By Peter Reynolds

Composers at most classical music festivals tend to belong to the distant past. Not so Presteigne Festival where you are likely to meet the featured composers on the High Street, in the chip shop or the pub after the concert. Artistic director George Vass has a wonderful knack of putting together concerts effortlessly mixing old and new, with subtle interconnections running between them. And, with 27 events last Bank Holiday weekend, there was plenty for audiences to do.

On Sunday night Presteigne’s St Andrew’s Church was packed to the rafters for a choral and orchestral concert conducted by George Vass. Opening the event was a new commission from James Francis Brown, whose music has often been heard at the festival. The Heavens and the Heart, setting three psalms (Psalms 19, 58 and 92), made a splendidly athletic impression: traditional with strong simple choral parts singing out over the orchestra – it could become a useful addition to the amateur choral repertoire.

Adrian Williams’s Elegy for string orchestra is a memorial to film maker Ken Russell and the composer’s teacher John Russell. Williams writes from the heart, but with real control and technical assurance: it’s a piece that deserves to become a popular classic. The young orchestra under Vass’s baton were expressive and rhythmically taut and were joined by violinist Alexandra Wood for Deborah’s Pritchard’s Wall of Water – an expressive mini violin concerto based on Maggie Hambling’s paintings. All three composers were in the audience.

Fauré’s Requiem is cherished for its celebration of death as intimate, peaceful and loving. Instead of the usual practice of a pre-existing choir performing at the festival, this year George Vass put together a hand-picked group of choristers. Their assured singing was underpinned by a brisk no-nonsense account of the piece emphasising its natural sense of flow. Damien Thantrey was the baritone soloist and Sophie Edwards the silvery-toned soprano in the Pie Jesu.