Jim Page, who put together the Chamber Music Plus brochures for many years, has sent us this history of the treasured publication:
History of Chamber Music Plus
"When I retired from teaching in 1989, I was roped in as Regional Secretary of the West Midlands Region of the NFMS (now Making Music) and with a lively committee, go-ahead chairmen in Jennie McGregor-Smith and Malcolm Rowson and shrewd treasurers in Ken Hewitt and Mike Spencer the committee organised a succession of enterprising regional events. Over a period of 17 years, workshops for singers were held annually led by all the top choral conductors of the day. John Rutter, who had just written his Requiem, was the first in 1993 and he generously agreed to give the workshop without a fee, so with over 400 singers signed up at £7.50 including lunch, success was guaranteed. What’s more, a healthy surplus resulted and with this money in the bank an ambitious project was planned for 1996 to celebrate NFMS’s Diamond Jubilee by giving simultaneous performances of Verdi’s Requiem in the three cathedrals of the region with the three top amateur orchestras. Michael Lloyd conducted Chandos Symphony Orchestra in Worcester, Nicholas Kok the Birmingham Philharmonic in Lichfield (rehearsed by Paul Spicer) and Guy Woolfenden the Warwickshire Symphony Orchestra in Coventry. Six rehearsals were held in each region and with almost 1,000 participants the occasion was uplifting for both performers and audience.
In its early days Arts Council grants were distributed by West Midlands Arts but its lack of understanding of the work done by NFMS Societies led to many crazy decisions. I remember uproar when the City of Birmingham Choir was refused a grant towards performing Tippett’s Child of Our Time. Yet, perversely the next year Birmingham Singers were given £5,000 towards a performance of Elijah! We published a Regional Newsletter three times a year and in the 49 issues that I edited there was much interesting local news and reports on concerts that Societies put on – some sent in, some written by me - and many a Saturday evening I spent listening to performances of very varied quality. In my mind I used to divide choral societies into four divisions and it always puzzled me as to why some “lower division” societies stuck with conductors who were both uninspiring and technically pretty incompetent!
We used to have Regional Committee meetings twice a year and travel expenses were paid to those who claimed (for which Head Office reimbursed the region) but this came to an end when the Yorkshire Region’s claims became so over-the-top that the new NFMS Director decided to abolish regional committees. This was a great pity as we had done much good work in the West Midlands (including buying a Steinway Model B which was available for hire in the region) and holding singing workshops for so many years. In regional committee meetings Choral Society representatives were in the majority, so inevitably many of the discussions were irrelevant to music society members. Hence the decision to have meetings of Music Societies on their own!
In 1992 (27 years ago!) this group decided to publish a booklet of chamber music concerts in the region and called it “Chamber Music Choice”. It featured concerts put on by NFMS Societies in the region and it was sad that once-successful organisations such as Birmingham Chamber Music Society, Droitwich Concert Club, Bromsgrove Junior Concert Club, Bromsgrove’s Mixing Music, Friends of Dudley Music, Walsall Music Circle and Wolverhampton Music Society have fallen by the wayside. In that 1992 issue there were 59 concerts listed, but in 2010 it was decided that entries would be accepted from non-NFMS Societies. By then NFMS had changed its name to Making Music and in the current issue, edited with panache by Jill Davies and Chris O’Grady, there are almost 300 concerts listed plus 24 full page advertisements. What’s more they also produce a Northern edition and with 11,000 of each brochure printed and a mailing to 1,114 addresses in the central region and 567 in the north they do an amazing job. So in those statistics I think we have the answer to those who say chamber music is dying!"
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Tuesday 8 October
Chineke! Chamber Ensemble
1pm, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
Coleridge-Taylor Piano Quintet in G minor, Op.1
Schubert Piano Quintet in A, D667
The Chineke! Chamber Ensemble perform a programme of quintets by Coleridge-Taylor and Schubert, displaying the astonishing maturity and virtuosity of the young composers.
Premiered in 1893, Coleridge-Taylor's charismatic four-movement quintet was written at the age of eighteen. The influence of his favourite composer, Dvorak, as well as Schubert, is evident in the inventive, melodic lines and rich tone colour of this Post-Romantic piece, demonstrating a remarkable self-assurance for one so young.
This is complemented by Schubert's innovative Trout Quintet composed in 1819 when he was just 22 years old. The fourth movement features variations on his earlier Lied, Die Forelle and is scored for piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass rather than the more usual piano and string quartet configuration.
