It was a bit of a risk, programming the Sixth English Music over the weekend that held the national celebrations for Her Majesty The Queen's Jubilee celebrations as a rival event – however, despite no doubt losing some members of audience to television screens or river banks or barges, a very decent turnout had their Jubilee weekend enhanced by our contributions, and the Festival can most certainly yet again be counted a success.

Em launches EM Publishing

The first day dawned cold and cloudy; the morning and afternoon saw us setting up the box office and CD stall in the Abbey, the arrival of the Programmes and new EM Publishing products, the BBC chaps placing wires and microphones, the BBC Concert Orchestra rehearsing, with a working lunch in the Fleur de Lys to discuss photography, ticket sales, and for Æthelwulf, the Festival Irish Wolfhound, to lap up admiration. The initial EMF event was Barry Marsh’s talk on E.J.Moeran: Promises from a Postcard: A Symphony for Kerry, which was immediately followed by the EMF Friends’ party, generously hosted once more by the Broadbents in their beautiful Manor House. The rain held off, enabling us to enjoy their verdant gardens while sipping our champagnes. The garden party also saw the launch of EM Publishing, and we were delighted to be joined by EMF Vice-Presidents Terry Waite and our faithful Paul Guinery (who hasn't missed an EMF yet!). As the opening EMF concert with the BBC Concert Orchestra was being broadcast live on Radio 3, we had to start the speeches (Reverend Sue Booys welcoming the EMF back to Dorchester Abbey, and me welcoming both regular and new audience members and, as always exhorting them to join the Friends’ Scheme!) early. Catherine Bott was the lively and enthusiastic presenter, and the concert opened, as usual with Jerusalem – for the first time broadcast live on Radio 3 with the audience singing (“an audience in good voice”, as Catherine described us). It was followed by Matthew Curtis’s Festival Overture, composed for our 2008 ‘New Commissions’ concert, and always a wonderful starter to the Festival. The world première performance of Vaughan Williams’s Piano Fantasia ensued, with Mark Bebbington the virtuosic soloist, and then Ireland’s atmospheric Legend. Delius’s Over the Hills and far away followed the interval, brilliantly played, and the world première performance of Moeran’s Second Symphony concluded our opening concert – an absolutely fantastic work, superbly “realised” by the concert’s conductor, Martin Yates. After the concert, we moved up to the mediaeval Abbey Guest House for the launch of our sixth EMF disc, of works for violin and piano by Holst, Vaughan Williams and Walford Davies, with short speeches well received from myself and Rupert – an appropriately positive conclusion to a fantastic first day. Tired but happy, EMF Trustees retired to the White Hart for a late repast.

Radio 3 presenter Catherine Bott and pianist Mark Bebbington
Saturday’s proceedings commenced with a recital given by Rupert and Matthew. Any vestiges of somnolence in audience members were swiftly eradicated by John Pickard's opening Insomnia. This was followed by one of 2012’s main ‘finds’, Roger Sacheverell Coke’s Violin Sonata in D minor – a work which was extremely well received by the audience and which we hope to release on EM Records in due course. Lionel Sainsbury’s Soliloquy, a rather enchanting work for solo violin, rounded off the first half of the programme. Paul Carr was the third contemporary composer to be featured in this concert – his Now Comes Beauty, in its version for violin and piano, a wedding gift to Rupert and myself, commenced the second half, which was completed by Elgar’s much-loved Violin Sonata, here given a passionate and sensitive performance (and that’s even without any bias!). John, Paul and Lionel were present, and all extremely pleased with the renditions of their works. Off to Sutton Courtenay then for a quick bite to eat in one of the village’s many excellent pubs, before Ben Palmer’s Syred Consort presented a programme of choral works in the atmospheric ambience of All Saints’. Works by Finzi, Paul Carr and John Gardner featured alongside Rutland Boughton’s epic Sir Galahad and Ireland’s remarkably charming Eight Songs. Back over at Dorchester, EMF Friend and British Composer Organisation Scheme Secretary Sue Parker talked on Britten and Piper, tying in our programmes with the John Piper exhibition that the Abbey was concurrently hosting. Britten was the principal composer in the main evening concert, given by the Joyful Company of Singers under the direction of Peter Broadbent, with his Choral Dances from Gloriana, brilliant Hymn to St Cecilia and Five Flower Songs complemented by music by Morley, Lennox Berkeley, Bennet, Tippett, Gibbons, East, Rubbra, Howells, Vaughan Williams, Weelkes, Bliss and Finzi. Attempting to capture a photo for the cover of Spirited, Rupert and I ensconced ourselves in the organ loft – a wonderful vantage and listening point making what was a superb concert even more magical. The final concert of the day brought us firmly back down to the ground, as the Mellstock Band entertained audiences with a lively and rather earthy programme of music, songs, stories and poems from Hardy’s Wessex, entitled Hardy Perennials, with the robust serpent appearing in the EMF for the first time!

