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Kew Music Festival 2010

The Joys and Sorrows of George III

Kew Palace 21st June

Eight Songs for a Mad King

by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies - Master of the Queen's Music 

Kelvin Thomas and the Ossian Ensemble


In every sense a midsummer's day tour de force. Champagne, a talk about the joys of George III, an atmospheric tour of the Palace, then a performance of a masterly song cycle which turns on his sorrows. Never performed in a more evocative setting as here in Kew Palace, it's given in the very room where in 1801 George was tricked, put under restraint and then incarcerated by his doctors. Peter Maxwell Davies' inventive music drama reflects the inner turmoil of the monarch as he battles with the disease porphyria. Kelvin Thomas as King George howls and rages, reviles his captors, half jokes, deliriously calls for the Queen, craves the River Thames, talks to his caged birds and curses his afflictions. The words are George's own and the part calls for the most extraordinary vocal range - both in pitch and volume, sometimes ear-shatteringly loud, sometimes quiet soliloquy; and also for a great acting ability as the King's mood suddenly changes. The Ossian ensemble ranged behind Kelvin Thomas were equally versatile, hopping from bird whistles to their normal instruments: violin, cello, clarinet, flute, piano, harpsichord and percussion. Within the complex music are references to the the King's favourite composer - Handel - notably to the recitative 'Comfort Ye' from the Messiah. There are jazzy interludes and periods of pure dissonance, all performed here with dexterity and vigour. These eight 'songs' need to be heard as a whole to appreciate the true shape of the work. Two specially memorable moments are where the King snatches then smashes a violin in a fit of rage and finally, after a lucid interval where he speaks of his achievements in the third person, falls back into madness and runs screaming and howling out of the room pursued by drum beats from a hooded death-like figure.


For those not able to be there there is a commercial recording by Kelvin Thomas.

David Allen

Alex Mansfield

Have just returned home and wanted to congratulate you on a wonderful concert – so lovely to be able to attend a concert of that caliber 2 minutes walk from home.

Well done and good luck for the rest of the week


It was a huge success. Many congratulations! Thank you so much for inviting me.  I can't get over how fast and fabulously you have got your festival going.


Many congratulations on organising such a wonderful concert last night. We really enjoyed it.


Just to say what a splendid evening you arranged - even the Clerk of the Weather behaved nicely!  A well-deserved success for all your hard work in co-ordinating every aspect  of the evening so effectively.

It was a privilege to listen to Nicola Benedetti and her two companions in such beautiful surroundings-- their music was just superb. Certainly virtuoso performances from each musician.

We look forward to your next festival and  would like to stay on your mailing list.


This is a brief note to thank you so much for inviting us to the concert yesterday.  It really was outstanding in terms of performance, venue and friendliness of the organisation.


Many thanks indeed for organising the wonderful concert last night and congratulations on putting together such a fabulous festival.  Sadly we could only make yesterday night’s treat but hope your success encourages you to put on another festival next year.


I just wanted to say what a great evening you put on last night.  Sipping champagne, eating delicious canapes in the sunshine in such a setting, and listening to well-informed people telling me much more than 10 things I didn't know about Kew Palace and George III - great!  And I thought the 8 Songs was really well done - huge impact, and I don't remember having my socks blown off in quite that way when I saw the Fires of London do it in NZ in the late seventies.

Anyway, congratulations on a great evening.  I can just imagine how much organising it all took.


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