Cathedral musicians have been travelling backwards and forwards between Hereford, Gloucester and Worcester to augment one another’s choirs for many centuries, and post-service conviviality undoubtedly included informal renderings of songs that would not have been acceptable in the choirstalls. Lack of written evidence makes it difficult to establish the exact origins of a more formal association, as very few records have survived and local newspaper archives for the early 18th century are extremely limited.
It was Sir Ivor Atkins, friend of Sir Edward Elgar and organist of Worcester Cathedral in the early 20th century, who settled upon the starting date of 1715 for the festival in a form that we would recognise, working back from newspaper reports of an established festival in 1719.
The early ‘music meetings’ lasted just two days but gradually extended in scope and duration, held without interruption until the outbreak of World War One – a Three Choirs Festival was planned for Worcester in 1914, but did not take place.
Ivor Atkins restarted the festivals in Worcester in 1920, but there was a further seven-year interruption for World War Two. Hence 2015 will mark the 300th anniversary, but is only the 288th festival.
300th Birthday Celebrations
The artistic programme of the Hereford Three Choirs Festival 2015 will reflect the 300th anniversary in two main ways:
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment makes its Three Choirs Festival debut to accompany the Three Cathedral Choirs in the St Matthew Passion while the other evening concerts will feature the Philharmonia, in the fourth year of its rolling residence at the festival.
The anniversary has also been marked by the launch of the
Three Choirs Foundation, established to open the door and engage the widest possible audience with our festival, preserve the continuity of this unique event, champion the Three Choirs Festival brand beyond festival week, invest in commissioning outstanding new choral works and encourage and support young choral singers.
The foundation’s first enterprise is a Tercentenary Appeal with a funding goal of £1m over five years, offering individuals and companies the opportunity to contribute to underwriting the £1.1m annual cost of the Three Choirs Festival by joining one of seven funding circles and committing themselves to a fixed annual donation for a period of five successive years.