Bath International Music Festival

We are attending some of the concerts in Bath during their annual festival, directed this year by the brilliant and colourful pianist Joanna Macgreger. She has organised an eclectic programme of more than fifty concerts in which global culture permeates every aspect and includes medieval music of the Mediterranean, jazz, classical, World, folk and electronic music with new collaborations of musicians of every background connecting with one another. It’s a fantastic ambition and it seems – half way through the Festival – to be working. The city is full of local people and visitors. There’s a buzz.

I went to one of the earliest classical concerts last week in which the excellent Vanbrugh Quartet played Zemilinsky’s first quartet in A and the first of Beethoven’s four last quartets, No 132 in A minor. It was like two evenings in one, the music was so different. Zemilinsky’s delicious work passionate and lyrical, reminding us that Mahler conducted some of his work and like Shoenberg and Weill, thought very highly of him.

Beethoven at his most anguished brought us into another world, breaking through traditional form into new dimensions, this work having five movements instead of the usual four, only the last providing some relief from the sober mood of the rest. Wonderful performances from this distinguished Quartet who are based in Ireland and have recently recorded all the Beethoven quartets. They played to an immensely enthusiastic audience.

Then a very different concert by the Ingrid Laubrock Quintet a few days later, part of the extensive Jazz Weekend which is a tradition of Bath Festival programmes. This was an extraordinary experience. We both like Jazz, my wife particularly. This was avant garde stuff for us, however, demanding an intellectual appreciation as much as an instinctive visceral one. All the pieces were composed by Laubrock, a brilliant saxophonist.

German-born but London-resident she is a recent recipient of the Arts Foundation Award for Jazz Composition. Other members of the group were Barry Green on piano, Seb Rochford, fantastically energetic on drums in two items, whilst Larry Bartley on bass and Ben Davis on cello often played with their bows as a lyrical counterpoint to music that was otherwise extremely vigorous. We learned a lot.