Hwæt! Another happy and successful English Music Festival, with the largest audience numbers we’ve as yet attracted and several events completely sold out. As usual the Festival had a wonderfully friendly atmosphere, with audience members new and old commenting that they very much felt part of the ‘EMF family’. Festival attendees joined us from as far afield as America and Germany, Northumberland and Devon, many staying for the entire event, with a record number of Festival Passes sold.
The Festival opened for me with a talk I was giving to the Cultural Tours group, joining us once again this year, in which I described the genesis, origins and aims of the EMF and ran through the history of the previous six years. I was delighted to have such a receptive and interested audience and thoroughly enjoyed this different start to the Festival. For the general public, the events started a couple of hours later with Lewis Foreman’s talk Searching for English Music, on the unheard early works of Vaughan Williams and Walford Davies, delivered again in the Village Hall and to a numerous and fascinated audience. By this time, the Gwen Raverat Archive (a member of the EMF British Composer Organisation scheme) in the person of William Pryor, the artist’s grandson, had set up a Raverat exhibition in the back room of the Village Hall, with prints by this wonderful artist (and relative of Vaughan Williams) beautifully displayed; this was to run for the duration of the Festival as an added attraction.
Simon and Margaret Broadbent once more generously acted as our hosts for the opening EMF Friends and VIP Garden Party, opening their handsome Manor House up to us to enjoy. For the first time ever the weather was against us and bitterly cold temperatures dissuaded all but the very brave from straying outside; and the necessity of spilling out from the Broadbents’ elegant entrance hall into the surrounding rooms prevented a single gathering point and thus precluded speeches. Nevertheless a suitably jolly time was had by all, and we were glad to be joined by EMF Vice-Presidents Paul Guinery, Brian Kay and Michael Kennedy, as well as by Lord and Lady Trimble and eminent figures in the world of English music such as Hugh Cobbe and Diana McVeagh.
In the meantime, a capacity audience had been piling into the Abbey for the main evening concert with the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Martin Yates (which was broadcast on Radio 3 a few weeks later). Reverend Sue Booys warmly welcomed the Festival back to Dorchester Abbey, and I then greeted the audience with a few words about the Festival. The music-making commenced, in traditional EMF style, with Jerusalem, superbly sung by everyone. Britten’s effervescent Canadian Carnival followed – and then a completely unexpected programme change that left us with Vaughan Williams’s The Solent and gorgeous Serenade in A minor when we had been expecting Holst. Never mind: the wonderful Holst Winter Idyll followed the interval, and Walford Davies’s substantial Second Symphony concluded the programme. This was a work that divided opinion, with some audience members left feeling unconvinced, but others (myself included) impressed and overwhelmed by the scale, vitality and tunefulness of the work. It was, in any case, a suitably rousing conclusion to a highly successful first day.
Saturday dawned a little brighter and the audience headed over to the Abbey for the opening violin and piano recital, with Rupert Marshall-Luck and Matthew Rickard. The programme consisted of Howells’s Violin Sonata no.1, Delius’s First Violin Sonata, Havergal Brian’s Legend, the first public performance of Harold Darke’s opulent t First Violin Sonata, and the concluding, colourful, Britten Suite. Despite the playing of the artists being very highly praised indeed by all present, I regret to say that it was the Festival wolfhound, Æthelwulf, who stole the show and won the hearts of the audience members – sitting, as she did, in an appreciative silence throughout, barely even stirring, and gaining even greater admiration in the interval with her trick of placing her forepaws on my shoulders, standing far taller than me and – this part not on request – smothering my face in licks!
A bit of a mad dash over to Radley was now required in order to arrive in good time for the first Festival lunch – the Gala Luncheon, with sparkling wine and tables groaning under the weight of huge pork pies covered in glistening cranberries, quiches, salads, meats, cheeses and elegant canapés. This was held in the New Pavilion, a circular building of glass and wood, with its large windows and balcony offering a panoramic view of the cricket pitch, and members of the audience appeared to greatly enjoy the culinary offering, as well as the opportunity to mingle with distinguished invitees from the world of English music. This preceded the concert in the Silk Hall with the London Chamber Strings, conducted by Bjorn Bantock (Sir Granville’s great-grandson), comprising Holst’s Moorside Suite>, Bantock’s From the Far West, Alwyn’s Sinfonietta, Finzi’s Romance, Ireland’s Elegiac Meditation and the ever-popular Britten Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge.
