had in a while.

I did not only enjoy the performance because if the music, but because of its ability to stand out, and impress. My grandmother is not the type for intense drumming concerts, however, she enjoyed it just as much as I did. I would imagine that many people would not consider going to watch a show advertised as a drumming concert – as drumming holds connotations of fast intense music – which was present. However, the beauty of the Mugenkyo Taiko drummers is that it does not take one to be huge fan in order to enjoy the music to the fullest.


Oliver Samuel 15

23 May Graffiti Classics


It all turned black, you could hear a pin drop until an all string quartet appeared singing, dancing and playing to the audience! You couldn't resist but to start tapping your feet and smiling at the quartet consisting of Lead founder Carl on Double Bass, two violins and a viola! They all made us feel so welcome by making us participate in singing, clapping and even coming up on stage!

With each piece they made it their own by having different facial expressions, all sorts of props and acting out which made each piece more intriguing to watch and listen to!

It really surprised me how fun and intriguing they made this genre of music, coming from somebody who'd hasn't been too interested in the genre.

I highly recommend everybody, young and old goes to see Graffiti Classics because of the intriguing way they interpret this sort of music.


Simon Ball (23)

18 May YolanDa Brown


Tonight, I had the pleasure to see the UK'S premiere female saxophonist and 2 MOBO Award winning YolanDa Brown during her World Tour and from somebody who'd have never been to a jazz concert it felt like a breath of fresh air! The second she started performing her talent shone brighter than her sparkled trousers and her smooth dance moves complimented her jazzy tones, between each song she talked about uniting Jazz, Soul and Reggie and she's also created her own genre of music called Posh Reggie. She performed tracks from her album: Love, Politics, War in which I felt really complimented the issues we have in the world, She had the audience participating by singing and dancing with her tunes which made me feel more relaxed like I was "at home". At the end of the concert I felt like her golden jazzy tones had make feel so relaxed and interested in a new genre of music, a genre many young people may never heard of.


Simon Ball (23)

18 May YolanDa Brown


On Friday the 18th of May, I was lucky enough to be able to attend YolanDa Brown’s concert at the Corn Exchange, Newbury. Her unique style of music (which she aptly calls “posh reggae”) is a refreshing blend of reggae, jazz and soul. She presented us with this in a very engaging way, incorporating a lot of audience participation; including an unexpected dance competition and singing. She also managed to get on a personal level with her audience, giving us anecdotes explaining what her songs mean to her and asking for phrases in different languages for her to use if she ever visits those countries. She maintained the connection between the audience and herself, right until the end when she gave out her personal phone number, saying she wanted to stay in contact and then meeting everyone after the concert had ended.

The next day I took part in her jazz workshop, where she gave young saxophonists performing advice and helped us work on our improvisation skills. She was again very welcoming and easily managed to reduce any awkwardness.

Overall, the experience YolanDa provided me with is unforgettable and if you ever get the chance to watch her perform or attend one of her workshops, I definitely recommend it.


Ruth Beatty-Duarte 15

26 May Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra


I was fortunate enough to get one of the fast selling tickets to see the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra who were joined by our very own Newbury Spring Festival Chorus for the live performance at St Nicolas Church in Newbury on Saturday the 26th of May. The close proximity of the audience to the musicians and the vibrant acoustics of the church helped to bring out the full magic of this renowned orchestra.

You could really feel the buzz of excitement as we all waited outside for scheduled time when the orchestra would be ready for us to take our seats. And when the conductor, Stephen Barlow, walked up on stage and the much awaited violinists bowed there first notes, the whole auditorium lit up. The Mozart filled evening included solos by outstanding opera singers, including Elizabeth Watts, whose voice rang forcefully around the church and of course, by the wonderfully prepared Newbury Spring Festival Chorus.

The interval was spent chatting over drinks whilst eagerly awaiting the return to the performance. And, after we had all piled back in and settled down, we were treated to the added pleasure of a short performance by the Tibetan Monks from Tashi Lhumpo Monastery (who had also performed earlier in the Spring Festival). The aura of spirituality created by the monks was a very fitting prelude that set exactly the right tone for the remaining evening of Mozart’s works.

A great finale to an amazing couple of weeks of music!


Ruth Beatty-Duarte 15



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

Be a Young Festival Critic


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 Albion Media



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



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.’



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