The theme of this year’s London Song Festival is ‘Friends and Lovers’. Each concert paints an intimate and revealing portrait of a close relationship, whether romantic or purely friendship, between a poet and a composer.
Taking place at the Hinde Street Methodist church in central London, three of these concerts feature British music:
Ralph and Ursula Vaughan Williams
Friday 28 October
Ralph and Ursula met in 1938 when he was 66 years old and she 27, and both were married to their respective spouses. They embarked on a passionate relationship, and she became his second wife in 1953; a marriage that was gloriously happy and lasted until Ralph’s death in 1958.
Their story is told by ‘twin’ Ralphs: prizewinning baritone Julien Van Mellaerts singing Ralph’s songs, and actor John D Collins (Flt. Lt. Fairfax in the BBC series ‘Allo ‘Allo!) speaking Ralph’s own words from his letters. The ‘twin’ Ursulas will be prizewinning mezzo soprano Lotte Betts-Dean singing songs that set Ursula’s poetry by Jonathan Dove, Anthony Payne and others, and actress Harriet Slater (Sandra Onslow in TV series Pennyworth) speaking Ursula’s own words from her biography of Ralph.
The pianist is London Song Festival director Nigel Foster, who devised this programme. A central feature of this programme will be the premieres of three songs by Roderick Williams OBE, commissioned by the London Song Festival for this concert.
Cecil Armstrong Gibbs and Walter de la Mare
Friday 18 November
The unjustly neglected English composer Cecil Armstrong Gibbs was awarded a commission to write a school play for Wick School in Brighton in 1919 and asked Walter de la Mare to write the text. This led to a life-long friendship between composer and poet that resulted in 38 songs, the best-known being Silver.
These are beautiful songs, dating mostly from the inter-war years, which give an alluring picture of the English art-song of that era. This programme presents an overview of these songs plus other settings of Walter de la Mare by Herbert Howells, Benjamin Britten, Juliana Hall and Theodore Chanler, performed by the winners of the 2021 London Song Festival British Art Song Competition; mezzo-soprano Anika-France Forget and pianist Cole Knutson.
Benjamin Britten and W H Auden
Friday 9 December
Benjamin Britten and W H Auden’s relationship flourished on a musical level, resulting in numerous songs, many of which were written as direct responses to the emotional tensions both men experienced on a personal level.
This concert tells their story through Britten’s songs and his own words from his letters and diaries, from their meeting in 1935 when both were working for the GPO Film Unit in London, through their experiences of both Britain and America, to their falling out in the 1940s. The programme incorporates every available voice and piano song they wrote together; and selections from their other works including Ballad for Heroes and the operetta Paul Bunyan.
The programme features an arrangement by Griffin Candey for speaker and piano of one of their first collaborations, Night Mail, commissioned for this concert by the London Song Festival. The performers are soprano Charlotte Bowden (a Britten-Pears Young Artist and Glyndebourne Jerwood Young Artist), tenor Harry Grigg (winner of 2021 Maureen Lehane Vocal Awards), pianist Nigel Foster and actor David Mildon (‘Son’ in the BAFTA-winning Happy Birthday Grandad, leading roles at Hackney Empire, Menier Chocolate Factory and Jermyn Street and Soho theatres) reading Britten’s commentaries and reflections on the songs and about his friendship with Auden and life in general.
Find out more at https://www.londonsongfestival.org/concerts-1/