Preparing for my trip there, I learned from many people that Wells (Somerset) is either their favourite English Cathedral city, or the one they have always intended to visit, or the one they would like to retire to if only it had a station nearby. This tiniest of cities is certainly worth the detour, for the super-wide fronted Cathedral and massive Bishop’s Palace of course; but particularly for Vicar’s Close. This is a complete, working fourteenth century street; there’s nothing like it in all of Europe. It’s amazing to think that people I know are living there and bringing up their kids in this edifice, in, I hope, reasonable comfort and convenience.
A further marvel is New Music Wells, a week-long celebration of contemporary choral music which is the brainchild of Matthew Owens, who is a whirlwind of energy in the Cathedral music world, constantly commissioning and performing new work, whilst taking the regular church goers with him on the journey. A well-attended service I heard featured a Mag and Nunc by Peter Maxwell Davies (very difficult to sing I imagine, but gripping to hear) and responses by John Tavener (ditto). A short anthem I had written (Leaf from leaf Christ knows, to a text by Christina Rossetti) had been commissioned by a very numerous group of locals; who no doubt will be returning next year to support new works by Howard Skempton, and then Thea Musgrave (in her 90th birthday year, 2018).
It was great also to meet several former colleagues who had moved to Wells to sing in the Cathedral choir, because they said, so much new music made for a very lively atmosphere. Having tried, throughout my working years, to argue, amidst some scepticism, that more new art will revive society, it was nevertheless remarkable to encounter the philosophy in practice, in this most historic of old English locations.