Highlights of MusicFest 2018

'Fulfilling the Festival's aim of widening access to inspiring performances, Newby's exceptional storytelling and Kyriatzidis' expressive piano performance added a finishing touch to the Festival's mission to: "Perform. Educate. Inspire".' 

'We sang, played and clapped for four days while eating the world's most delicious cakes, and no-one wanted to go home!'

2018 was an exciting year for Leicester MusicFest, as we underwent a major expansion in our second year. From a sell-out community opera to a brand new day dedicated to classical guitar, we were delighted to welcome over 1200 music-lovers to perform, learn and enjoy a wide variety of musical experiences over four action-packed days.

View a full review here of Leicester MusicFest 2018 by reporter Daljinder Johal.

Dido & Aeneas 2018.jpg

'Very polished performances and good to see a full house! A rare opportunity to see first-class

live opera in Leicester.'

Community Opera: Purcell's Dido & Aeneas
We celebrated the opening night of Leicester MusicFest 2018 with an ambitious community operatic project, bringing together local musicians, university students, school children and emerging young artists from London's conservatoires, all brought together by dynamic young theatrical director Simone Ibbett-Brown and MusicFest's own Artistic Director, Roxanne Gull.

The evening began with an engaging pre-show talk by Professor Nigel Simeone (of Radio 4's Tales from the Stave). A sell-out crowd filled the 400-seat auditorium, and enjoyed meeting the cast at the celebratory drinks reception after the performance.

Click here for full cast details and photo gallery

Workshop with London Baroque ensemble, Ceruleo

As part of the preparations for our community production of Dido & Aeneas, we collaborated with professional Baroque ensemble, Ceruleo, to put on a special public workshop for the student chorus, immersing them in aspects of Baroque style, through music, dance and gesture. 

'The Baroque workshop with Ceruleo was enormous fun! It was super interesting to explore and break down different layers of the music, to see how they influence our vocal parts. Learning the Baroque dance style was a highlight! It really brought the music and the period to life.'

LUCC Ceruleo Workshop
Piano Compeition Winners 2018

'I loved the friendly atmosphere of the festival - there was no concept it was a competition. Everyone just enjoyed performing and were really complimentary about others' performances. Although Saturday was a long day,

it just flew past.'

Competition Classes

On the Saturday, Sunday and Monday of the Festival, we welcomed amateur pianists, organists, singers and classical guitarists of all ages and abilities to showcase their talents across 23 competition classes. A fantastic team of 11 expert adjudicators gave practical feedback and guidance in a friendly and supportive environment. All competition classes were open to the public, and many attracted significant audiences, whose encouraging presence made for a genuine and positive performance atmosphere.


Winners performed in the Gala Concert on the evening of Sunday 11th February, sharing the stage with rising star James Newby.

How does the organ work? An interactive workshop

Aric Prentice (Director of Music, Lincoln Cathedral) presented a fun, hands-on workshop. Participants worked together to build a pipe organ, using the unique STELLOS, an educational component-based instrument made from recycled materials, including a lilo and leather trousers! Participants learnt about all the working parts of the organ, and finished the session by collaborating to play a selection of simple pieces on the STELLOS. The session caught the imagination of adults and children alike, and introduced the organ to a new audience.    

'Marvellous and inventive. The talk was fascinating, explaining how the organ was built into Lincoln Cathedral. Great audience participation and fantastic musical finale by both novices and experienced players.'

STELLOS Organ Workshop 2018
Piano Masterclass with Ian Tindale 2018

Advanced Piano Masterclass
with Ian Tindale 

Ian Tindale guided four advanced students through a variety of challenging repertoire including Chopin, Debussy, Beethoven and Shostakovich. Both students and audience learnt from Ian's expert insights, and all four students impressed with their ability to experiment and adapt.


'Very interesting to see how other performers were able to improve their performance during their sessions. I felt there were some suggestions which made my playing better at once, and other suggestions for practice which I will be able to use in the coming weeks.' 

Everyone can sing! with choral specialist Helen Smee

Singers of all ages and abilities explored the basics of vocal technique through a colourful selection of warm-ups, vocal exercises and musical games. This fun-packed session was full of energy, movement and laughter.

'The workshop "Everyone Can Sing!" lived up to it's promise. Helen Smee playfully challenged young and old with brain-teaser singing activities. After working together to sing in rounds and signing to the Scottish folk-song "Wild Mountain Thyme" everyone left smiling.'

