THE composer-in-residence at last year's 21st Presteigne Festival, Robin Holloway, celebrated the occasion not only through his colourful and exciting music but in an ecstatic article in The Spectator, written on his return to Cambridge.

"I don't know how the artistic director George Vass does it," he wrote - "it" being Vass's ability to refute the widespread belief that "music by living composers is repellent and best handled by passing by on the other side."

This admiration is widely shared, and the Presteigne Festival is one of four nominees for the Royal Philharmonic Society's Concert Series and Festivals Award.

Holloway was certain that those who came to the Festival last year would be back this time for more, and the programme of events for 2004 strongly suggests he will be proved right.

The composer-in-residence this year is Judith Weir, once a pupil of Holloway's at Cambridge, but now a major figure on the British musical scene.

Audiences will be able to hear no fewer than 10 of her works, beginning with an organ piece Wild Mossy Mountains on August 27, and ending with El Rey de Francia four days later.

If, like me, you're wondering how one does "wild mossy mountains" on an organ, you'll have to come and find out. There are works, too, by other British composers, including Alun Hoddinott, William Mathias and John McCabe, a regular and welcome visitor for many years.

The other main component of the festival is French music written since the extraordinary revival that took place in the 1870s, with contributions from Faur, Debussy, Ravel, Andr Caplet, Milhaud, Poulenc, Durufl, Messiaen and Dutilleux.

Debussy perhaps gets the lion's share and it will be wonderful to have the chance of hearing, in the course of a mere 36 hours or so, all three of the extraordinary sonatas he wrote at the end of his life, which on the surface appear to do not much and yet manage to puzzle and entrance nearly a century later.

Among the less well-known pieces are Caplet's Trois chants d'glise, and Dutilleux's Trois strophes sur le nom de Sacher which, since their appearance in 1978, have become a touchstone of contemporary solo cello writing, and playing.

The single "big" French piece is the Durufl Requiem, a modern classic that transcends its debts to Faur and to plainsong and touches the heartstrings like few other 20th-century works.

George Vass has assembled his usual team of artists ranging from the celebrated, like the organist Jennifer Bate and the trumpeter Alison Balsom, to the rising stars on which this festival has always depended.

There's also jazz, poetry, and events in the Assembly Rooms 'Specially for Children'.

The festival lasts from Thursday, August 26 ,to Tuesday, August 31, and I would recommend early booking for this enterprise 'whose apparent modesty', as Robin Holloway wrote, 'belies its state of health and strength, from which larger capitals could relearn a few things they're in danger of forgetting.'