Since April, those of us who were lucky enough to be at Ludlow English Song Weekend ’18 have been savouring and processing the rich diversity of music that we heard, and the many fresh insights that we gained. I always sense at LESW that I need a full year to digest the three-day musical feast!

As ever, Iain Burnside devised an extraordinary mix of the familiar and unfamiliar – each setting off the other – including some very striking music, new and old, on this year’s Anglo-Irish theme. We are fortunate indeed to have such a skilful guide with his carefully crafted programmes and juxtapositions. This year we were introduced to many marvellous works from the island of Ireland, in music and/or words, showing how Song in English has been nurtured there, alongside plenty of English Song.

We were blessed with truly outstanding singers, and a lovely mix of instruments in partnership. Ailish Tynan’s opening concert showed her versatility and engagement in a wide repertoire alongside Iain’s ever attentive pianism – Seoirse Bodley’s Seamus Heaney settings were a revelation, and Michael Foyle’s violin skilfully wove around the voice in Rebecca Clarke’s Irish folk songs. Friday evening’s film ‘Braille Music’ by Michael House was fascinating and moving.

On Saturday morning, the texture changed: The Bax Oboe Quintet was beautifully played by Nicolas Daniel and the Gildas Quartet; George Benjamin’s Flight for solo flute – in which Adam Walker truly soared! The premiere of Philip Hammond’s The Blackbird’s Poet was lovely and revelatory, and Warlock’s exquisite The Curlew, were both sung marvellously by Robin Tritschler with superb instrumental support.

That afternoon we were taken on a wide tour of ‘The Celtic North’ by the Carice Singers, whose poised a capella singing was entrancing; Ina Boyle’s three Gaelic Hymns were especially moving. Saturday evening’s event was a tour-de-force in words and music performed by Sorcha Cusack, Robin Tritschler, Gareth Brynmor John, Nicholas Daniel and Iain, who entertained us in all the best senses!

Katy Hamilton superbly chaired the brilliant discussion panellists in three hour-long sessions across the Weekend. Their expert and thoughtful perspectives enhanced the music and expanded our understanding of the music, poetry, culture and identities of Ireland.

Sunday’s events started with a superb masterclass by Ann Murray, who guided four students from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) to lift their pieces to an even higher level, with a firm but gentle steer. It will be hard to forget the image of Ann and William Stevens ploughing the fields together, while he sang EJ Moeran’s From Ludlow Town!

Helen Grime skilfully explored new compositions by three young composers – Lara Agar, Daniel Soley and Alex Woolf – later performed effectively by RWCMD students. The final superb concert by Carolyn Dobbin and Gavan Ring showcased songs from both sides of the Irish border, and included the premiere of a powerful new work – ‘1916’ by Martin Bussey. The Festival Evensong, directed by Shaun Ward, featured works by Stanford and Wood, was a fine close to the Weekend.

My sincere thanks to the very many people who made Ludlow English Song Weekend ’18 so very memorable and enjoyable, including our generous funders and sponsors, and especially Aileen Morrison, our administrator. Staff and volunteers at Ludlow Assembly Rooms and St Lawrence’s Church always made us feel welcome.

Be with us again in Ludlow next year (5th-7th April, ’19), for which some exciting plans are developing.

Anthony Pinching
Ludlow Song