Everyone Can Sing Workshop 2018
Vocal Masterclass 2018

Vocal Masterclass with Harriet Burns

Experienced professional soprano and vocal coach, Harriet Burns worked in detail with four singing students, all at different stages of their vocal development. Harriet catered special exercises and teaching techniques to each singer, delivering plentiful insights to both participants

and audience, with her characteristic warmth and good humour.


'We really enjoyed the singing masterclass. Harriet made it fun and the whole audience benefitted from her comments.'


Winners' Gala Concert & Song Recital with

James Newby (Baritone) & Panaretos Kyriatzidis (Piano)

The winners of the competition trophies made up the first half

of our spectacular Gala Concert. In the second half the 

audience was treated to a stunning recital of English Song.

James and Panaretos are very exciting rising stars, and it was

a real delight to welcome James back to his home town of Leicester

to share his success and passion for singing with our festival-goers of all ages as performer and adjudicator. 

'An excellent concert! All performances were so good, but the second half was outstanding from James and Panaretos, who looked as though they enjoyed performing for us as much as we enjoyed listening!'

James Newby and Panaretos Kyriatzidis
Guitar Ensemble Workshop 2018

Guitar Ensemble workshop with Yvonne Bloor

Experienced Leicester-based guitar teacher Yvonne Bloor brought together 24 guitarists of all ages and abilities in a collaborative workshop, working together to produce rewarding performances from scratch. This was an uplifting coming together of guitarists from Leicester and much further afield, making for a truly positive community atmosphere.  

'I enjoyed the guitar ensemble workshop the most because it was nice to be able to play with guitarists of all ages and abilities - you could make music with complete strangers! I remember everything vividly.'


Classical Guitar Award 2018

Jacob Beaman was the winner of the inaugural Leicester MusicFest Classical Guitar Award, following an application process where he faced stiff competition. On the evening of the Classical Guitar Day, he was formally presented with the Pericle guitar by luthier Roy Courtnall, and performed a Sonata by Turina for the audience.  Jacob said of his new guitar:

'The Pericle has great projection and better dynamics than other guitars I’ve played, which offers me more creative freedom, especially when playing in an ensemble. The clarity of the guitar is really noticeable.'

Classical guitar Award 2018
Advanced Guitar Masterclass 2018

Advanced Guitar Masterclass with Rob Johns

Experienced recitalist and teacher Rob Johns worked with advanced guitar students in a well-attended public masterclass, exploring new approaches to technical and interpretive challenges. 

'I played in the masterclass with Rob Johns - I found it inspiring! A phenomenal teacher whose words I have taken into account very seriously. He created a very relaxed environment, ideal to play and learn, especially when in front of an audience. '


Advanced Classical Guitar Recital Prize (£500 Bursary)

The Advanced Guitar Recital competition attracted 35 applicants from across the UK and Europe, from which eight were selected by video audition to perform in the Final for a panel of adjudicators. Michael Butten was awarded the £500 bursary, and we look forward to welcoming him back to give a recital at Leicester MusicFest 2019. Tickets available here.

Advanced Guitar Bursary 2018
Recital Lecture with Roy Courtnall

Recital-Lecture with luthier Roy Courtnall

and classical guitarist Rob Johns

The Classical Guitar Day closed with an evening talk and recital with Rob Johns and Roy Courtnall, who discussed their two-year collaboration on designing a concert guitar that retains the warmth of earlier designs while benefitting from the clarity and projection of more recent innovations. Roy gave a presentation about the history of classical guitar design as Rob illustrated his points musically on a variety of instruments. The evening concluded with a lively audience discussion.

'The guitar day at Leicester MusicFest was a fantastic success, and has instantly made its mark on the UK classical guitar scene. The team successfully programmed a day that catered for the beginner guitarist, right through to college students. They were welcoming and helpful, and made sure that everyone could enjoy the inspiring talks, masterclasses, and competitions stress-free. I particularly enjoyed competing against some of the UK's best guitarists, and seeing Rob Johns work with a student in a masterclass on a piece that is particularly close to me.'

- Chris Roberts, MMus student at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire,

Chair of Cardiff Guitar Festival.


Classical Guitar Day 2018

We are very grateful to Dr Joss Winn for his photography and the following review of the day's events:

This year, a new addition to the Leicester MusicFest programme was the inclusion of a whole day of classical guitar events.  This included competitions at all levels, an advanced masterclass, a guitar ensemble workshop and an evening talk about guitar construction and accompanying recital.

