There are plenty of good reasons to visit Ludlow. John Betjeman thought it was “probably the loveliest town in England” and, as well as its historic buildings, good food and beautiful countryside, it hosts a rather wonderful English Song Weekend which I was fortunate to be part of this year.
The Finzi Friends promote the weekend and Finzi’s musical world is the point of departure for its mixture of poetry, music, culture and ideas. However, Artistic Director Iain Burnside is keen to ensure that the English song tradition is a living, growing one. Alongside ‘core’ composers such as Finzi and Vaughan-Willams, a new commission by Judith Bingham was premiered this year and the repertoire of the future is now being midwived through a competition for young composers.
My appearance was on Sunday morning, with Iain and John-Mark Ainsley (seen left, discussing last-minute details). Iain had programmed a series of songs from a female perspective to interleave with Finzi’s A Young Man’s Exhortation in a sort of musical tag-wrestling whereby the songs answered and commented on each other. John-Mark arrived hot-foot from a recital the previous night (and was also singing in the afternoon concert) but we just had a few minutes to sound-check with the BBC before the audience filled the Assembly Rooms and we were underway. This is the first year that the Radio 3 has taken the concerts and it is a reflection of the increasing esteem in which the festival is held. The concerts – featuring Roderick Williams, Anna Huntley, Marcus Farnsworth and Alex Sprague as well as John-Mark and me – will be broadcast in the lunchtime slot on Radio 3, probably in the week commencing 8 June. Check the BBC schedule for details.
Given my interest in new music, I was delighted to be performing some songs by contemporary composers: Martin Bussey‘s A Church Romance and two songs from Geoffrey Allan Taylor‘s Larkin cycle, The Echoing Axe. A couple of American tunes even sneaked in, in the form of William Bolcom‘s The Crazy Woman and The Bustle in a House. (Martin is seen on the left of this photo, with baritone Marcus Farnsworth in the background).
It was a bit of a flying visit on this occasion but I want to make time to return to Ludlow to explore it properly. Although the weather had been poor for most of the weekend, as we prepared to leave late on Sunday afternoon the sun came out and the spectacular view we had missed on the way in was revealed.
Definitely somewhere to go back to!