Chineke! Chamber Ensemble comprises principal players of the critically-acclaimed Chineke! Orchestra, Europe's first majority Black Minority Ethnic (BME) orchestra. Founded in 2015 by distinguished international double bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE, Chineke!'s mission is to champion change and celebrate diversity in classical music.
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The 2019 Leamington Music Festival opens on Friday 3 May with a concert by one of Britain’s favourite violinists, Tasmin Little. This concert has taken on extra significance since Tasmin announced her retirement in summer 2020 and it is proving very popular at the box office.
Tasmin will be accompanied by the young Russian pianist Andrey Gugnin, a prize winner in many competitions, including the 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition. This led to concerto dates with the great Russian conductor Valerie Gergiev with the Mariinsky and London Philharmonic Orchestras.
Richard says, “I have over the years put Tasmin Little on in four of the festivals that I have directed. These were at Charlecote Park, in Warwick and Leamington and she was the concerto soloist in 1991 in the last of the Festivals I directed in Norwich, a highlight in my career.
“Tasmin has recently performed in Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon and a week before the Leamington concert, she will play a concerto by Mozart with the European Union Community Orchestra at Warwick Arts Centre.”
The Festival concerts take place in the refurbished Royal Pump Rooms on the Parade in Leamington and the programme for 3 May reflects various strands of programming that run through the Festival. This includes the second Violin Sonata by Delius. His Cello Sonata will be played by Raphael Wallfisch and Late Swallows by the Fitzwilliam Quartet in concerts that follow.
In the Royal Spa Centre Studio on Sunday 5 May, there is a showing of Song of Farewell, the classic documentary about Delius made in 1982 by Nick Gray, who has recently retired to Leamington. This tells the true story of Delius and how the young Eric Fenby came to assist the composer in his last years. The film features a contribution from Yehudi Menuhin and an appearance by Tasmin Little when she was a student at the Yehudi Menuhin School.
The programme also contains a violin sonata by Prokofiev, one of ten works by Russian composers included in the Festival and Andrey Gugnin plays a Moment Musicale for piano by Schubert, who makes several appearances as the Festival hosts the Schubert Institute UK, bringing music lovers to Leamington from all over the United Kingdom.
The Leamington Music Festival celebrates 30 years of festival events held over the first Bank Holiday weekend in May, having started life as the Warwick Schubert Weekend in 1990, and it has been the annual flagship event of Leamington Music since 2007.
Tickets for all Festival concerts are available at the Visitor Information Centres at the Royal Pump Rooms, Leamington
and the Court House, Warwick.
Call 01926 334418 or go online at www.leamingtonmusic.org or www.royalspacentreandtownhall.co.uk
The latest newsletter from Classical Events features an interview with Em Marshall-Luck, Founder-Director of the English Music Festival (EMF) and Director of its recording and publishing arms, EM Records and EM Publishing. Em has been closely involved in a number of British composer societies since her teens, having been Chairman of the Vaughan Williams Society, and an officer of the Elgar and Warlock societies, amongst others. In addition to directing the festival she works as a journalist, speaker and author.
The 2019 Oxfordshire Festival runs from 24 to 27 May, and a further Yorkshire festival is in the planning stages for this autumn.
Jonathan Heaton (Classical Events) interviews
Em Marshall-Luck (Founder-Director of the English Music Festival)
JH. What was your early musical background?
EML. My parents have a great love of classical music, and my father used to sing Vaughan Williams’s Linden Lea to me as an infant – this woke an early love of music – and particularly, the sounds of English music – in me. I also listened to Bach incessantly as a child (and still do!). Then, when I was seven, my godmother gave me a tape of Holst’s music, which included the St. Paul’s Suite. As soon as I read the tape booklet and discovered that the piece had been written about and for St Paul’s Girl’s School, I longed to go there. At great personal sacrifice, my parents sent to me to the school, which opened out for me myriad wonderful musical opportunities. Prior to that I played the piano (not particularly well); but at St Paul’s – under the musical directorship of the conductor Hilary Davan Wetton - I was allowed to teach myself the harpsichord and the organ, I set up a music club, gave assemblies on Holst, Howells and Vaughan Williams, and generally spent all my spare time haunting the music wing and listening to music by, and reading about, British composers as much as possible.
JH. Setting up a music festival requires a lot of organisation. What type of experience and opportunities enabled you to carry out this wide-ranging project?