Robert Hardy narrates Arthur

The earlier part of Sunday morning was concerned with ensuring that all preparations were in place for our Festival lunch at Radley College. Matters had been complicated by road closures, and although we had anticipated these, some members of the audience for the first concert, a song recital with Philip Lancaster and Dr Andrew Plant, had not, so the start time had to be slightly delayed. The concert was very much worth waiting for, however, with a wide selection of songs by Britten, Peel, Ireland, Vaughan Williams, and even Richard Rodney Bennett. Philip and Andrew presented two song-cycles as part of the programme – Finzi’s powerful To a Poet and Howells’s Peacock Pie. Of great interest was the world première performance of Gurney’s The Lake Isle of Innisfree, while his Kathleen ni Houlihan was a wonderful discovery – an English song I’d never heard before – and how wonderfully atmospheric! Audiences members enjoyed chatting with the artists over wine and a buffet during the Festival lunch afterwards – a pleasantly convivial affair. The afternoon concert, back in the Silk Hall again, was York2 – John and Fiona York – with a gloriously frenetic performance of Holst’s Planets with all four hands on one piano – gripping stuff! This they followed with Rawsthorne’s The Creel and York Bowen’s Suite No.1, which were also well received by the audience, which had, rather curiously, now been joined by the Radley cat, a rather well-fed ginger beast, who sat at the top of the auditorium and watched with evident approval! Just time to walk the dogs – alas, in the rain – before heading back over to Dorchester (for the many of you who kindly asked after Krishna, the Border Collie, she is very much still with us; she was guarding the cottage during the days – besides, there’s not much room in the car for both an overly energetic Border Collie and giant Irish Wolfhound!) The day’s talk was given by Bruce Phillips on John Ireland and preceded our Arthurian concert (some small consolation for missing for the first time an annual King Arthur dinner down in Tintagel, which this year clashed with the EMF!). The concert, with Ben Palmer conducting the Orchestra of St Paul’s, opened with a suite of Purcell’s incidental music to King Arthur, before Britten’s sparkling Sword in the Stone. The concert world première of the complete incidental music written by Elgar for Binyon’s Arthur ensued, with EMF Vice President Robert Hardy narrating in his inimitable style, and bringing the score to life with feelingly-relayed summaries of the story. Elgarians had flocked to Dorchester for this concert and, by all accounts, were overjoyed with the rendition. The late evening event, with Charlotte de Rothschild and Danielle Perrett, was entitled Songs of Enchantment and presented songs of magic and mysterious creatures by composers such as Head, Stanford, Armstrong Gibbs, Spross, Larchet, Brewer, Quilter and Boughton, as well as arrangements of traditional songs.

