The Sixteenth English Music Festival – May 2023

THE SIXTEENTH ENGLISH MUSIC FESTIVALDorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire, 26 – 29 May 2023

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BBC CONCERT ORCHESTRA (cond. Martin Yates)
E.J. MOERAN – Cello Concerto
ORCHESTRAL WORLD PREMIERES – Paul Lewis, William Lloyd Webber, William Alwyn
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (arr. Adrian Williams) – ‘A Road All Paved with Stars’

The sixteenth annual English Music Festival opens in Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire on 26 May and will run until the evening of 29 May 2023, with a highly anticipated visit by the BBC Concert Orchestra on opening night to perform major works by E. J. Moeran and Ralph Vaughan Williams, as well as world premieres by William Lloyd Webber, William Alwyn and Paul Lewis.

The 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 century.

For the Festival’s opening concert, EMF patrons will be making a special pilgrimage to Dorchester Abbey to hear a rare live performance of E.J. Moeran’s glorious Cello Concerto when soloist Raphael Wallfisch joins the BBC Concert Orchestra with conductor Martin Yates. Moeran’s biographer, Dr Ian Maxwell, sets the context to this marginalised yet much-loved work in his pre-concert talk.

WORLD PREMIERES: The opening concert includes no less than four premieres: Paul Lewis’s A Celebratory Overture; William Lloyd Webber’s Scenes from Childhood (realised by Martin Yates) and William Alwyn’s orchestral Serenade. The evening’s celebration ends in suitably joyous and characterful style, when Adrian Williams’s Symphonic Fantasy, adapted and arranged from Vaughan Williams’s opera The Poisoned Kiss, will be given a first live performance.

CHORAL CELEBRATIONS: Live choral music is to feature in two major programmes this year. The Godwine Choir and The Holst Orchestra conducted by Hilary Davan Wetton bring a programme of popular favourites by George Dyson, Cecil Armstrong Gibbs, Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Ireland and Gustav Holst together with Herbert Howells’s Requiem and Elgar’s sparkling Introduction and Allegro; while the vocal ensemble The Strand Consort with their conductor Joseph Fort end the Festival in celebration of the Coronation of Charles III with works including Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Mass in G minor, Hubert Parry’s I was Glad, and John Ireland’s The Hills.

INTERNATIONAL APPEAL: The Festival’s increasing international activity will be recognised by the presence of artists from across the world coming to Oxfordshire. On the morning of Saturday 27 May, the brilliant South African pianist Peter Cartwright will join the violinist Rupert Marshall-Luck in a showcase of music including works by Herbert Howells, Frederick Delius, Gustav Holst and John Ireland, and world premieres by Robin Milford and Richard Blackford.

Composers Madeleine Dring, Herbert Howells, York Bowen and Malcolm Arnold are represented in a vibrant and varied programme for flute, oboe and piano when the French-Italian ensemble of Nicolas Vallette, Marika Lombardi and Agnès Bonjean take to the stage on the morning of Sunday 28 May; while a particular highlight of the Festival’s late-evening concerts will be the superb young Portuguese guitarist Fábio Fernandes, who will present music for lute and guitar, demonstrating both the range and versatility of these instruments and the imagination with which British composers have written for them across the centuries.

RENAISSANCE OF ENGLISH SONG: Well-known to Oxfordshire audiences, and following their well-received recital at the EMF last year, tenor Daniel Norman and pianist Sholto Kynoch will present two of the most distinctive song cycles by British composers: Gerald Finzi’s Hardy-inspired A Young Man’s Exhortation and John Ireland’s Housman setting The Land of Lost Content; with songs by Ethel Smyth and Frederick Delius providing a perfect complement.

Soprano Sara Stowe and pianist Charles Wiffen provide an opportunity to hear songs by Walter Leigh, amongst others, in their showcase of song; and a different tradition is celebrated by the British folk band Moonrakers, who will perform ancient mystical ballads, evocative and lyrical tunes and joyous chorus songs as well as their own compositions.

RELAXED LISTENING: Simon Callaghan presents an opportunity to hear rarely heard piano works by Rebecca Clarke, Cyril Scott, George Dyson and Lord Berners, in his recital. On the evening of Sunday 28 May, The Guards Association Band under their Director of Music Tom Higgins will perform such favourites as Malcolm Arnold’s exuberant English Dances, the imposing Suite from Things to Come by Arthur Bliss, Edward Elgar’s much-loved Salut d’Amour and Eric Coates’s bustling Knightsbridge.

The EMF’s late-evening concerts are a special feature of the Festival, the intimate warmth of Dorchester Abbey providing the perfect setting for audiences to relax and enjoy the lighter side of British composers. This year, seven-piece dance band The New Foxtrot Serenaders make a welcome return to showcase the verve, comedy and pathos that imbues the golden age of dance-band music.

Further information including the full Festival programme is available on the EMF’s website: click here

Tickets are now on sale: click here and by means of a postal booking form. Full Festival and Day Passes are also offered. Subject to availability, tickets for individual concerts will also be available on the door.

Idyllic surroundings: Characterful local inns providing accommodation and refreshment are to be found in and around Dorchester-on-Thames. A convenient EMF mini-bus transfer operates between venues and Didcot Parkway station.

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