EML. I became a founder member of the Vaughan Williams Society at the age of 14, and the secretary of the Societies and Association of English Singers and Speakers a few years later. I was taken under the wing of a music publisher, and through him met many of the remaining composer relatives (Ursula Vaughan Williams, Ursula Howells, Lady Bliss and Alice Dyson for instance), as well as a number of acclaimed musicians, contemporary composers and authors. I worked with him on books and scores of English music for many years, deepening my love of English music, meeting people and generally finding out how the music world worked. This, and my work on the committees of various British composer societies, gave me a good working knowledge of the music world, as well as some initial contacts which helped when I came to set up the Festival. I was also a Hesse Student at the Aldeburgh Festival, was an intern at a Gloucester Three Choirs, and worked for Music at Oxford for a short while as my first job.
JH. What were some of the key problems you encountered when setting up the festival and what issues persist?
EML. Funding, funding and… funding. Once I had found the right venue (by going round all the potential churches and Abbeys in central England), programme and artists fell into place quite neatly. Finding the money to stage such an event and its associated year-round costs has always been, and remains, a struggle. For many years we were supported by an English-music-loving elderly lady, but she died recently, leaving us a huge financial gap to fill.
JH. The focus of the festival is on English music. What was the motivation behind this sense of cultural and musical direction?
EML. Throughout my teens I became aware that there was a huge body of works by British composers of the late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries of tremendous beauty and power (as could be heard on Hyperion and Chandos discs especially), but which were never played in the concert hall. I had a large number of shocking statistics that pointed to the neglect of English music (except, of course, the really famous works such as Elgar’s Enigma Variations or Cello Concerto, Vaughan Williams’s Lark Ascending or Holst’s Planets), and I was determined to rectify this and bring these wonderful pieces to live audiences, so that these beautiful works could be heard in the concert hall again (as they were when first written). English music had a bad reputation when I set up the Festival (of being jingoistic, imperialistic, old-fashioned or fuddy-duddy), but this has changed and these works are now working their way finally into the mainstream and back into the concert hall again.
JH. How does this year's festival reflect the aims of EMF? Are there any new commissions and premieres?
EML. The Festival’s aims have changed somewhat, due mainly to the success of its main and initial aim, of getting less familiar works back into the repertoire. Now our focus is on discovering works by composers of the same period (late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries) that have never been heard, for whatever reason, and giving these their world premiere performances. I am also careful to show the whole breadth of the genre of English music – from the mediaeval / baroque periods through to the present day (and including folk music and jazz as well).
I have also been very concerned to commission or host premiere performances of works by contemporary British composers, showing that the English music genre is very much alive and flourishing. So, to fulfil these aims, this year we open with the BBC Concert Orchestra playing those world premiere performances by twentieth-century composers - Robin Milford’s Second Symphony, Vaughan Williams’s The Blue Bird, Stanford’s early Violin Concerto in D and Lord Berners’s Portsmouth Point. We premiere also a new work by David Matthews – a set of Variations for violin and piano (played alongside a new urtext edition of Elgar’s Violin Sonata, with decades of publisher’s errors stripped away). And then other works featuring at this year’s EMF range from lute songs and duets by John Dowland and John Danyel, through 1930s English jazz, to works by the contemporary composers Ian Venables, Paul Carr, Francis Routh and Ola Gjeilo.
JH. Composers such as Elgar and Vaughan Williams are well-known to British audiences, but what is the response to contemporary English composers?
EML. In my experience, audiences respond very well to contemporary composers. At the EMF we build relationships with composers who consider themselves to be within the English tradition (without being at all anachronistic or pastiche) – composers such as Richard Blackford, Paul Carr, Paul Lewis, Christopher Wright, Richard Pantcheff, Ian Venables and David Matthews. These are composers whose music has, to a greater or lesser extent, a lyrical core, whilst still being innovative and forward-looking. I am expecting a very enthusiastic audience response at this year’s Festival, in particular, to David Matthews’s Variations, to Ian Venables’s song-cycle, and to Paul Carr’s Stabat Mater – our audiences always love Carr’s radiantly lush, emotionally charged and luxuriantly gorgeous music.
JH. At what point and why did you consider EM Records and later EM Publishing to be a viable strategic venture?
EML. EM Records came into existence after about the sixth Festival. Audience members were telling me how much they loved and appreciated the opportunity to hear the works we were discovering, but saying that they wanted to be able to hear these again. And I was concerned to be able to bring these pieces to anyone who wanted to hear them, anywhere in the world, not just those able to get to Oxfordshire during the second May bank holiday! EM Records was the obvious solution and has been a thrilling and exciting journey.
EM Publishing first came about because we were aware that one of the reasons for the neglect of this repertoire was the difficulty of getting hold of scores, many of which languished in libraries in manuscript form. We wanted to help performances take place by offering high-quality, urtext edition, printed scores of the music. We were then offered a book for publication, and EM Publishing has grown from there! Again, funding is tight – recording and publishing are expensive operations, but anything we make is then ploughed straight back into making new recordings or publications available
JH. What have been the most successful releases and are there any more in the pipeline?
