By Emma Lilley

One of the many pleasures of the Presteigne Festival is the surprise packages – not just the exceptionally high-quality music-making, but all the optional extras, the talks and films, many given by, or about, members of this spirited Border community. They're the signature expressions of the creative life of this small Welsh town. One was Such is Life, a documentary on Australian painter Sidney Nolan, who lived out his last decade at The Rodd just outside Presteigne (and was also the Festival's first president). Together with his wife Mary, Nolan cherished a vision of their home as a place where recitals and concerts could take place alongside the visual arts. One lot of footage showed a young Adrian Williams (the pianist–composer who founded the Presteigne Festival in 1983) accompanying cellist Alexander Baillie, a vast spray-painted Nolan in the background, watched by an amusingly 'period'-looking audience that included another Festival native, composer Michael Berkeley. It makes you appreciate the depth of the Festival's roots locally and reminds us of the many individuals it has taken to breathe life into the whole enterprise over the past 35 years – and then to keep it going.

George Vass has served as artistic director for 25 of those years, so hats off to him for his energy and ability to round up the talent, marshal the money, and then deliver the whole shebang. Friday night's 'Celebration Concert for George Vass' was a chance to mark Vass's commitment and hear more of the Festival's stock in trade – music from living British composers. There was the thrilling ride of Paul Patterson's Sinfonia for string orchestra with its challenging technical work-out for the players. (When you think that the orchestra may only have seen some of the music a few days before you can't help but be staggered by the brilliance of their sight-reading and virtuosic playing.) And then there was Goddess, a seductively lyrical work by this year's composer-in-residence, Edward Gregson, featuring the rich sonorities of violist Rachel Roberts. The stand-out piece, though, was the world premiere of Variations on 'Lovely Joan', eight short works coordinated by Thomas Hyde from as many composers, including himself, on the theme of the English folk-song 'Lovely Joan' as a tribute to Vass (and a belated 60th birthday present). Cleverly organised, each discretely different in mood or tempo and yet infused with a subtly cohesive spirit that exploits the myriad colours and textures of the strings, these Variations will no doubt find a home in the repertoire.

Monday night saw another celebration, this time for Mary Nolan, a painter like her husband, who died last year and who Vass describes as 'a fantastic friend to me and the Festival'. The musicians were the outstanding Leonore Trio and the programme fit for an artist: a performance of Hyde's Piano Trio: after Picasso, which evokes three famous Picasso works by painting with the strings' sound effects; and Gregson's Serenata Notturna for violin and piano, capturing most effectively the dark, reflective atmosphere of night. The concert closed with a deliciously fleet performance of Schubert's Piano Trio in B flat, one punter saying as they left, 'I've heard some of the best chamber-music-making ever here.' Couldn't agree more.