Greetings from Worcester, England! We arrived at Heathrow early Friday morning and rented a car, drove to Oxford and had lunch with Bill’s cousin Liz and her husband Bill, and then had a lovely late afternoon drive through the Cotswolds on the way the Worcester. We stopped in Bourton-on-the-Water and strolled along the river running like a street between two rows of houses and shops. We arrived in Worcester around 8 pm and settled into our dorm accommodations for the week at the City Campus of Worcester University after a late dinner. A long day, to be sure, but some beautiful scenery and quite warm weather (in thThe Three Choirs Festival began Saturday morning with an opening service at the Cathedral with a grand procession of all kinds of dignitaries from the three cathedral cities of Worcester, Hereford, and Gloucester, including Mayors, Deputy Mayoresses, City Marshalls, Lords and Ladies, an Earl, Vergers, Bishops, Deans, the 3 choirs and their Directors, and lots of gold chains, amazing headgear, swords, and vestments.
The Three Choirs Festival is the oldest continuous Choir festival in the world, and this year is the 287th festival! There was only one year that the festival did not happen, and that was in 1914 at the beginning of the First World War. This year’s Festival marks the centenary of the start of the “Great War”as they call it here, and that theme became apparent in the opening service of music and readings and in the Dean’s inspiring sermon, where he spoke of the power that music and art have to bridge the gap between the horror of war and the indomitable human spirit, which continues to love and laugh and sing.
At the Festival Reception afterward we met a very nice couple who ended up offering to let us park our rental car in their driveway for the duration of the festival. We have already met so many lovely and friendly people!
Saturday evening began with Evensong sung by the Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir, after which we caught a quick bite to eat in order to return to the first concert of the week, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. As I was waiting in the line to re-enter the Cathedral from the cloister, I studied the stained glass windows along the cloister, all of which were memorials to sons, husbands, and fathers killed in the First World War. One boy died 5 days before his 18th birthday. Britten, born immediately after the war, was a pacifist, and the War Requiem, his monumental work, interweaves the traditional texts of the Requiem Mass with poetry by Wilfred Owen who died in France one week before the Armistice in 1918. Bill and I were struck by how deeply the memory of this war is still felt here. There was a palpable feeling of engagement with the music by the rapt audience in the packed cathedral.
After this concert we attended a late night concert by a group called Opus Anglicanum, comprised of 5 men who presented a program of songs and readings about angels throughout history. They were amazing. Bill and I finally got back to our dorm around 11:30. A very full day for Day 1 of the Festival!
Today, (Sunday), featured the opening Eucharist in the packed Cathedral, after which we took a drive into the countryside and ended up in Hereford, where we went to Evensong. We had our first glimpse of the Malvern hills in the beautiful Wye Valley during our drive. Tomorrow we are scheduled to go on a poetry walk in the Malvern Hills. This is Edward Elgar county, which he said inspired a lot of his music. I can see why– the scenery is breath-taking. We are hoping to go see the Elgar birthplace museum (a short distance outside of Worcester) sometime this week.
It is hard to believe this is only the end of the second day of the Festival!