Now we’re into April and events relating to the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death are beginning in earnest. Holy Trinity Church is always a focus during the Birthday Celebrations, since Shakespeare’s grave is the final destination for everyone who joins in the procession, and where flowers from a few daffodils from the back garden sit alongside the most elaborate floral wreath. This year, naturally, Holy Trinity Church has taken on itself the responsibility for running a whole series of events that celebrate Shakespeare’s life, works and continuing influence.
Each Saturday evening from 2 to 23 April there will be a concert relating in some way to Shakespeare. The first one, on 2nd April will be a Shakespeare-themed song recital featuring music by Quilter, Finzi and Arne, with a premiere of a specially-written song cycle with words by Paul Edmondson and music by Benedict Wilson. All four concerts offer free admission, with a retiring collection.
Later in the month there will be another musical offering, called the Food of Love project, on 28 April at 7pm. In this concert, “TMD Media and Pindrop present an incredible evening of music, songs mentioned or used in Shakespeare’s plays, composed during or before his lifetime. Ancient songs which entertained Shakespeare’s audiences will be brought to life in this magnificent Church” The concert will coincide with the release of an album featuring many of the performers and music from the concert.
The performance will be followed the next night by a performance of Antic Disposition’s production of Henry V. This production is already under way and being shown in several cathedrals including Winchester and Salisbury before its final performance at Holy Trinity on Friday 29 April. It’s sure to have a very special resonance, this great play being performed in the church were Shakespeare is buried.
On 6 April from 6-8pm there is a launch of an exhibition of paintings in the church that will be open free to the public from 9 April to the end of August. Seven paintings are included, each inspired by a part of the Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like It, and it’s described as “a contemporary reworking of these well-known themes using bold images with global resonance”. The artist is Jonathan Waller, who was born in the town and christened at Holy Trinity. His work features in the Tate Gallery and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and he is also a senior lecturer in Fine Art at Coventry University. It is said that there are plans for books to accompany the exhibition and an academic symposium.
I’m particularly pleased to hear that from 16-23rd April Holy Trinity is also to host a Bell-ringing festival. The ringing of the church bells, with “merry peals” at intervals throughout the day, has been part of the Birthday Celebrations for around 200 years.
The very first event will begin at lunchtime on 16 April when a celebratory full peal of bells will be rung, lasting about three and a half hours, quite a challenge for the ringers. But events will continue all week:
Bell ringers from across the country will be joining the team at Holy Trinity to participate in a ringing festival as the bells are rung out on several days to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday, and to also commemorate the 400 years since his death. Holy Trinity Church – where Shakespeare worshipped and is buried – has a particularly fine ring of ten bells and is one of only a handful of bell towers in the country to house more than 6 bells. The church’s bell ringing team, with help from over forty ringing colleagues from the surrounding area, are to ring eight times in six days, at the start of special services and concerts at the church. This ringing festival will allow residents of Stratford to hear the variety and beauty of the bells as they ring out full peals, quarter peals, and single bell tolls. Quarter peals will be rung to celebrate the 90 th birthday of HM The Queen on 21 st April, the church service for the visit of the Stratford’s of the World, and to mark the 400 th anniversary of Shakespeare’s burial. Each quarter peal will last about 50 minutes.
One particularly poignant ringing event will last just five to ten minutes; this will be
the tolling of the tenor bell at the conclusion of the RSC fireworks on the evening of
Saturday, 23rd April. This toll will mark the day that Shakespeare died and will tie in with an informal procession from the theatre to the church, for the start of a candlelit vigil in church.
Finally, I have to mention the Ex Cathedra concert on the evening of 22nd April at Holy Trinity, when David Garrick’s Ode to Shakespeare, first performed in September 1769 for his Shakespeare Jubilee, will be performed in full, with the Ode being spoken by actor Sam West with full musical accompaniment. Just a few tickets remain for this terrific event – the Ode is thought not to have been performed in full in Stratford since Garrick’s time.