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English Music Festival


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25 March 2008


Britten premieres and rare works by ‘the Cockney Wagner’ at the English Music Festival

The BBC Concert Orchestra, the Carducci Quartet, the Dufay Collective, David Owen Norris, Philippe Graffin and James Bowman are among the artists at the second English Music Festival (Oxfordshire, 23-27 May 2008)


Premiere performances of no fewer than four works by Benjamin Britten, and a rare chance to hear music by Josef Holbrooke, ‘the Cockney Wagner’, are among the highlights of this year’s English Music Festival (EMF), which takes place in Oxfordshire from Friday 23rd to Tuesday 27th May.

Leading musicians from Britain and around the world will perform some of the very finest English music, including many unfairly neglected works from centuries past, and a ‘Grand Finale’ concert of new commissions, in four historic locations – Dorchester Abbey, Dorchester-on-Thames; Keble College, Oxford; Radley College; and All Saints Church, Sutton Courtenay.

Opening with Parry’s much-loved Jerusalem, the first night of this year’s Festival provides a rare opportunity to hear ‘hidden gems’ such as Holbrooke’s Birds of Rhiannon, Rawsthorne’s deeply nostalgic Practical Cats, Mackenzie’s gorgeous Benedictus and Bantock’s Celtic Symphony, performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra under the expert direction of Barry Wordsworth.

Other concerts in this year’s Festival see the highly accomplished pianist Panagiotis Trochopoulos make his EMF debut with a series of premiere performances of piano works by Holbrooke, ‘the Cockney Wagner’, while the internationally acclaimed violinist Philippe Graffin, who made such an impact with his performance of Coleridge-Taylor’s Violin Concerto at the BBC Proms three years ago, brings to the Festival a selection of music by Delius, Elgar, Alwyn and Coleridge Taylor. No fewer than four Britten premieres are on the programme for a concert by the world-renowned counter-tenor James Bowman, who is joined by the treble Andrew Swait and pianist Andrew Plant.

Bliss’s hugely evocative Pastoral and Vaughan Williams’s Te Deum, together with works by Holst and Bridge, and an extremely rare performance of Norman O’Neill’s unpublished Pastoral, are brought to us by the Milton Keynes City Orchestra and the City of London Choir under their dynamic conductor Hilary Davan Wetton. The Bridge Quartet performs a selection of works by Frank Bridge, as well as Delius’s charming Late Swallows, the fascinating Three Winter Poems by Alwyn, and Britten’s arrangement of Purcell’s Chacony.

Old favourites such as Elgar’s Serenade and less familiar pieces such as Vaughan Williams’s Concerto Accademico feature in a concert by Vox Musica, together with works by Finzi, Howells and Holst, while Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis – one of his most familiar and best loved works – features in a concert by the Amaretti Orchestra, which also includes Ireland’s Downland Suite, Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, and Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto, with David Campbell as the soloist. The award-winning Carducci Quartet performs Vaughan Williams’s String Quartets, together with Moeran’s beautiful String Quartet in Eb. Organ music by the much under-rated British composer Dyson, together with his Agincourt and Elgar’s Banner of St George are performed by the Andover Choral Society under the multi-talented David Owen Norris, who also provides a lighter touch to the Festival with a late-night of piano works by Billy Mayerl.

Early Music is well represented at this year’s EMF, with the highly acclaimed Dufay Collective taking us back in time to the merry old England of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the much-praised Cannons Scholars, under the direction of John Andrews, performing eighteenth century works such as Arne’s Symphony No.4 and Judgement of Paris, and In Yonder Grove by Linley, ‘the English Mozart’.

The Grand Finale of this year’s English Music Festival is a concert of new compositions – all specially commissioned by the EMF – which will demonstrate how contemporary music can be innovative and exciting whilst keeping its roots firmly in the English tradition. Composers featured in this major concert include Matthew Curtis, Philip Lane, Ronald Corp, Cecilia McDowall, Paul Carr and David Owen Norris.

Tickets for the Festival are on sale from April. Discounts are available for group bookings. Check out the Festival website,, for the full EMF programme, ticket information and prices, and details of the EMF Friends scheme (which offers priority booking and individual discounts).


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