Newbury Spring Festival


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2016 Judges

The Competition Prize

Edward Seckerson
2016 Reviews
2015 Reviews
2014 Reviews
2013 Reviews
2012 Reviews


Be a Young Festival Critic - Free tickets in return for a review!


The Newbury Spring Festival is looking for reviewers to cover events from its programme of world class music staged in some amazing venues around Berkshire. Anyone between the ages of 15 and 30 with a passion for live music or journalism can come along to this year’s Festival.

This exciting scheme enables young people, who have a passion for the arts and writing, to explore new experiences while building their writing skills and enhancing their CV's and university applications. It’s easy to be a Young Festival Critic - You choose the events to see, the Festival gives you free tickets, you experience the event then tell us what you thought. At the end of the Festival, professional judges from the media and music world will select 3 winners to be awarded cash prizes. The 2 runners up will receive £50 each and the winning writer will get £100!

Join the Young Festival Critics today…We challenge you to try something new!

“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

“It is great that schemes like Newbury’s Young Festival Critics are giving a platform to budding young arts enthusiasts with something to say.” Edward Seckerson, Chief Classical Music Critic, The Independent


How to be a Critic

If you'd like to sign up - please contact Jan Ferrer:


We will send you a comprehensive guide to writing a review but here's the key information you need to know:

How to Critique – it’s easy…

The results


Competiton Prizes

There are three prizes for the best an most well written reviews.

£100 top prize and 2 x £50 for the runners up.


Edward Seckerson

Chief Classical Music Critic, The Independent


"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."


2017 Judges


Kate Green  Deputy Editor Country Life Magazine
George Chambers PR Manager Albion Media
Trish Lee  Arts Editor Newbury Weekly News
Jessica Issacs Head of Production BBC Radio 3


2017 Critics Reviews - awaiting shortlisting

Twitter #YoungFestivalCritics



Elgar's Dream of Gerontius

6 May 2017, St Nicolas Church, Newbury


This production of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius resulted from the great love of the work by the outgoing and incoming Newbury Spring Festival chairmen, who had both independently asked to sponsor the concert. The evening was eagerly anticipated and did not disappoint. From the first phrase, led by a hauntingly expressive solo viola, the audience was transported to the world of the dying Gerontius (Gwyn Hughes Jones), preparing himself for judgment and a journey which would take him through purgatory and into God’s presence.  


With the conductor and all three soloists taking on their roles for the first time, the performance had a raw energy. Standing in as the Angel with just a day's notice, Caitlin Hulcup effortlessly negotiated the complexities of the part, although Morgan Pearse stole the show with his brief appearances as the Priest and the Angel of the Agony, his rich baritone leaving the audience yearning for more. The Spring Festival Chorus were precise and versatile, one minute an ethereal choir of angels, the next clearly relishing their role as demons as they taunted Gerontius. 


The Dream of Gerontius is considered by many to be Elgar’s greatest achievement. Although it would have been helpful to have fuller lyrics in the programme for those of us less familiar with the work, this could not detract from a magical evening I felt privileged to witness.


Danielle Craig, 24






Stephen Hough's 1 hour 50 minutes piano recital was absolutely brilliant!

There was an exciting buzz in the pre-recital atmosphere and as Stephen Hough made his entrance on stage the room fell silent. The entire theatre was in awe as Stephen Hough played and at every opportunity the entire audience applauded rapturously.


Stephen Hough was not a single note off key and played each composition with great flair, elegance and passion. My favourite piece was Schumann's 'Fantasie Op.17' which was played beautifully and for his much sought after encore, he played Schumann again. This was my first ever piano recital and I couldn't have chosen a better one to attend.


The audience were predominantly senior citizens but there were a few young faces in the crowd who seemed thoroughly to enjoy. I suspect most in the audience were

instrumentalists (as indeed the piano teacher from my school was in attendance!) or were able to at least follow music in order to enjoy Stephen Hough's play in contrast-I prefer to use the term abstract as there was an element of opposition in the works chosen.


The 400-seat auditorium at the Corn Exchange was packed to the rafters and even though it is not a purpose built arts centre, the great height of its ceiling lent wondrous atmosphere and the acoustics were spot on. I was sat in the Balcony in seat R8 and had a splendid view of the stage.




