The Tenth English Music Festival was always going to be a special event, yet I was so delighted to find audience members agreeing with me at the close of the Festival that this was the best EMF ever. Certainly, it was a great artistic success and full, as usual, of the traditional conviviality and cheer that is a hallmark of the EMF. As well as our returning regular Festival-goers and many new audience members, we also welcomed a number of visitors from overseas (including America as well as continental European countries).
In celebration of the Butterworth centenary year, the Festival commenced a day earlier with a concert at Radley College of works by Butterworth — whose entire output was staged by Radley over the Thursday afternoon / evening and Friday morning of the Festival. The Thursday concert featured Butterworth’s main orchestral works, and concluded poignantly with the Fantasia for Orchestra, this finishing abruptly with the last notes that Butterworth wrote before the hall was plunged into an apt darkness.
Events on the Friday at Dorchester opened with a well-attended talk given by myself which charted the history of the English Music Festival — from my original aims in setting it up and covering reasons why English music has been so neglected and overlooked, through how the Festival was established, to highlights of the previous nine years. This was followed by the reception generously hosted as ever at the Manor House by Simon and Margaret Broadbent, to which EMF Friends, Vice-Presidents, press and composers are invited. As usual, we were lucky with the weather, with the sun shining on us and on our hosts’ beautiful garden. For several members of the Friends Scheme, this was their tenth year of membership, and their continued support was recognised by the presentation of rosettes to those members, many of whom continued wearing their rosettes with pride for the duration of the Festival.
In due course we moved over to the Abbey for the BBC Concert Orchestra concert with Martin Yates conducting. This opened with Parry’s Jerusalem, sung as usual by the audience, followed by Paul Lewis’s Optimistic Overture, which was dedicated to me ‘in celebration of the Tenth English Music Festival’ and was a suitably joyous opening to the Festival. It was followed by David Matthews’s immensely powerful and intense Norfolk March, based upon Vaughan Williams’s Third Norfolk Rhapsody, which commenced as a reconstruction of the Rhapsody before turning into something darker and more powerful, brooding and menacing, as Matthews reflected on war and its loss of life. Three small tone-poems by Delius — Summer Evening, Winter Night (Sleigh Ride) and Spring Morning — were then followed by Coleridge-Taylor’s exuberant and energetic Petite Suite de Concert. Vaughan Williams’s Fat Knight comprised the second half of the concert — based on Sir John in Love, and orchestrated from a two-piano score by Martin Yates. The concert was followed by a reception in the White Hart Hotel for those who had contributed to the EMF’s Tenth Anniversary Appeal with a donation, and EMF Vice-President Terry Waite spoke movingly and powerfully of the role and effect of music and on the importance of support for the English Music Festival, to enable our pioneering work to continue.
Saturday commenced with early music from The Queen’s Six, in a programme that encompassed works by Byrd, Tallis, Tomkins, Weelkes, Morley, Gibbons and several traditional works, with a witty contemporary piece written for the group by Paul Drayton closing the first half, which much amused and engaged the audience in Dorchester Abbey.
The afternoon concert took place in All Saints’ Church at Sutton Courtenay, into which a very full audience only just fitted. In Voice and Verse — with actor Lance Pierson, soprano Belinda Yates and pianist Heather Chamberlain — presented a programme of Shakespeare, both spoken in poetry by Lance and sung in song, with composers ranging from Morley and Arne through Sullivan and Quilter to Warlock and Walton. The programme was presented in an engaging and amusing manner, and was greatly enjoyed by all present. The talk, back in Dorchester Village Hall, was given by Barry Sterndale Bennett, and was an overview of the composer William Sterndale Bennett, entitled A Beacon of Hope for English Music?
This was followed by the evening concert back in the Abbey, with the English Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Andrews. It opened with a new work, Daniel Gillingwater’s overture Ad Fontem, a set of variations of different fullness and disjointedness, on a 16-bar tune. This attractive but not unchallenging work was extremely well-received. Elgar’s Salut d’Amour followed, before what, for me, was one of the greatest highlights of this Festival, the Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra by Percy Sherwood — a big-boned, substantial, intense, passionate and romantic work, in which the orchestra were joined by soloists Joseph Spooner (cello) and Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin). Bursting with energy and vigour, the concerto dates from the early years of the twentieth century, and it was clear from the highly virtuosic performance, and the reception with which the work was greeted (including a spontaneous round of applause at the end of the first movement), that its erstwhile neglect has been wholly unjustified, and that we have discovered a truly romantic and remarkable piece. The expansion of repertoire and the bringing to wider notice of little-known composers is the Festival’s main mission: it is this which has brought it international acclaim; and we believe it is of great benefit to music-lovers worldwide, enhancing as it does the musical environment, helping to ensure constant cultural stimulation, and piquing audience curiosity. Just a few weeks after the Festival, the EMF’s recording arm, EM Records, oversaw the first recording of the concerto, with the same soloists and conductor joining the BBC Concert Orchestra — meaning that this work will shortly be available to anyone wishing to hear it.
The second half opened with The Lark Ascending, again with Rupert as the soloist, which was followed by Elgar’s much-loved Serenade for strings and Parry’s Lady Radnor Suite. Many of the audience stayed on for the late evening concert in the Abbey, with the Old Swan Band performing English folk-songs. The style of presentation by this group is informal in the extreme, with the band deciding on the spot which songs to perform, yet many of our audience members found this a refreshing change. The songs were greatly enjoyed and many feet tapped away.
