The English Music Festival (EMF) returns to Dorchester Abbey with the English Symphony Orchestra under conductor John Andrews as they open the 12th Festival programme with premières by English contemporary composers Christopher Wright and Richard Blackford, alongside a rare performance of Delius’s glorious Double Concerto.

In keeping with Founder-Director Em Marshall-Luck’s ethos of making lost British music available to everyone, the four-day programme includes a number of suitably commemorative programmes to mark the centenary of the ending of the First World War, a homage to composer, writer and suffragette Ethel Smyth to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, as well as a combination of audience favourites and resurrections of forgotten masterpieces.

Opening the festival this year, on the evening of Friday 25th May in Dorchester Abbey, is the English Symphony Orchestra under conductor John Andrews who will perform the World Première performance of Christopher Wright’s Symphony. Described as ‘listener-friendly’ by BBC Music, and as having ‘creative surge and invention and exceptional talent’ by The Strad, Wright’s wistful and reflective music is often inspired by the landscapes of his native Suffolk. The orchestra is joined by violinist Rupert Marshall-Luck for the UK Première performance of the Violin Concerto by Oxford-based composer, Richard Blackford, written in 2007 at special request of the composer and conducted by him in this performance. Previous visitors to the EMF may recall Blackford’s engaging orchestral appetizer, Spirited. These contemporary works straddle a performance of one of Frederick Delius’s most popular concertos; the Double Concerto for Violin and Cello, to be given by violinist Rupert Marshall-Luck and cellist Joseph Spooner.

On Saturday 26th May, the first of the EMF’s dedicated Young Artist Recital series welcomes flautist Emma Halnan and pianist Daniel King Smith in Sonatas by Malcolm Arnold and York Bowen together with Vaughan Williams’s enchanting Suite de Ballet. A song recital for tenor and lute given by John Potter and Jacob Heringman follows, to include songs by Byrd, Dowland and Tallis, Moeran, Butterworth and Warlock.

Vaughan Williams’s In Windsor Forest forms the central work of the Festival’s choral concert of British favourites, performed by the Godwine Choir and Holst Orchestra under conductor Hilary Davan Wetton. This is followed by a late-evening recital to be given by pianist and radio broadcaster, Paul Guinery, who will present a selection of light-hearted British repertoire including some of Billy Mayerl’s ‘syncopated novelties’ and other similarly entertaining jazz-inflected pieces.

Richard Deering’s piano recital on Sunday 27th May is a programme of mixed styles with works by Alwyn, Sterndale Bennett, Parry, Bliss and York Bowen.

Never Such Innocence is a moving and thought-provoking narrative recital of poems, readings and music from the First World War. Actor Christopher Kent and pianist Gamal Khamis juxtapose the words of writers Owen, Thomas and Sassoon with piano music by composers including Elgar, Bridge and Gurney.

Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas performed by Armonico Consort under conductor Christopher Monks features in Sunday evening’s concert, followed by singer, dancer and instrumentalist John Kirkpatrick who performs traditional English Folk-Songs

On Bank Holiday Monday, 28th May, the EMF presents a homage to composer, writer and suffragette Ethel Smyth, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918; the decisive step in the political emancipation of women in the UK. In Grasp the Nettle, Contralto Lucy Stevens and pianist Elizabeth Marcus perform music centred around the exploits and passions of the composer interwoven with her songs, the story of her greatest opera, The Wreckers and her battle for an equal voice.

The Bridge Quartet and pianist Michael Dussek are joined by celebrated baritone, Roderick Williams, in a commemoration of the First World War to include Ivor Gurney’s song-cycle and chamber works by Elgar and Howells.

Camerata Wales under the veteran conductor, Owain Arwel Hughes, sign off with a programme of characteristic English music for strings by Dyson, Howells, Finzi, Delius, Warlock, Vaughan Williams, John Ireland, and the conductor’s own Fantasia – to be performed by some of the leading Welsh orchestral instrumentalists.

A number of informative talks complete this year’s programme. A convenient mini-bus transfer is available to/from Didcot Parkway train station and between Festival venues (subject to timetable). Accommodation and refreshments are available from a number of characteristic eateries in the village.

For an event that receives no major long-term corporate funding, the Festival continues to thrive due to the feverish commitment of the Founder-Director, Em Marshall-Luck, and her dedicated team of volunteers. Achievements of the EMF extend far beyond the main Festival, and these include European and regional concerts and live performances on the BBC, which have featured world-class artists. Both the dedicated CD label of over 30 recordings, EM Records, and the publishing arm of books and scores focus entirely on British repertoire; often premières of long lost works. In addition, a dedicated British Composer’s scheme circulates information from Societies, Trusts and organisations with allied interests through a full-colour magazine called Spirited, containing lively editorial on all things ‘English music’.

The EMF Friends’ Scheme offers the chance to support the important work of the Festival. Julian Lloyd Webber, Chairman of the Friends’ Scheme and EMF Vice-President added; 'The English Music Festival is a national treasure and I will be doing all I can to help further its incredible and invaluable work, of which the Friends are a vital part.'

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