EML. I have been involved with new music since the beginning of my career. Orchestra of the Swan has commissioned numerous new works over the years and I have worked very closely with a number of composers such as John Woolrich, Tansy Davies, Huw Watkins, Joe Cutler, Thomas Adès, Gerald Barry and many more. It is important work and a thrill to be there at the birth of a new piece.
JH. What are your most memorable performances?
EML. Our most popular and successful recording has to be EMRCD047, Of Such Ecstatic Sound, featuring the BBC Concert Orchestra with conductor John Andrews, violinist Rupert Marshall-Luck and cellist Joseph Spooner in Percy Sherwood’s Double Concerto for violin, cello and orchestra, alongside a Cowen Symphony. The Sherwood is a fabulous work, full of tunes and beauty and excitement, and this disc required a repress after just a few months, it sold so well!
Other highlights have been EMRCD037-38, Now Comes Beauty, a disc of works the EMFG has commissioned over the years. This includes a searingly beautiful song-cycle by John Pickard, sung by Roderick Williams, alongside works by Paul Carr, David Owen Norris, Paul Lewis, David Matthews, Matthew Curtis, Richard Blackford, Philip Lane and Christopher Wright, played by the BBC Concert Orchestra. Another BBC Concert Orchestra disc of course, EMRCD023 – The Fire that Breaks from Thee, with the world premiere recordings of Violin Concertos by Robin Milford and C.V. Stanford – was another best-seller and a wonderful disc – as was an early recording, EMRCD004, with Holst’s The Coming of Christ, featuring the much-loved actor Robert Hardy.
Our most recent release is a triple-disc set of the complete music for violin and piano by Parry; forthcoming issues include a disc of songs by Parry and Sterndale Bennett; a disc of songs by Holst and Holbrooke; contemporary music by Richard Pantcheff commissioned by the EMF; a disc of John Gardner with the BBC Concert Orchestra; light piano music from Paul Guinery; a disc of English music for two guitars, and many others!
JH. There has also been a wide range of speakers at the EMF. What have been some of the memorable events for you and what are you looking forward to this year?
EML. Probably the most memorable talk we ever had was a composer’s forum prior to an EMF New Commissions concert, in which a number of composers, including Paul Lewis, Richard Blackford, Paul Carr and Christopher Wright discussed the process of composition. We also once had an interesting forum on The Future of English composition. This year I am especially looking forward to the opening talk of our series, in which Lewis Foreman and conductor Martin Yates will discuss the new works being performed in the opening concert of the EMF, by Stanford, Vaughan Williams, Lord Berners and Milford.
JH. When you have some spare time how do you enjoy it?
EML. With a five-year son whom my husband and I are home-educating, there is no spare time at all! But an ideal “free” day would involve walking in the countryside with my family and Irish Wolfhound, visiting castles, forts, Abbeys or other historical sites, and, very importantly, enjoying very fine food and wines in lunches and dinners at cosy rural pubs or restaurants! Then it would be back home for a glass of good red wine by our log-burner with perhaps some Ella Fitzgerald on to relax to, and a board game or (probably black and white) film!
Nicola Benedetti is launching a brand new series of educational videos for musicians & teachers initially focussing on the violin - the first is released tomorrow, 29 January. Check them out every Tues 1200 GMT on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/NicolaBenedettiOfficial
Our friends at Orchestra of the Swan will be performing Vivaldi The Four Seasons in Pershore and Birmingham in February.
On 1 February, at Number 8 in Pershore, you can experience eight breath-taking seasons in contrasting hemispheres, with movements intermingled to show the influence of Vivaldi on Piazzolla The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.
Buy Tickets here
On 6 February, at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, OOTS will be joined by Tasmin Little for Vivaldi’s timeless evocation of the passing year. The programme will also include Bach Double Violin Concerto and Arvo Pärt Fratres
Buy Tickets here
So please do join OOTS if you can, you won't regret it
Best wishes from your CMP team!
I enjoy reading Jessica Duchen's blog - here's an extract from her latest:
I remember my first orchestral concert, when I must have been about 8: the Royal Philharmonic conducted by Rudolf Kempe, with Miriam Fried the violin soloist. They played the Berlioz 'Roman Carnival' Overture, the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (I think) and the Dvorák 'New World' Symphony and I spent a lot of time staring at the flautist (Susan Milan!) and wondering how she could stand the noise sitting in front of the brass like that. For a couple of weeks before the concert Dad taught me the music. We listened to it all on LPs and he showed me how to follow the scores. Myth-scotching moment: reading music is very easy to learn when you're a child. I learned when I started piano lessons, age 4. It is not elitist, it is not particularly complicated and all you need is someone to show you how it works when you're young enough not to have swallowed the rubbish other people spout about it.
