It will be an important moment on our path out of lockdown as the arts start to return strongly to the era – and an important opportunity for musicians.
Promised as “annual discovery of orchestral, choral and chamber music gems by British composers”, the English Music 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 annual English Music Festival celebrates the brilliance, innovation, beauty and rich musical heritage of Britain with a strong focus on unearthing overlooked or forgotten masterpieces of the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries,” explains festival director Em Marshall-Luck.
“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.”
Launching the English Music Festival in Horsham this Spring Bank Holiday 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.
Festival director said: “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 14 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.
“In lighter vein, regular Festival favourites the New Foxtrot Serenaders perform effervescent works by Ivor Novello, Noel Coward, Flanagan and Allen and others in their own engaging style while pianist and broadcaster Paul Guinery presents a selection of light music discoveries by Edward German, Billy Mayerl and Haydn Wood.
“Informative and entertaining talks, setting the composers and their music in context, will take place in the town’s Drill Hall with speakers including cellist, Joseph Spooner, musicologist and conductor Joseph Fort and composer Paul Lewis.”
Tickets available on http://www.englishmusicfestival.org.uk