The Cambridge Music Festival took place from 9-20 November, with the new director, Justin Lee, planning to make it an annual event from this year onwards.

The festival originally started in 1991 as a celebration of the bicentenary of Mozart’s death. It involved four weeks of live music, outdoor as well as indoor events, with schools and other parts of the community coming together to celebrate culture in Cambridge. Since its inaguration, it has been held every three years, and was previously directed by Gillian Perkins.

After Perkins’ retirement in 2009, Lee decided to continue the tradition of staging both indoor concerts, with locations such as the chapels at King’s and Trinity, as well as free outdoor events.

The musicians performing at this year’s festival included truly world-class artists, adding to the prestige and hopefully newly re-invigorated tradition of the event. The festival opened with renowned pianist Murray Perahia directing the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and playing Mozart, the composer who inspired the event in the first place. Perahia, who was awarded three Grammys for Best Chamber Music Performance and Best Instrumental Soloist Performance, only returned to an active career in 2008, after recovering from a serious hand injury. 

The opening concert was held in West Road Concert Hall, and kicked off what promised to be a very classy eleven days. Trumpeter Alison Balsom performed in Trinity College Chapel together with pianist Tom Poster, their repertoire ranging from the work of Baroque composer Henry Purcell all the way to that of jazz legend Cole Porter. The closing performance at St John’s College Chapel also offered a variety of classical music pieces, with the Tallis Scholars performing Vivanco’s fiery Spanish music as well as the calm and peaceful music from England and the Low Countries.

Education was not left forgotten either. This year, the projects were focused on singing and percussion. Local primary schools participated in a performance of Green Songs with King’s Junior Voices at St Andrew’s Baptist Church, and the world renowned percussionist Colin Currie joined the Cambridgeshire Youth Percussion Ensemble to play together at Cambridge Corn Exchange.

If you were walking by King’s College Chapel on the evenings of November 15 or 16, you might have noticed that it was not looking its old stone-white self. Artist Simeon Nelson, composer Rob Godman and computer scientist and artist Nick Rothwell joined together to create a massive light projection on the front side of the building, accompanied by spectacular sound effects.

The creators named their project Plenum and described it as “an artistic interpretation of the ways the universe could have been formed”, going from “a state of absolute order through to a state of complete chaos”. This event was one of the highlights of the festival, giving life even to one of the most ancient buildings in Cambridge.

The Cambridge Music Festival is an event, which encourages and supports the classical music tradition in Cambridge, as well as trying to introduce new approaches and projects. But the publicity of the festival could perhaps be improved in the future, especially among students. “When I saw photos of King’s College Chapel lit up like that, I had no idea what it was”, said Yeoh Lai Lin, a student at Homerton College.

In an interview for The Cambridge News, Lee said that he was “trying to bring something truly exceptional to the city and to bring people together in a way they may not have experienced before.”