English Music Festival will be Bank Holiday celebration in Horsham
Some years ago the perception was that English music was imperialistic, jingoistic, overly rooted in folk tunes and just plain fuddy-duddy.
Em Marshall-Luck set up the English Music Festival to banish those misconceptions – and she is delighted at the extent that attitudes have now changed.
She is also delighted that the festival is now developing a warm and friendly relationship with Horsham where it returns for the Spring Bank Holiday.
Promised as a “discovery of orchestral, choral and chamber music gems by British composers”, the festival runs from May 28-31 (www.englishmusicfestival.org.uk). Concerts run throughout the weekend and take place in St Mary’s Church, Causeway and in the historic 1920s Drill Hall, just five minutes’ walk away.
“The English Music Festival was something that I set up after leaving Oxford. I set it up about 15 years ago but it took a couple of years to get going. Throughout my teens I loved various British composers, but I discovered that there was a huge body of music that you could buy on disc but just wasn’t being played in the concert halls at all.
“There were a variety of reasons why English music was being so looked down upon.”
Perceptions of imperialism and jingoism were just a couple.
“And that was why I set up the festival, and fortunately that has completely changed now. People are discovering this beautiful body of work that you could previously only hear on disc.
“I just thought that we had to do something about it, and even when I did the first festival people were saying ‘It’s great that you are putting on this festival, but why are you putting on such rubbish music?’
“There were a surprising number of people saying that – people who you really would not expect to say that. But that has all changed now and those same people are really enjoying the music.
“I think what is great about English music is the diversity. There is so much to it, but I do think it has a recognisable sound world. You can listen to English music and think ‘Ah yes, that is a British composer.’ It is so different. There is a quality of emotion that is repressed. Some of it is very lyrical. It is passionate. It is beautiful. It is well-crafted. It is exciting. It is vibrant. It is dynamic. It is all of those things – as dynamic as the music of any other country.”
And yet so undervalued for so long: “It was interesting that when I set up the festival a number of contemporaries who were foreigners were saying that if I had done this in France of Germany, then the governments would have been falling over themselves to give us money.”
Not so here. But at least the attitudes have changed.
The festival is usually in Dorchester on Thames, but they held an autumn festival in Horsham last year and also returned for a couple of Christmas concerts.
“I am always very keen to take the festival to new areas and Horsham was one of the areas where our audiences were coming from. It will go back to Dorchester next year but Horsham works so well for us that I think we may well keep the autumn festival there.
“The autumn festival in Horsham went very well last year. It was between lockdowns and there were lots of new restrictions to follow and it was a bit strange seeing everyone in face masks, but it went well. And the thing we discovered is that people were just desperate for music. Our audiences are mostly mature to elderly, and music is their passion – and it has been the thing that they have been really missing. They were so pleased to have us back.
“With each event that we host, we increasingly realise how inestimably important live music-making is for some people, and how heavily they rely upon it for their emotional, social, mental and spiritual health and well-being.
“We have also become very aware of the plight of musicians, and especially younger artists, now at a vital stage in their careers, but lacking the performance opportunities that they so desperately need.
“Such factors have made us ever more determined to continue putting on concerts wherever and whenever we can, and we are absolutely delighted to be able to return to beautiful and spacious St Mary’s (a Covid-secure venue) for our main festival and to be able to support both our loyal audiences and our wonderful musicians in this important way.
“It promises to be a gloriously exciting event, with dynamic musicians staging fabulous and moving works.”
Em added: “Launching the Festival will be Midlands-based Orchestra of the Swan, under their conductor David le Page, who will also be the soloist in Vaughan Williams’s rarely heard Violin Concerto, the Concerto Accademico. The programme also includes sparkling string works by Peter Warlock, Walter Leigh, Gustav Holst and John Ireland, who for many years lived a very short distance from Horsham.
“On Bank Holiday Monday internationally-renowned baritone, Roderick Williams, along with the Bridge Quartet and pianist Michael Dussek, will perform Ivor Gurney’s rarely-heard The Western Playland, which sets words by A E Housman, which work the same performers also recently recorded on the Festival’s acclaimed recording label, EM Records.
“This disc, Those Blue Remembered Hills (EMRCD065), will also be receiving a formal launch and celebration at a reception in the Drill Hall following the concert, at which the performers will discuss the music and recording and prosecco will be served. The recital will also feature Roderick Williams singing Finzi’s Thomas Hardy song-cycle I said to Love, and songs by Parry and Stanford while the Bridge Quartet will also perform music by Holst, Parry and Delius.
“Enthusiasts of English song will be well-provided for at the Festival when Lucy Stevens and Elizabeth Marcus perform a selection of Shakespeare songs set by fourteen composers over four centuries, interwoven with poetry from his plays and sonnets.
“The Kathleen Ferrier Award prize-winning baritone, Gareth Brynmor-John, and pianist Christopher Glynn will also present a programme of songs, showcasing the miniature masterpieces of Peter Warlock, alongside those of his friends and contemporaries: Bax, Moeran and Delius.
“Violinist Rupert Marshall-Luck and pianist Duncan Honeybourne will be performing sonatas by Bliss, Howells, Delius and Ireland, alongside the world première of a captivating piano piece by Edgar Bainton; and the Aurora Trio, formed by young and brilliant soloists Emma Halnan, Jordan Sian and local harpist Heather Wrighton, will perform works for flute, viola and harp by Arnold Bax, York Bowen, Ralph Vaughan Williams and that local composer of enchantingly attractive music, Paul Lewis.
“For the final concert of the Festival, we take a step back in time, with award-winning young group, Ensemble Hesperi, whose programme, directed from the harpsichord by Thomas Allery, will include Scottish Baroque music, famous for its catchy dance rhythms and infectious melodies, alongside lesser-known repertoire by composers of the north of England and the Midlands. Earlier on in the weekend, the celebrated Armonico Consort, under their conductor Christopher Monks, will delight audiences with much-loved works by Handel and Purcell.
Tickets available on www.englishmusicfestival.org.uk.
Friday, May 28
5pm, St Mary’s Church, talk: Gustav Holst and a Story of Thematic Transformation
7.30pm, St Mary’s Church, Orchestra Of The Swan
Saturday, May 29
11am, St Mary’s Church, Rupert Marshall-Luck, violin, Duncan Honeybourne, piano
2.30pm, St Mary’s Church, Shakespeare In Song And Verse
5pm, The Drill Hall, talk: Percy Sherwood, Musician: An Englishman in Dresden; a Foreigner in London
7.30pm, St Mary’s Church, Armonico Consort
9.30pm, St Mary’s Church, Paul Guinery, piano
Sunday, May 30,
2.30pm, The Drill Hall, Aurora Trio
5pm, The Drill Hall, talk: Memoirs of a Media Composer, Paul Lewis
7.30pm, The Drill Hall, New Foxtrot Serenaders
Monday 31 May
11am, St Mary’s Church, Gareth Brynmor John baritone, Christopher Glynn piano
2.30pm, St Mary’s Church, The Bridge Quartet
7.30pm, St Mary’s Church, Ensemble Hesperi