Film: Sense and Sensibility

10th May 2017, Corn Exchange, Newbury


So I arrive at the Corn Exchange in the heart of Newbury. What a fantastic looking building, almost church-like with it’s sand colour brickwork and tall arched doorway shaped windows. Then I entered and the inside complimented the outside beautifully, with its open spaced foyer, rustic feel bar, but with bright coloured seating to give it a modern feel. I continued on through to the auditorium where I was greeted with the biggest projector screen I think I have ever seen out of a cinema! I think watching a film on a projection in a theatre made it feel special, more like live theatre rather than a film at the cinema.

Seeing that the film had an all star cast with the likes of Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet, and Emma Thompson to name a few, I was hoping for greatness, which is exactly what I got. The film was an old classic from what I could gather from the conversations going on around me before the film started. The film was a throughly enjoyable experience, not something I would normally choose but so glad that I saw it. It was awkwardly funny for all the right reasons, the set locations were amazing, the attention to detail was exquisite and the story had a great twist in it (I won’t give too much away) but I can assure you that there is a happy ending which everyone loves. I would definitely watch something like this again.


Jaz Wilson, 27.


Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Saturday 13th May 2017, St Nicolas church


A wonderful concert by the world-class Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. They played pieces by Beethoven, Bruch and Sibelius. Not often do an orchestra of this calibre end up in a town this small. However, the church was fully packed and there was a feeling of apprehension in the air.

Tasmin Little brought along with her not only a great, soaring sound but created a mesmerizing atmosphere as well. Her violin playing shone out above the rest of the orchestra and entranced the audience. Her technicality and skill was mesmerising and she communicated with the orchestra fantastically. We also had a treat (as it was her birthday) that was another solo, with feet stamping, that brought an aspect of gipsy and folk music that most of the audience had never heard before.

The second half of the evening began with fantastic solos from both the violin and cello, using great technique and style. As the piece progressed on the violins did really stand out. From their luscious, flowing bow movements to their light, playful pizzicato, there really was no fault in their playing. Their shimmering tremolos created a magical atmosphere.

Once the last note was played, the sudden silence made a stark contrast with the dramatic ending. The audience seemed very impressed hence the endless clapping and I have to say that I was too. Never before have I seen an orchestra so connected both with each other and the audience. I would thoroughly recommend, and will definitely watch this orchestra again.

Stephen Chooi, 16


Black Dyke Band

Saturday 13th May, Corn Exchange Newbury


Banders and fans from the local area descended on Newbury’s Corn Exchange for an evening of virtuosity from the world’s most recorded brass band, the Black Dyke Band. The first half displayed the talents of Richard Marshall in his performance of Edward Gregson’s Cornet Concerto. The concerto was a lesson in how to make difficult aspects of playing look easy, and Richard certainly did that. The first of the evening’s offerings from the pen of Karl Jenkins was Robert Childs arrangement of his Stabat Mater suite for brass band featuring last year’s Radio 2 Young Brass Soloist winner, Daniel Thomas, on euphonium playing the hauntingly beautiful Lament. Away from the black box of contesting, it was great to see Peter Graham’s On The Shoulders of Giants presented as a showpiece featuring Zoe Hancock on flugel and Brett Baker on trombone. The second half included the most exciting music from Paul Lovatt-Cooper, top notch solos from the some of the bands principal players and a three part big band set, leaving the audience standing on their feet wanting more. This concert was for all the family, whether you had seen a brass band before or not. An entertaining evening from beginning to end – what a privilege for the people of Newbury to be treated to such a delight. 

Sam Wyne, 26


Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

13 May, St Nicholas Church


The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is a prestigious and world renowned ensemble and on Saturday 13th of May at St Nicholas Church, the stunned audience of that evening were in no doubt as to why.


The evening began with Beethoven’s emotionally fiery Coriolan Overture. From the very first entry, the passion of conductor Christian Kluxen captivated the audience. This was followed by Bruch’s Violin Concerto with soloist Tasmin Little. In her virtuosic hands, the violin seemed to sing this incredible piece of music. Her performance was met with rapturous applause and stamping of feet from the mesmerised crowd.


Tasmin Little created a beautifully personal atmosphere by first explaining that this concert coincided with her birthday, then telling us how much this concert and Newbury meant to her. She performed a special encore piece written by her friend Roxanna Panufnik: ‘Hora Bessarabia’. Its lively performance was accompanied by foot stamps from the soloist. This was followed by a lovely rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ from the audience and orchestra.