Back in Dorchester shortly after the end of this concert, the Village Hall was absolutely packed for a talk given by Sullivan Society Chairman, Martin T. Yates, on Sullivan’s Golden Legend, thus preparing listeners for the treat to come back in the Abbey, with the ESO, conducted by John Andrews and with Elena Xanthoudakis, Victoria Simmonds, Brennan Guillory and Grant Doyle as soloists performing this too-long neglected masterpiece. Many were deeply moved by this performance of a much-loved work that they thought they would never have the opportunity to hear live – with quite some several audience members visibly in floods of tears.
Many stayed on then for the final concert of the day, with Martin T. Yates and the young but talented Edmund Taylor presenting a light and attractive programme of works by Elgar, Sullivan, Mackenzie, Delius and Ketelbey on violin and piano.
Sunday was our Radley day, with morning and afternoon concerts and another Festival lunch all taking place within the precincts of the College. Duncan Honeybourne commenced proceedings with a piano recital in the Silk Hall that drew great acclaim and admiration from the audience, and included works by Moeran, Howells, Bax, Stanford, Britten, Downes and Fleischmann, several of them recorded on our EM Records Complete Moeran Piano Music disc. Radley’s excellent sound-proofing was put to the test during this concert when Abingdon Dance Company, based in the theatre over the other side of the foyer decided to blare out pop music at full volume: I was manning the box office in the foyer and was gratified to see how swiftly they desisted when Festival Director’s teeth were ferociously bared at them. Thankfully, the audience heard nothing amiss!
The recital was followed by lunch in the New Pavilion – again very well-attended and appreciated; and audiences then made their way over to the beautiful Chapel that hosted the concert that was, for some, the highlight of the Festival. The Elysian Singers presented a programme of the sacred choral music of Stanford and Parry, set in the context of the friendship between the two men, with the storyline narrated by director Sam Laughton, mostly through letters between the composers. The singing was radiant and had many an audience member dabbing at eyes.
Alas, I was unable to stay to the end, as duty called me back to Dorchester to set up for the following event, the launch of one of our most recent EM Records discs, EMRCD016, featuring the Bridge Quartet performing newly-discovered early chamber works by Parry. We were joined at this launch (held in the Village Hall during the usual talk slot) by members of the Bridge Quartet, who gave a fascinating talk about the music, illustrated by the performance of particular movements of the works in question. This was followed by the chance to discuss the music with and ask informal questions of the Quartet over sandwiches and a glass of wine.
The evening concert in the Abbey featured the City of London Choir conducted by Hilary Davan Wetton, with Dyson’s Three Songs of Praise; John Gardner’s Stabat Mater (which many found another high point); Vaughan Williams’s Rhosymedre, unusually in the version for strings; Finzi’s God is Gone Up; the wonderful Britten Rejoice in the Lamb and a strong performance of Vaughan Williams’s glorious Five Mystical Songs.
The late evening concert also took place in the Abbey, although we used the side-chapel for this, creating a more intimate atmosphere; I have to confess this one of the very best events of the entire Festival from a personal point of view. It was the first time (and certainly won’t be the last!) that we welcomed the dapper New Foxtrot Serenaders to the Festival, and they gave us a real treat. The music included songs by Noel Coward, Ivor Novello, Noel Gay, Ray Noble and Flanagan and Allen, interspersed by comment from group director Graham Wright, either setting the songs in context and giving a little background information about composer, lyricist or inspiration behind the piece, or else singling out a lady in the front for patter who nearly had to be restrained from getting up and dancing, or me, for my ecstatic smiles. On turning round in my pew (for the seating area had completely sold out so several of us had to sit slightly side-on), I was greeted by a sea of grinning faces, some in joyous rapture, others more misty-eyed, and a multitude of tapping toes and fingers. The Serenaders managed to reduce me to something of a wreck at the end, however, with their encore of We’ll meet again – one of the many World War songs which always has a profound emotional effect upon me – and left me having to pull myself back together very quickly indeed...