Vaughan Williams started Monday off, with a solo recital by Iain Burnside in the Abbey – the Hymn-tune Prelude on Song 13 by Orlando Gibbons and The Lake in the Mountain. Gurney ensued, with the Five Preludes and the Chorale Prelude on Rockingham, while Job, in an arrangement by Holst’s friend and colleague, Vally Lasker, completed the programme. For many audience members, this was one of the highlights of the Festival. The afternoon concert took place in Radley’s Silk Hall – the Chamber Ensemble of London, directed by Peter Fisher, played a popular programme of Avison, Farnaby, Boughton, Purcell, Ireland and Boyce, amongst other works. Britten’s Simple Symphony formed a centrepiece to the first half, whilst I was particularly impressed by Harold Darke’s Fantasy No.1, and was delighted to discover that we had Darke’s son in the audience. Delius was the subject of the talk, by Roger Buckley, back in Dorchester Village Hall, and the Jaguar Land Rover Band returned to the EMF for the main evening concert. This was another fantastic, and often eye-opening event, with works by Percy Fletcher and Arthur Butterworth alongside Vaughan Williams’s Henry V overture, Malcolm Arnold’s Little Suite No.2, Bliss’s Kenilworth, Ireland’s Downland Suite and Bantock’s Prometheus Unbound resulting in much toe-tapping from the audience! Alwyn’s The Moor of Venice and the concluding Pageantry by Howells were personal favourites; whilst the encore of Vaughan Williams’s 49th Parallel reduced quite some several EMF regulars and helpers to tears! The resultant exultant mood was enhanced by The Songmen’s late evening concert, which combined early music – Byrd, and Weelkes’s gorgeous Gloria in excelsis Deo – with folk music and with popular and nostalgic songs, and sent audiences home in a capital mood.

John Andrews and the ESO

Eheu – the final day of the Festival arrived, and, amongst my feelings of utter exhaustion and sadness that it was all to be over soon, I gave thanks that Her Majesty The Queen’s Jubilee had provided us with the opportunity to go on for one day longer than usual! Over to the Abbey for box office duty for the first concert of the day – wherein Richard Jenkinson and Benjamin Frith presented a substantial programme of the Cello Sonatas by Bridge, Ireland, Delius and Britten, as well as Ian Venables’s Elegy and Walton’s Passacaglia for solo cello. The Ireland Sonata ended (fortuitously!) only just in time for the mid-day peal of bells, rung throughout churches nation-wide to mark the Jubilee! Mellifluous audience members then raced over to Radley for a sandwich lunch and rehearsal for the Kipling Settings concert’s Come and Sing the Choruses. Narrator Richard Fawkes had put together a programme of works for soprano, baritone and piano featuring music by German, Hunt, McGlennon, Ireland, Ivor Novello and Noel Coward. This concert was one of the most moving and thrilling moments of the 2012 Festival for me, including, as it did, Elgar’s incredibly touching Fringes of the Fleet (something I have always wanted to programme), and the joy of standing up with friends old and new alike and singing our hearts out in Soldiers of the Queen, We don’t want to fight, Sons of the Sea and Keep the Homes Fires Burning, and concluding with the ever-appropriate Mad Dogs and Englishmen. EMF Trustee and previous Chairman of the Elgar Society Andrew Neill continued the Empire theme in his talk on Elgar, India and Empire, which brought us to final concert in the Abbey with John Andrews and the ESO. I opened proceedings with the typical exhortation for people to buy our discs, join our Friends’ Scheme and generally support the work we do, before moving on to the thank-you’s to all my helpers, private donors, and the grant-making Trusts and Funds, without whose support the EMF simply could not take place. The concert itself commenced with Warlock's rousing Capriol before moving on to Alwyn’s lovely Autumn Legend. Another EMF 2012 acme for me – Delius’s Seven (though this time six, thanks to a miscommunication between the ESO and the publishers) Danish Songs – an absolute revelation and exquisitely sung by our soloist, Elena Xanthoudakis. More Delius followed the interval with the Irmelin Prelude and Late Lark (also with Elena), and the Festival itself concluded, in superb style, with Parry’s Third Symphony, the English. After presenting the conductor with the customary rose, I was moved to be presented, myself, with a delightful bouquet by Delius expert Lionel Carley on behalf of the EMF Trustees past and present. Even this did not mark the end of the Sixth EMF, as we then raced up to the Guest House for the launch of our fifth EM Records disc, of chamber music by Norman O’Neill. Subscribers to this disc and members of the Delius Society (Delius and O’Neill being the closest of friends) were pleased to be joined by members of the Bridge Quartet (the disc’s artists), as well as O’Neill's granddaughter. Speeches and wine flowed, and we were gradually joined, too, by my stalwart band of EMF helpers, stewards and disc sellers. As people eventually, and reluctantly, drifted away to local hostelries, or to make journeys home, we cleared up, and then joined the other EMF Trustees back at the White Hart for a final, swift meal, celebrating in this year’s triumph, and looking forwards, already, to the Seventh EMF.