A little over ten years ago, fresh out of university and with that accompanying naïve optimism and lack of understanding of the problems that beset real life, I decided to follow my dreams and set up a festival dedicated to English music. Throughout my teens I had been frustrated by the realisation that so much inspirational music by British composers was languishing unheard, accessible only on a few Hyperion and Chandos discs, and never programmed in the concert hall. I determined to rectify the situation. Several years of incredibly hard work later, thanks to a lot of luck, goodwill and tremendous support from musicians and music-lovers alike, the English Music Festival was born. It is now approaching its seventh festival and during this time we have premiered important works by composers including Benjamin Britten, York Bowen, Frederick Delius, Ivor Gurney, Joseph Holbrooke, Gustav Holst, Herbert Howells, Henry Walford Davies and Ralph Vaughan Williams, as well as having works specially written for us by a number of leading contemporary composers. The festival has expanded to incorporate a UK and European concert series, with regular concerts in London as well as in other locations in the UK and abroad; we have educational projects; a flourishing and vibrant Friends scheme; EM Odysseys – guided tours of composer-related places open to friends of the festival; a glossy, 80-plus page gazette, Spirited, with scholarly yet accessible articles not just on British composers, but also on musicians, composer-related places, artists, writers, and specific works; and also a British Composer Organisation Scheme, which acts as a forum and promotional tool for composer societies, trusts, museums, archives and publishers.
Yet perhaps the most exciting projects of recent years have been the publishing and recording arms. EM Publishing was set up to make scores that are currently unavailable (usually still in manuscript form only) accessible to musicians, so that long-overlooked works may at last receive performances; we rather accidentally fell into book publishing as well when approached by authors bearing scripts!
EM Records has, perhaps, taken off even more than all these other activities. It was, likewise, established as a means of furthering English music and enabling ever-more people to hear it – bringing music of beauty, innovation and brilliance into the very homes of all who wanted to hear it. As our mission is to discover, resurrect and bring to listeners pieces that have been unjustly neglected or have otherwise lain hidden, unplayed and unheard, each disc contains at least one world premiere recording. In just over two years we are about to launch our 17th disc, and have a large number of exciting and ambitious projects in the pipeline. Our loyal and numerous following means that we have recently established a Foundation Subscription scheme, whereby, for a reasonable annual sum, interested music-lovers receive all our discs as each is released, as well as invitations to all the receptions, private recitals, parties and launches that EM Records holds, and are automatically listed as subscribers for the discs to which we offer individual subscriptions. This is already proving gratifyingly popular. We have now also enabled EM Records to break away from its parent festival, with its own, dedicated website, which offers, as well as all the usual items such as audio-clips, reviews, details and purchasing mechanisms, the innovation of audio programme notes, where artists talk about the works that they have recorded, illustrated by excerpts from the discs, thus giving the listener a chance to find out more about the work and composer before committing to a purchase.
The day-to-day running of the label I find rewarding and satisfying; comprising, as it does, a healthy mixture of artistic elements and business. On the creative side are the enjoyable activities of devising projects (usually done on a long drive or over a good meal with a few glasses of decent wine!); discovering ‘new’ works to record (in this I am lucky that many composer relatives approach me direct with pieces they’d like to have recorded); writing or commissioning the booklet notes and finding appropriate photographs; attending the recordings sessions and ensuring all runs smoothly during these; listening to the edits; overseeing design work – whether for a disc, the website or advertisements; liaising with artists about new projects or pieces they’d like to record; listening to works or looking at scores to assess the suitability of the music for recording; and coming up with new schemes and ideas for the development and promotion of the label. On the business side are such tasks as placing adverts in music magazines; dealing with the small mountain of daily correspondence; planning discs; booking recording venues, artists and our recording engineer and producer; dealing with copyright and MCPS issues; keeping all databases and catalogues updated; dealing with invoices and remittance; daily book-keeping; drafting budgets and profit and loss sheets; and doing mailings. It’s a mundane task, but I nevertheless enjoy fulfilling orders and despatching discs to customers – I still get a small thrill every time I see that someone has ordered one of our discs, has subscribed to help make a particular recording happen, or has joined as a Foundation Subscriber.
I am delighted that our ground-breaking record label has met with such enthusiasm and acclaim, and I look forward to continuing to unearth such wonderful treasures and to have the privilege to bring them to the public’s attention.
The 2013 English Music Festival runs from May 24-27.