Dr David Green is a consultant anaesthetist at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. David has been involved with the annual English Music Festival since its inception in 2006.
English in this context refers to any music written in the UK and also Ireland, so it is not specifically referring to England, any more than the England cricket team has to be exclusively English, as we know!
I first became interested in English music when I saw an early rerun of the Ken Russell film on Elgar in 1964. I was totally captivated, not even realising at the time that Elgar was English! Despite the UK having a number of fantastic composers such as Elgar, Holst, Vaughan Williams, Delius, Walton, Britten and many more, they did not seem to have a prominent place in the concert hall. In 1985 I was actually interviewed on radio 4 for ‘the world this weekend’ by Gordon Clough on what I and a colleague Prof Ted Howard considered to be the lack of English music at the Promenade concerts, so called ‘prom bashing’!
The impetus to form the EMF really came from my ex-partner, Em Marshall, who was a pupil at St Paul’s Girls’ School in London where such luminaries as Holst, Vaughan Williams and Herbert Howells taught music. At the age of 15, Em was also appalled by the neglect of our own composers, particularly at the expense of performances of the Austro Germanic school. She proclaimed to her teacher at the time, now better known as the excellent conductor Hilary Davan Wetton, her intention of starting the EMF when she grew up. To which he remarked “you’re mad, but if anyone can do it you can”. It was not surprising when I met Em in 2001 that together we should plan to bring her dream to reality.
The Festival was founded to put English music back in the concert hall in live performance. This is important because from the beginning of the 20th century we both considered that these islands have produced more ‘listenable to’ classical music composers than any other part of the world.
The first Festival was held in 2006 at its now permanent home, Dorchester on Thames in Oxfordshire. Since then, there have been festivals from 2008 on an annual basis. The highlight of which is usually an orchestral concert on the opening day with the BBC Concert Orchestra and prominent conductors and soloists, such as Julian Lloyd Webber at our first Festival. This concert is usually broadcast on BBC Radio Three. There have been a number of world premieres even by composers as prominent as Britten, Delius and Vaughan Williams. A great highlight for me was to hear a live performance of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s cantata The Golden Legend and Hubert Parry’s 3rd Symphony; both receiving their first professional performances for decades.
Quite a variety of performances; we don’t stick entirely to classical music and always include some late-night concerts of more popular pieces. This year we’re not only including a rare live professional performance of Moeran’s Violin Concerto with Rupert Marshall-Luck and the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Martin Yates but also a late-night programme by the New Foxtrot Serenaders doing some popular numbers from the Thirties and the wartime period. They performed last year to great acclaim!
Probably the BBC Concert Orchestra as this is the biggest concert of the Festival and contains the Violin Concerto mentioned above. I cannot remember a professional performance of this work in London for over 50 years! This is precisely what the Festival is all about, playing neglected but excellent music which concert halls elsewhere would not entertain because they feel it will not get an audience. What rubbish!