As ever, the final day came around far too soon and it was deeply to my regret that the necessity of packing up all our possessions and the dogs (yes, for those of you who are bound to ask – the border collie as well as the wolfhound!) and departing our accommodation meant having to miss the morning’s concert at our popular and atmospheric venue of All Saints’ Church, Sutton Courtenay. The concert, with In Voice and Verse performing a programme of music and words entitled Elizabeth to Elizabeth: 450 years of English Music and History was, by all accounts, a tremendous success.
We, meanwhile, had reached Dorchester and were in the process of recording a promotional video for our major forthcoming EM Records recording of Violin Concertos by Milford and Stanford, comprising an interview of me by David Owen Norris, Rupert discussing the Concertos, and a short extract in the violin and piano version of the Stanford, with Rupert accompanied by Norris. The afternoon concert meanwhile started over in Radley’s Silk Hall, with the Thamyse Quartet playing Purcell’s Two Fantasias, Ireland’s Phantasie Trio no.1, Britten’s Third String Quartet and Elgar’s popular Piano Quintet.
The afternoon rehearsal in the Abbey attracted a distinguished interested-party audience of the composers of the New Commissions, along with EMF Vice-President Sir Roger Norrington, and the baritone David Wilson Johnson (plus Festival Director and perfectly- behaved wolfhound). The rehearsal was immediately followed by the New Commissions Composers’ Forum in the Village Hall, chaired by EMF Trustee and former Chairman of the Elgar Society, Andrew Neill. In this animated session, the composers discussed their new compositions, with topics covered ranging from the inspiration behind the works, through to methods of composition and the use of Sibelius versus pen and manuscript paper. David Owen Norris, one of the composers featured, was celebrating (early) his sixtieth birthday and Simon and Margaret Broadbent hosted a reception for him. I was deeply envious that the weather had so improved that Norris’s event was blessed with blue skies and a radiant sun, and guests (including pre-eminent figures in the worlds of music, radio and academia) basked in the gentle heat whilst enjoying drinks on the lawn, before gradually making their way back to the Abbey for the final concert. This, with Ben Palmer conducting the Orchestra of St Paul’s, was the EMF’s second ever New Commissions Concert, following on the success of our first such back in 2008.
I launched proceedings with a few words of thanks to my stalwart band of helpers and volunteers, without whose assistance running the event would simply be impossible. The opening work, Richard Blackford’s overture Spirited (the title drawn from our Gazette and also chosen to describe key elements of the Festival), was a suitably ebullient start. Philip Lane’s Aubade Joyeuse was followed by Christopher Wright’s atmospheric Legend; Paul Carr’s gorgeous And Suddenly It’s Evening (with Rupert as soloist); Paul Lewis’s lively and deeply attractive Norfolk Suite; and Ben Palmer’s own Sinfonietta. The second half commenced with the other work for solo violin and orchestra; this, arguably the most astringent piece in the programme, yet with a haunting beauty of its own, was David Matthews’s White Nights. The work to close the concert – and the Seventh EMF – was David Owen Norris’s thought-provoking Symphony, which introduced some new instruments to the Festival, including as it did a lion’s roar, rain stick and giant anvil. The pleasingly large audience milled excitedly at the end, keen to converse on the merits of the different works with each other and with the composers themselves, all of whom, except Philip Lane (regrettably prevented from joining us due to duties in America) were present for the occasion. It was yet another of those concerts that drew audiences together in energised discussion, admiration and debate, providing the perfect conclusion to yet another inspiring and invigorating English Music Festival.
EM MARSHALL-LUCK · FOUNDER-DIRECTOR