Please note, it was a Sunday afternoon, so there was no school or work, and we could actually go to a proper concert like this. Not 'children's concerts' - the very small me would certainly have turned my nose up at any such notion ("Hello there, children! Are we all having lots of fun today?" ugh.)
This plan seems such a no-brainer to me when concert organisations wonder how to get in younger punters that I often wonder what planet they're on. You want your concerts attended by families, with working-age parents, children, even grandparents who mightn't like late evenings? Do concerts on Sunday afternoons! Simple.
Julian Bliss’s recording - with the Carducci Quartet - of Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet and David Bruce’s Gumboots was released by Signum Records on 15 April. Bliss gives the world premiere of Wayne Shorter’s Clarinet Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall on 30 November.
Julian Bliss's name pops up quite frequently in the concerts listed in Chamber Music Plus, and prior to a recent concert at St George's Bristol with the Carducci Quartet, The Guardian asked him a few questions...
What’s your musical guilty pleasure?
I listen to a wide range of music, everything from Mahler through to Taylor Swift. I don’t feel guilty about any of it!
Is applauding between movements acceptable?
This, and the bigger discussion of audience etiquette, is hotly debated. There are many things that have become rules when going to a classical concert and I think they can put people off. I personally don’t mind it if there’s applause between movements. The audience are only showing their appreciation!
What single thing would improve the format of the classical concert?
Something that is very simple but that makes a big difference is when the musician talks to the audience. The atmosphere immediately changes, and the audience feels more relaxed. I don’t plan what I’m going to say when I’m on stage, which I think means it comes across as being more natural.
Read more here
Simon Heffer's articles for the Review section of the Saturday Daily Telegraph are often interesting - and on 26 May he wrote about contemporary English composers, and Ian Venables (who lives in Worcestershire, in particular.
His words are worth quoting: "Venables, a miniaturist, writes exquisite chamber music in the English style of Howells or Ireland...His works, which have instant charm for intelligent listeners while being intensely musical, are performed rarely in the great temples of chamber music such as the Wigmore Hall or the Purcell Room. Nor are they broadcast frequently on the main classical music stations. He delights audiences in the provinces - while metropolitan taste is deemed different...and Venables is frozen out.
The two Venables CDs I have been listening to lately are immensely rewarding. The first, The Song of the Severn (Signum Classics with Roderick Williams) includes two song cycles and nine other songs....to hear them is to hear something reflective, brooding, melancholy and unmistakably English. The second CD (Somm) featuring Venables's Piano Quintet and other chamber works, is a revelation. The Quintet...is an exceptional work with many shifts of tone and varieties of expression, and if Venables's excellence could be symbolised by just one piece, it would be this. Again, it proves that composers can be original without being dissonant or unappealing.
Most recently, Venables has set the verse of five Great War poets in a new song cycle, Through These Pale Cold Days. (The premiere and recording) should be regarded as events of national importance in our musical culture."
A few months ago we were contacted by the Robin Milford Trust, which organised a festival of music by the composer (I remember playing his Sonatina for Treble Recorder). We've been asked to post the following on our website, which we are glad to do in support of British music generally:
The Robin Milford Trust and Victoria College of Music and Drama
The Milford Trust is proud to announce that, since January of this year, a strong bond and working relationship has developed between the Milford Trust and the Victoria College of Music and Drama (Dr Martin Ellerby, Director), all stemming from the determined promotion of Milford and, indeed, all areas of British Music.
So far, the VCM has arranged the following for the Trust:
To facilitate this work, and the promotion of other lesser-known composers, Stewart Thompson has created the J J Lewis British Composer Archive on the London Music Press Website (www.londonmusicpress.com). Stewart is an authority on Cecil Rootham and has worked extensively in this area.
Work on the J J Lewis British Composer Archive will be on-going and anyone interested in contributing to this fine work should contact Stewart at the Victoria College. Access to the Lewis Archive is through the London Music Press Website, clicking on ‘J H Lewis British Composer Archive’, then ‘Composers’, and scrolling down to the appropriate composer.
All queries regarding Robin Milford should still be addressed to Peter Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org
Blog written by Jill Davies, who runs the Severn Muses project as well as Chamber Music Plus.
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