Cheltenham Music Festival has announced a sparkling line-up for its seventy-ninth year. From Saturday 6 July to Saturday 13 July, the Festival will host some of the most exciting names of today’s classical music world.  

The programme builds on the Festival’s longstanding reputation as one of the UK’s premier platforms for new work, alongside a plethora of older gems both to be found and rediscovered. 

Highlights for 2024 include a number of concerts celebrating the 150th anniversary of Gustav Holst, performances by star pianist Clare Hammond and celebrated baritone Roderick Williams, and brand-new works by Laura Cannell, Sun Keting and Cameron Biles-Liddell.  

With venues including the Festival’s storied Regency mainstay, Pittville Pump Room, the Edwardian grandeur of Cheltenham Town Hall and the medieval splendour of Gloucester Cathedral, Festival-goers will be spoiled for choice when it comes to experiencing the best of classical music in some of the country’s most beautiful settings.  

Adventuring beyond the usual concert hall setting, a free ‘… around town’ series of events will visit the bars, cafes and restaurants of Cheltenham itself, and the return of the Festival’s trademark Mixtape event allows listeners to explore a different way of enjoying classical music. You are invited to sit back, relax and enjoy the mix of relaxing, rule-free classical music. A strong partnership with the BBC and its New Generation Artists scheme cementsCheltenham Music Festival’s 2024 programme as a broad and inspiring mix of national note. 

Celebrating Gustav Holst  

The Festival is dedicating particular energy this year to one of Cheltenham’s most famous sons, Gustav Holst, in the 150th anniversary of his birth. In a selection of unique concerts, his music will be performed and discussed in spaces he knew intimately in tribute to this beloved and gifted composer.  

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra will feature in two major performances at the Festival. The Hymn of Jesus will sound divine inGloucester Cathedral and a range of lesser-known works will feature in their concert at Cheltenham Town Hall. The music of other composers – including Holst’s Gloucestershire contemporary and friend Ralph Vaughan Williams, plus Olivier Messiaen and Francis Poulenc – will feature alongside, drawing out themes and connections between these 20th century giants. 

There will also be a musical tour of Holst’s Cheltenham, taking in his birthplace – now a museum that hosts the very piano that he played – and the church where Holst’s father was organist and where Holst spent many of his formative musical years. In intimate performances that will shine a light on Holst’s smaller-scale works, this tour will be a special opportunity to understand the composer in his own terms.  

Finally, a special talk at the Lady Chapel of Gloucester Cathedral will explore the great mystical achievement of his Hymn of Jesus – and investigate the source of the remarkable power that Holst’s compositions continue to have over contemporary audiences.  

Programme Highlights  

Elsewhere, the programme features a range of events that will give audiences an opportunity to experience the highest quality music in concerts often exclusive to the Festival:  

1.       Roderick Williams and Roger Vignoles will perform songs that evoke fairytales and stories of courtly love through music by some of Europe’s finest composers, alongside a brand-new piece by Cameron Biles-Liddell.  

2.       The Marian Consort will explore the sensory delights of flowers and gardens through the music of Spanish composers of the late Renaissance, with further pieces by Benjamin Britten and two premières by Laura Cannell and Leo Chadburn.  

3.       Each year, the Festival places special emphasis on ensuring that school-age children can experience the joy and benefit of inspirational classical music. 2024 sees the return of the Music for Schools scheme in which Gloucestershire Youth Chamber Orchestra with professional musicians will showcase the magic of music for dancing. The remarkable Relaxed Concert for Schools offers a truly accessible opportunity for pupils and teachers from SEND settings to enjoy live music together.  

4.       The Festival’s Mixtape event returns, too, presenting a one-off combination of all-star performers. They include Sean Shibe’s guitar, Clare Hammond’s piano, the Chaos String Quartet and the Choir of Merton College, Oxford, all contributing to an evening of rule-free classical music that will emphasise the calm, meditative and mindful.  

5.       Dunedin Consort also collaborate with Sean Shibe for a concert tracing the roots of the Scottish-Canadian diaspora through music, tracking folk idioms from the Renaissance to the present day and taking in John Dowland, Henry Purcell and a brand-new guitar concerto for a modern instrument using gut strings by Cassandra Miller.  

6.       Clare Hammond will perform a dual programme focusing on the theme of light and dark. The revered pianist will perform pieces of subtle melancholy from Clara Schumann, Gabriel Fauré and a world premiere by Sun Keting, alongside music of clarity and joy by Mozart, Debussy and Cécile Chaminade.  

Celebrating Emerging Stars  

Alongside world premières and exclusive commissions of new compositions, Cheltenham Music Festival is also committed in 2024 – as in every year – to providing a platform for the musicians and performers of tomorrow.   

As part of a longstanding partnership with the BBC and its New Generation Artists scheme, 2024 will see Cheltenham play host to performances from:  

1.       violinist Geneva Lewis, who will perform music from Charles Ives, Erich Korngold and Johannes Brahms with the accompaniment of pianist Llŷr Williams, star soloist in his own right;  

2.       cellist Santiago Cañón-Valencia, who alongside pianist Naoko Sonoda will perform one of Bach’s solo cello suites alongside fascinating works by Cañón-Valencia himself, Alfred Schnittke and Arvo Pärt;   

1.       Kazakhstan’s Alim Beisenbayev, who will perform selections from the piano repertoire beloved of audiences and musicians alike;  

2.       And the dynamic and vibrant Chaos String Quartet, who will be playing pieces from Henry Purcell, Edvard Grieg and the less well-known work of mid-twentieth-century Dutch composer, Henriëtte Bosmans.   

The Festival will also direct audiences to the future of classical music in a range of concerts featuring fresh voices. The prize-winning ensemble Marmen Quartet will add a visit to Cheltenham into a busy touring schedule, with a programme featuring Debussy, Beethoven and Takemitsu. There will also be two youth-oriented ‘Spotlight’ concerts, one featuring  Jaran Ziegler, winner of the 2022 BBC Young Musician of the Year Award, and the second in whichthe winners of the 2024 Gloucestershire Young Musician and Keith Nutland Award will also perform.  

Understanding Classical Music Today  

In a set of talks and hybrid events across the Festival programme, questions about classical music’s place in our universe will be explored. In addition to the Holst lecture, Bach, The Universe and Everything will be a remarkable marriage between images of the cosmos and music from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, all brought together with insights from astronaut and special guest, Meganne Christian.  

Cassandra Miller and Sean Shibe will give a talk about Miller’s new work that has been co-commissioned by the Festival and will be performed by Shibe in his concert with Dunedin Consort. Elsewhere, the University of Gloucestershire will open out its three immersive audio labs to visitors for its Everyday Is Spatial conference. But the Festival itself is also a response to the changing worlds of classical music.  

The co-CEO of the Festival’s parent charity, Cheltenham Festivals, is Ian George. “As recent reporting from across the sector has made clear,” he explains, “the current landscape can at times be challenging for festivals and events that focus on classical music. We see our role as championing sustainable and inspiring celebrations of the form.  

“This season has been intentionally designed in this context to fulfil our mission and vision to provide a platform for the best, most exciting musicians performing and composing today –  and to position the Festival for a strong and expanding future. We’re excited to welcome everyone to Cheltenham this July!”