Nicola Lisle talks to John Lubbock, founder of the Orchestra of St John’s, about the forthcoming Music in the Abbey festival
If John Lubbock’s forecast is right, we could be in for some good weather around September 9. That’s when the Orchestra of St John’s launches its annual Music in the Abbey in Dorchester, and traditionally the festival always seems to attract the sunshine.
“We’re very lucky, we nearly always have an absolutely glorious Indian summer,” John tells me. “People picnic out on the grass, and it’s such a lovely atmosphere. When it’s all over I always think ‘Oh God, another year gone,’ and then suddenly, here we are again. And it’s just a very happy weekend.”
The highlight this year is the welcome return of legendary flautist Sir James Galway and his wife Lady Jeanne Galway, who will join the orchestra to play Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos, spread across the final two evenings of the festival.
Sir James is an old friend of John’s from the early days of the OSJ, and he is delighted to be working with him again.
“He was in Dorchester with us two years ago, then last year we did a Christmas tour, and this year we’re going to London, Cheltenham and various other places, and, of course, Dorchester. And he’s brilliant. He just keeps going. He’s 73, and still has that magic something he always had. We’ll have a lovely weekend.”
The opening concert features OSJ leader Jan Schmolck and his pianist wife Frances Angell with a programme of Stravinsky, Elgar, Saint-Saens and Mendelssohn.
They will be followed the next night by young husband-and-wife piano duo Maki Sekiya and Ilya Chetverikov, who will be playing music by Schubert, Skryabin, Debussy and Ravel.
John discovered Maki by chance a couple of years ago. “They have this busking day in Dorchester Abbey, where people just come and play all day, and I thought I’d pop along to support it. And I saw some minute Japanese girl bashing the hell out of this massive piece of Liszt. I was absolutely flabbergasted. She is wonderful. I’ve used her ever since.”
Thursday night sees the return of another popular performer at the Abbey, pianist Derek Paravicini, who will be joined by the other members of his jazz quartet – Hannah Davey (soprano), Ben Holder (violin) and Ollie Howell (drums).
An evening of songs and arias follows on Friday, featuring pupils of John’s wife, Christine Cairns, a former international opera singer. There will be more singing on the Sunday night, when the OSJ Voices present an hour-long, pre-concert programme of Bach and Gibbons to complement the Galway concerts.
“It’s all very jolly,” John says. “It seems to work. And I always think, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“Dorchester’s such a lovely space. It’s beautiful to play in, beautiful to sing in, and it’s just got the most wonderful atmosphere.
“I was brought up just across the fields from Dorchester, in Little Wittenham, and it was a Sunday ritual to walk across the fields to the Abbey after lunch. So it’s always been a big part of my life, and I just love it. I never want to stop doing this.”
Orchestra of St John’s: Music in the Abbey
Dorchester Abbey, Dorchester-on- Thames
September 9 to 14
Tickets: 0845 6801926 or www.osj.org.uk