Sunday morning’s recital by Richard Edgar-Wilson (tenor) and David Owen Norris (piano) in the Silk Hall at Radley College was another event of the very highest standards of musicianship and of presentation and communication with the audience. It was the second of our events to celebrate Shakespeare and the 400 years since his death, including settings by Parry, Arne, Purcell, German, Quilter, Coates, Stanford and Tippett, amongst others, performed by Richard Edgar-Wilson and David Owen Norris. Audience members then decamped to the New Pavilion for the EMF lunch, which was as friendly and convivial an event as always, with the wines and foods on offer appreciated by all present, and a chance to relax and for old friendships to be renewed and new ones kindled.
We remained in Radley for the afternoon concert, which also took place in the Silk Hall, and which featured cellist Richard Jenkinson and pianist Benjamin Frith. Several works by the composer Ian Venables — there with us in the Hall — complemented Gurney’s Cello Sonata (recorded on EM Records), Delius’s Caprice and Elegy, John Frith’s Eden, Alwyn’s Mountain Scenes and the Cello Sonata by Hurlstone. It was another extremely well-performed and much-enjoyed recital.
Back to Dorchester-on Thames, then, for the third talk in our series — Ian Venables speaking on Ivor Gurney — Brighter Visions — the Life and Music of Ivor Gurney, before the evening concert with Hilary Davan Wetton, the City of London Choir and the Holst Orchestra, in the Abbey. Rawsthorne’s Light Music for Strings, Elgar’s Elegy, part-songs by Sterndale Bennett, Havergal Brian and John Dankworth, Howells’s A Spotless Rose and Lennox Berkeley’s Serenade for Strings comprised the first half of the concert. Very fine though all of these were, the real gem lay in the second half of the concert, with Bliss’s Pastoral — Lie Strewn the White Flocks, which was given a magnificent performance, with Marta Fontanals-Simmons as the mezzo-soprano and Emma Halnan on the flute — both of these fresh, young, accomplished musicians added a welcome element of vibrancy and dynamism to the performance. We were also delighted to discover that Bliss’s daughter and granddaughter had joined us for the concert. This superb event was followed by another, equally enjoyable, if very different — the New Foxtrot Serenaders presented a programme of British Popular Songs from Stage, Screen and Wireless to a very good audience. Towards the end, they were again transformed into an orchestra with the addition of violinist Rupert Marshall-Luck, who joined them in a few jazz standards.
The final day of the Festival opened with our last recital when we welcomed the powerful and dramatic mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge and her sensitive pianist James Baillieu. The only sad note of the Festival was struck here as, having heard of the death of dear, wonderful Patricia Hurst, the stalwart of the Elgar and Vaughan Williams Societies, and English music-lover and dynamo, I dedicated the concert to her memory. Rudge and Baillieu presented a programme of songs by Howells, Quilter, Warlock and Bridge as well as Elgar’s Sea Pictures and Finzi’s Let us Garlands Bring, which was rapturously received. For many audience members this recital was one of the main highlights of the Festival, as Rudge sang with overwhelming power, passion and conviction, and yet also engaged her audiences with her personal and friendly introductions. She and Baillieu proved themselves artists of the utmost maturity, despite their young ages, and of consummate artistry.
A change in mood followed in the afternoon, with British band music, played by the Jaguar Land Rover Band under Dave Lea, ranging from the much-loved Elgar Severn Suite and Vaughan Williams‘s Prelude on Three Welsh Hymn Tunes through Howells’s Pageantry to the less familiar (such as Horovitz’s Euphonium Concerto and Alwyn’s The Moor of Venice). A talk by John Humphries on Hurlstone — our missing heritage brought the talk series to a successful ending, whilst the Festival itself concluded with a concert featuring the Bath Philharmonia under their conductor, Jason Thornton. It opened with Moeran’s Sinfonietta, followed by the world première of Paul Carr’s Violin Concerto, played by Rupert Marshall-Luck. A work full of Carr’s trademark lyricism and beauty, both work and soloist met with the very highest acclamation by all those present. The second half started with Holst’s glorious Song of the Night (another personal highlight for me) and ended with Vaughan Williams’s Aristophanic Suite, The Wasps, which, with its colour, brilliance and energy, provided the most wonderfully uplifting finale to the Festival.
I was moved and overjoyed to then be approached by a member of the audience, and a Friend of the EMF, who asked if I would mind if she did her MA dissertation on the EMF — a tremendous honour for us and a sign, hopefully, that the Festival has now truly made a mark on the British Festival scene and has fully come into its maturity.
Along with several educational projects, we also ran this year, for the first time, an EMF Radio Station, which broadcast during the quiet hours between concerts and talks. The schedule consisted mainly of programmes featuring artists involved in the Festival, talking about the works that they were presenting, such as a discussion between violinist Rupert Marshall-Luck and Joseph Spooner about the Sherwood Concerto; and composer Ian Venables and cellist Richard Jenkinson speaking about the programme of works that Richard was performing with his colleague Benjamin Frith on the Sunday afternoon of the Festival. We were very pleased indeed with the results of the station — with 154 listener sessions, lasting between half an hour and over an hour. Most of these were in the UK but we had quite a few from Australia as well, and there is a clear demand for us to continue this innovation into the future.
It is rare indeed to find a mention of the programme in a concert review, and even rarer for it to be given as the reason for going to a concert or concerts, but this was the case for reviewer Roger Jones of MusicWeb International, who commented on “the informative and well-produced souvenir programme book, which offers an excellent and comprehensive insight into English music”. Indeed, this year’s programme book was the longest we’ve had, at 108 pages, with a special additional section on the Butterworth Centenary, and was particularly handsome in its new perfect-bound format.
Our wonderful musicians, our devoted audience, and our Friends — who remain the backbone of the Festival — made the Tenth Festival something to be treasured and remembered; a success in all possible ways, and something to build upon into the future as we look forward to our next decade.
EM MARSHALL-Luck · FOUNDER-DIRECTOR