Saturday 24 May 2014

London English Song Festival 2014

Judith Weir - photo credit Chris Christodoulou
Judith Weir
photo credit Chris Christodoulou
The London English Song Festival was started in 2011 by Artistic Director William Vann to promote and celebrate the wide and varied repertoire of English Song.

This year's festival kicks off on the 5th June at St James Piccadilly with the Irish mezzo-soprano Ann Murray DBE, tenor Alessandro Fisher, winner if the Oxford Lieder Young Artist award, and the festival's Artistic Director William Vann (piano) performing songs from the 17th to 21st century by Henry Purcell, Joseph Haydn, William Denis Browne, Michael Head, Samuel Barber, Benjamin Britten, Lennox Berkeley, and Donald Swann.

This year is Judith Weir's 60th birthday and the concert on the 6th of June in St George's, Hanover Square celebrates her music. Royal Academy of Music Richard Lewis prize winner Katie Bray, Kathleen Ferrier song prize winner Johnny Herford, and William Vann will be performing songs by Weir including 'Songs from the exotic' and 'The Voice of Desire'. The programme also covers songs by English contemporaries Scott Wheeler, Jonathan Dove and Robin Holloway, as well as people who have influenced her writing such as Aaron Copland, and George Gershwin. The composer herself will be giving a pre-concert talk.

There is also a chance for budding singers to get involved. On the 8th of June, at The Forge, Camden, there are twelve places for amateurs, accompanied by William Vann, to sing for fifteen minutes and showcase their talent. If you wish to be involved contact the London English song festival directly via this form, giving your contact details, availability and an idea of repertoire – 'ideally English song, of course!'

Also at St George's, Hanover Square, the fourth concert in the series celebrates composers of the Great War, in a WW1 centenary commemoration with songs performed by tenor Alexander Sprague, the 2013 Kathleen Ferrier prizewinner Gareth John and William Vann. There will be a pre-concert talk by Professor Jeremy Dibble, biographer of Hubert Parry, who was a composer and head of the Royal College of Music.

The horrors of the Great War also affected art and music, not just because many people never came home, but because the survivors were irrevocably altered by the experience. Songs set by Parry, who died in the Spanish 'Flu epidemic that followed the war, will be presented along with other songs by contemporary composers such as George Butterworth, who died at the Battle of the Somme, Arthur Bliss who was twice wounded and gassed, and Hamilton Harty, who was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy.

Also included are songs by Ivor Gurney, who was in the Gloucestershire Regiment (and was also gassed), William Denis Browne who was in the Royal Navy and died in the Gallipoli Campaign, and Ernest Farrar, who enlisted in the Grenadier Guards in 1915 but died only two days after reaching the Western Front at the Battle of Epehy Ronssoy in 1918.

The final two composers are: Ralph Vaughan Williams, who enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps even though he was too old for conscription, and John Ireland who was unable to fight because of his health - despite trying for several months to pass physical examinations.

The 2014 festival concludes on the 11th June with a recital by tenor Allan Clayton, the Navarra Quartet, and William Vann performing songs by Frank Bridge, Roger Quilter and Ralph Vaughan Williams at St James's, Piccadilly. They will also be performing David Matthews' setting of Edwin Muir's 'One foot in Eden'.

Ticket can be bought in advance from the Cadogan Hall box office or on the door. There is also a discounted pass for all five events.
Hilary Glover

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