The second half opened with Sibelius’ affectionate and amorous Rakastava suite, playing upon heart tugging themes of love and loss. The concert finished with Sibelius’ dramatic fifth symphony.


It was an incredible experience to see such an inspirational orchestra as the Royal Philharmonic in the familiar setting of St Nicholas Church in the heart of Newbury. This was an evening that everyone will cherish for many years to come.


Ben Marshall, 15


Dr Dee's Daughter & the Philosopher's Stone


I don’t normally watch shows that use the art of puppeteering, but I was glad to have watched this memorable performance. The musicians are incredible talented, and the melodies that played throughout the whole show was well executed. Music pace was always changing and was appropriate for each scene. The actresses made me really immersed in the play, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off the show as there was always something interesting being shown to the audience, for example, the various handmade puppets or the choice of lighting for each scene. Somehow, the actresses gave the puppets have a lot character, and it was easy to distinguish between each puppet, as they all not only had different pieces of clothing, but they also had different tones of voices. Considering how I was seated at the back row, I must congratulate them on making each puppet very distinguishable (even from a far distance). The story starts off with a girl named Katherine who is the daughter of Dr John Dee, who is an alchemist, astronomer and a magician, Katherine reads about his father’s quest to find the Philosopher’s Stone, that he sadly gave up on trying to find, and from here on the story starts to become a bit of a while ride as Katherine tries to find the Philosopher’s Stone, we meet different and intriguing characters that either have very likable or repugnant personalities. Overall, I would say that this show is suitable for all ages, and I would advise anyone to watch this performance if they are giving the chance as it was very enjoyable to watch.


Camilo Vilchez Lachi, 17


Dr Dee's Daughter & the Philosopher's Stone

Corn exchange Saturday 13th may

A stage play performed by the critically acclaimed Rust and Stardust as the narrators and actresses of the story, and the award winning Palisander recorder quartet accompanying the performance with a range of different melodies. It provided a captivating story about young woman continuing her father’s research in order to find the elusive philosophers stone. It was held in the Corn exchange, creating a very relevant atmosphere to a piece set in the Tudor period, this was pulled off fantastically by the costume design and language used, despite this being a minimalist performance with little props being used this however did not affect the performance itself as Elanor Conlon and Katie Sommers created the perfect narration that set the scene at every point. The cast of the Palisander recorder quartet did well to accommodate the tense atmosphere of the performance with a variety of harmonies with a range of woodwind instruments. When the performance finished, the hall erupted with the clapping of the audience for this well delivered performance, it created a strong story and I would personally recommend their performance to others to go and watch.


George Ford


A taste of Spain

15th May 2017, The Vineyard, Stockcross


The perfect setting for the perfect recital! The Vineyard upon arrival is a spectacular looking grounds, a gravel driveway leading to a canopy right outside the front door, that overlooks a marvellous water feature making the place feel tranquil and highbrow.

Just as I thought the outside was amazing, the inside was something to behold. As soon as you walk in you are greeted with two glass walls full of wine bottles.

I was shown to the room where it would all take place.This room was full of people anxiously waiting  and all that you could see was large painting of a landscape with mountains and vineyards that covered an entire wall behind where Morgan Szymanski would be playing. The minimal look made me think that the talent was going to be nothing short of fantastic.

So we started, Morgan introduced himself and played his first song which translated to Mozart’s Flute. What a beautiful sound this man could make with just one instrument, making it sound like two people were playing at the same time and filling the room with a sweet and soft sound. It was mesmerising watching Morgan play with such passion, care and love for not only the music, but the instrument and Andrés Segovia whom the evening was dedicated to.  Morgan told a few jokes along the way such as, the part about where the famous Nokia ringtone had come from. It was a pleasant evening and Morgan made my first recital an absolute joy.


Jaz Wilson, 27


Kathryn Tickell and The Side

16th May 2017, Newbury Corn Exchange

Knowing very little about Northumbrian Folk, I took my balcony seat in The Corn Exchange auditorium last night, hoping to be transported. The four-piece of accomplished musicians, Kathryn Tickell on Northumbrian pipes and fiddle, Louisa Tuck on cello, Ruth Wall on harp and Amy Thatcher on accordion, together made intelligent, down-to-earth and moving music.

The set began with the joyful, immediately uplifting, ‘Wedding’ leading into their take on the standard, ‘Because He Was a Bonny Lad’, which kicked the night off with infectious energy. I particularly enjoyed the moments of unabashed poetry; such as the romantic, harp-driven, ‘Queen of Pleasure’. Also whilst it might not be everyone’s thing, give me songs about convergences of rivers any day.

