Edward Elgar’s first experience of the Three Choirs Festival was as a boy in Worcester, where his father owned a music shop.

He would listen to his father and uncle rehearsing Beethoven’s Mass in C with the festival orchestra.

By 1878 he was playing second violin in the orchestra himself, and the great works that he heard and played at Three Choirs Festivals had a huge influence on his development as a composer.

The first of Elgar’s own works to be performed at the festival was the overture Froissart, premiered in Worcester in 1890.

His relationship with the festival was not always positive: as a Roman Catholic by upbringing he often felt a bit of an outsider in the Anglican cathedral world; he could be impatient with the conservative musical tastes of the festival committees; and some of his best works were premiered by concert promoters elsewhere that could afford to pay him more for the commissions. But the quality of Elgar’s music gradually came to be appreciated in the Three Choirs cities and both his choral and his orchestral works received regular performances; The Dream of Gerontius was performed 19 times in his lifetime and has been a staple of festival repertoire ever since (you can hear it on the first night of the 2015 festival). By the last decade of his life he had become the ‘Grand Old Man’ of the Three Choirs Festival, treated as a celebrity in all three cities. Elgar lived for a time at Plas Gwyn, Hereford, and struck up a warm friendship with the Hereford Cathedral organist of the 1920s, Percy Hull.

When conducting Three Choirs Festival rehearsals Elgar would often leave the cathedral and stroll down to the Hereford Club to discover what had won the 3.30 at the races.

Just five months before he died Elgar conducted Gerontius, The Kingdom, and the viola version of his cello concerto at the 1933 Hereford Three Choirs Festival