The Advanced Guitar Recital competition attracted 35 applicants from across the UK and Europe, from which eight were pre-selected to perform for the judges.  We heard Aleksander Pankowski vel Jankowski (POLAND) perform, followed by Jacopo Lazzaretti (ITALY) and Christopher Roberts (UK).  They selected pieces from across the classical guitar repertoire, including many modern pieces by Brouwer, Walton, Ponce and Krenek.  Following this, we heard Michael Matthews (UK), Michael Butten (UK) and Jacob Beaman (UK) play pieces by Turina, Gerhard, Dowland and Sor.  Michael Butten was awarded the £500 first prize by judges Rob Johns, Mark Ashford and Yvonne Bloor.  Michael Matthews won second prize and Jacopo Lazzaretti (23), who won third prize said afterwards,

(Bronze medalist Jacopo Lazzaretti)

“I was very happy to receive the third prize, but most important, I am happy how my work came across, according to the panel's feedback.  The level of the competition was good and I would like to thank the festival organisers for this opportunity to perform in Leicester.  It is always a pleasure to participate in competitions where the atmosphere and organization are great.”

The Advanced Guitar Solo competition included performances by 11 players and the Elementary/Intermediate Guitar Solo competition included five players.  Winner of the Advanced Solo, Will Crawford (19) said,

“I enjoyed the day enormously, you simply cannot beat an entire day of classical guitar!  What I enjoyed most about the day was simply being surrounded by classical guitarists, all keen and eager to get involved and create wonderful music.  It was fantastic to have so many different ages there as it gave the festival a strong sense of community.  I was thrilled to have won the competition, I did not go to win: I went along for the music and to try get as involved as possible.  It is brilliant to have festivals of this standard so people can feel that they can get involved in the classical guitar community.  It is a critical stepping stone for any player wanting to be serious about the guitar.”

(Will Crawford, winner of the Advanced Solo)

One of the youngest players of the day was Vivek Patel (10) who came second in the Elementary/Intermediate competition.  Vivek and Will both participated in the Guitar Ensemble Workshop with Yvonne Bloor, which attracted over 20 players of all levels.  Afterwards, Vivek said,

“I enjoyed the guitar ensemble workshop the most because it was nice to be able to play with guitarists of all ages and abilities.  You could make music with complete strangers.  I remember everything vividly. I was competing with people at a similar level to me.  It was fantastic to earn a medal and it made my day!”

(Yvonne Bloor with the ensemble workshop participants)

Also participating in the Ensemble Workshop was the gold-medal winner of the Elementary/Intermediate competition, Olin Aguillon (9), who said,

“I enjoyed the ensemble.  The food and cookies were delicious. Receiving the medal and trophy made me feel proud and overjoyed.  It was fun, and it was nice to meet other musicians.  The whole day was marvellous.”

An afternoon Masterclass was open for anyone to watch, where one of the judges, Rob Johns, spent time discussing analysis, interpretation and technique with Will Crawford and Jacob Beaman.


Jacob Beaman was also the winner of the Leicester MusicFest 2018 Classical Guitar Award, and in the evening he was formally presented with a guitar made by luthier Roy Courtnall, and performed a Sonata by Turina for the audience.  Jacob said of his new guitar,

(Will Crawford working with Rob Johns)

“The Leicester MusicFest classical guitar day was a fantastic experience, and very well organised.  The fact there were other things going on during the day that you could partake in (for example the ensemble and masterclass) made the whole day enjoyable and a worthwhile learning experience.  I would recommend the Leicester MusicFest competitions to classical guitar players of any age or ability who want to gain valuable experience playing in front of an audience, as it really does help develop you as a player.”

The day could perhaps be best summed up in the words of bronze medallist in the Advanced Solo competition, Elliott Compton (26), who said,

(Jacob Beaman with his new guitar)

"it has great projection and better dynamics than other guitars I’ve played, which offers me more creative freedom, especially when playing in an ensemble.  The overall clarity of the guitar is really noticeable.”

The final event of the Classical Guitar day was an evening talk and recital with Rob Johns and Roy Courtnall, who discussed their two-year collaboration on designing a concert guitar that retains the warmth of earlier designs while benefitting from the clarity and projection of more recent innovations, such as lattice bracing of the soundboard.  Roy gave a short talk about the history of classical guitar design and Rob offered comparisons of different guitars for the audience to listen to and comment on.

(Roy Courtnall discussing his Pericle design)