Between songs, the band regaled the audience with stories of accidentally turning the power of an entire venue off, pregnant clog dancing and the journey of a song which was once called ‘Bakewell Tart’.

For me, the band found the most power in the quiet moments, when a harp would converse with a cello in the spotlights of Newbury Corn Exchange’s dark, atmospheric stage, rendering the crowd silent, before the energy turned around for another boisterous stomp-able jig.

The seamless blending of such moments of light and shade expertly conducted the emotions of the audience and kept the evening from being too much of any one thing for long.

 I imagine that this authentic folk music stayed with many in the crowd long after they left the building, as it did with me.

Katherine Tattersdill, 26


Sean Shibe

Corn Exchange Newbury, 19th May

 Sean Shibe played a one hour set at Newbury Corn Exchange on the 19th of May in a lunchtime recital. He has performed with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Scottish Orchestra and BBC National Orchestra of Wales. The set list included Dowland’s Forlorn Hope Fancy, Bach’s Lute Suite No.4 in E and Villa-Lobo’s preludes W419 Nos. 2, 3 and 4, thematically related by the way the composers influenced each other in history.

The house was packed, the stage simply dressed with a chair, a music stand and a microphone. Sean Shibe walked onstage. The audience leaned in. He plays with enviable delicacy and precision. There is an exactness to each bar and bend and a long-studied richness to his playing. The work put in to bring the audience closer to the music is easy to take for granted, but a product of singular passion. For me this was a treat to experience for an hour.

It was difficult to tell if the microphone behind him was on, or if it was just Shibe, the audience and the guitar, but that’s not really something to complain about. The focus he inspired in the crowd throughout the show made one reluctant to as much as scratch an itch. This was music which rewarded intent listening.  I also appreciated the moments he would talk to the audience about the composers, giving context for further listening (and it was a relief to see the human being behind so much talent).

Katie Tattersdill, 26


The Bollywood Brass Band,

Friday 19th of May, Corn Exchange

The Bollywood Brass Band created enviably beautiful music, switching from wistful and melancholy to energetic and exciting with admirable ease. The Latin samba band style stage created the perfect backdrop for the electric atmosphere, and added to the overall exhilaration evident in the captivated audience. The crystalline notes of the saxophone, in perfect harmony with the sweet Indian flute and the heartbeat of the thunder-like drums, created a melody so beautiful that it had a quality of the ethereal and the intangible. By the first song all were shuffling uncontrollably to the rhythm, and by the end, everyone was dancing energetically with the moves kindly taught by the exceptional dancer, who had all the grace of a ballerina here in England. Her glittering skirts swirled like a hurricane as she spun, and languidly settled like feathery dandelions as she returned to the slow, delicate movements so beautiful to raptured eyes. Behind all this were the entrancing clips from Bollywood films, which all seemed to feature fireworks, and amazing dance sequences, and beautiful, dramatic scenery. The most moving was a smiling young lady dancing with a dove perched precariously on her silky hair, whose soft pearl wings fluttered gently in time to her movements. I would recommend this for all who want to enjoy a wonderful experience that will be looked back on with fond nostalgia for many years to come.

Risa Cooper 15 years old



Close to you

20th May 2017, Corn Exchange, Newbury


What a sophisticated evening. Set in the wonderful corn exchange theatre in the market square in the heart of Newbury. The stage set all dressed in black with a twinkly backdrop. When arriving into the auditorium expecting to see a tribute act singing to a backing track, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The evening standard was set by a 10 piece Orchestra playing the most special overture arrangement of many famous Frank Sinatra songs making way for the one and only Matt Ford. This mans voice had such a likeness to the great Sinatra itself, but enough of a uniqueness to hold his own. The Orchestra arrangements were like nothing I have ever heard, I take my hat off to Callum au for the arrangements that had been scaled down from a 38/40 piece orchestra down to a 10 piece and still get that full sound. Matt Skelton must get a special thanks for his production of this band and it’s outstanding quality. One thing that was a lovely to see was a harpist, you don’t see many about anymore. Matt Ford made the whole thing seem so intimate with the audience due to it being quite a large space, his warmth and presence made it feel like a small club feel which was lovely because it still was in a large open auditorium. This is definitely something I would watch again.   


Jaz Wilson, 27.