Music@Malling: After the horror, a feeling of peace

Pam Mills

THIS year’s Music@Malling festival will feature a special focus on the commemoration of the Armistice which brought an end to World War I a century ago.

Music@Malling, now in its eighth season, will stage 28 events over the fortnight of September 16-29 in historic venues around Tonbridge & Malling.

Conductor Thomas Kemp, who is the festival’s founder and Artistic Director, said ‘it promises to be our biggest festival yet’.

“A hundred years since the end of the First World War, the resonances are still being felt,” he added.

“Many of our programmes explore the music, literature and characters of this time, including works by Debussy, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Stanford, Parry, Bridge, Ysaÿe, Walton and Delius.”

A rich array of composers lived locally during that era, including Peter Warlock, William Walton, Constant Lambert and Ivor Gurney, while the poet Siegfried Sassoon, who will also be featured, grew up in the village of Matfield.

A programme of British string classics, all connected to the Great War, will be showcased by Chamber Domaine under the baton of Mr Kemp.

The chamber music ensemble will also perform three sonatas written by Claude Debussy during World War I dedicated to those fighting at the front.

At St Mary’s Church in West Malling on September 22, one of the showcase events will see Chamber Domaine and the renowned Tippett Quartet play works by Elgar, Bridge, Delius, Walton, Britten and Vaughan Williams.

Actor Charles Dance will also give readings from Siegfried Sassoon and his rediscovered correspondence with leading figures of the early 20th century.

The following day will see the Tenebrae Choir, conducted by Nigel Short, sing works by Elgar, Parry, Stanford, Parry, Vaughan Williams and Taverner in the Chapel at Tonbridge School.

The advent of war and its aftermath resonated through the music of the era, though it affected composers in different ways.

“Some of those who were fighting were much less prolific because of being in the army or away from home,” said Mr Kemp.

“Ralph Vaughan Williams was an ambulance driver and later joined the Royal Artillery, and Arthur Bliss was a major in the Royal Fusiliers and Grenadiers. But a lot of their music is completely divorced from their lives on the front line.”

An exception was Claude Debussy, who features in four concerts at the festival. “Between 1915 and 1918, Debussy wrote three sonatas which are very patriotic, looking back to more positive times.

“Edward Elgar wrote three great chamber pieces and a cello concerto in 1918. He was living in a cottage in Sussex while he was writing them, and he could hear the bombs in northern France. They are very elegiac pieces.

Mr Kemp added: “But the most profound changes came after the war, when they had a chance to reflect what they witnessed.

“Frank Ridge was a pacifist and he taught Benjamin Britten, whose war requiem is a very anti-war piece, written for the opening of Coventry Cathedral [in 1962, after the original had been destroyed by bombing in World War II].

“Warlock’s music was very pastoral. In the 1920s he went to back Elizabethan times, a great flowering of English culture in the 16th century, so that’s nationalistic but also escapist.”

Music offered a means to get away from the horrors of the conflict. “A lot of composers like Ravel, Stravinski, Bliss, Walton incorporated jazz into their music,” commented Mr Kemp.

“This brought to mind the flappers of the post-war era dancing the night away, so that was a form of escapism from what went on before, as well as representing a shift in culture.”

Jazz features strongly in the festival, with James Pearson, the pianist and Artistic Director at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, bringing his trio and reworking Bach and Debussy, while also offering a tribute to Stéphane Grappelli.

Mr Kemp started the festival in 2011, and said turning Bach into jazz is all part of what he wants to achieve.

“I’m trying to show the crossover between different musical types,” he explained.

“It’s a different way of looking at classical music, which too often is regarded as still and formal where it should sound like it’s improvised.

“It’s important for building audiences that you don’t get stuck in a musical cul-de-sac. I want to take them on a musical journey, to see how one piece of music fits with other music.”

Another crucial part of the ethos behind Music@Malling is encouraging young people to become involved in music.

“I grew up in West Malling, and actually started learning the violin in the kitchen of the primary school, aged 11,” said Mr Kemp, who went on to study at The Judd School in Tonbridge and now lives in Tunbridge Wells.

“I set the festival up to put something back into the local community. It’s an area where there are no professional concerts, and we have set up a major outreach programme to encourage children aged five all the way up to 21 in a variety of creative activities.”

The two main Armistice commemorations will also give young musicians a chance to perform with the professionals.

Choirs from a host of secondary schools across Kent will sing with Tenebrae, while young string players will accompany Chamber Domaine and the Tippett Quartet.

“The side-by-side events will allow young people to sit next to the professionals and learn from them, and also to play in a concert rather than just rehearse.

“It’s a game-changer, you’re not going to get that in a school in the same way. The one-on-one is an amazing opportunity.”

Mr Kemp added: “Arts subjects are on the decline at GCSE and A level, and these days they are largely the preserve of private schools. I’m really keen to get the secondary schools involved.”

Season tickets for the fortnight cost £85, though not all events are included.

For more information, visit or see Twitter and Facebook @musicatmalling

PICTURE: HEART STRINGS: Thomas Kemp learned violin in the kitchen of West Malling Primary School

Chagall’s church and Master of the Queen’s Music

Music@Malling will also feature a special concert at All Saints’ Church in Tudeley. The violin and vocals of Lizzie Ball and guitarist Morgan Szymanski will celebrate the life and art of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, a contemporary of Marc Chagall, who created All Saints’ exquisite stained glass windows.

Another important figure at the festival is Judith Weir, Master of the Queen’s Music and a leading contemporary composer, who is featured across five programmes and will be giving a talk about her music and how it connects with the past.

Full programme of events

Sun Sept 16, St Benedict’s Centre, Malling Abbey, 4pm: Go Compose!

Royal College of Music Professor Simon Speare helps 15 young composers from across Kent each compose a piece in a day, which is performed and recorded by Chamber Domaine in St Augustine’s Chapel at the Abbey (free).

Sun Sept 16, Went House in West Malling, 6pm: Official festival launch (season ticket and guests only).

Tues Sept 18, St Mary’s Church, West Malling, 11am and 2pm: The Great Enormo

Hundreds of children from local primary schools perform themes for The Great Enormo Theme Park (£5)

Wed Sept 19, The Discovery School, King’s Hill, 10am and 2pm: The Great Enormo, see above (£5)

Thurs Sept 20, Pilsdon Barn, West Malling, 1pm: Debussy 100

Chamber Domaine perform Sonata for Violin L148, Sonata for Cello L135, Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp L145; a rare chance to hear the last three works Debussy wrote, dedicated to the soldiers fighting the First World War (£15).

Thurs Sept 20, The Farmhouse, West Malling, 8pm: Classical Kicks!

Una Palliser (vocals/violin), Morgan Szymanski (guitar), Gabi Swallow (cello) perform an eclectic set in the pub’s ballroom, as classical music rubs shoulders with jazz, folk and world music (£20 NB not included in season ticket).

Fri Sept 21, St Augustine’s Chapel, Tonbridge School, 1.30pm: Organ Recital

Rupert Jeffcoat performs Debussy’s Prélude de L’Après-Midi d’un Faune, Weir’s The Tree of Peace (2016) and Ettrick Banks (1985) Bridge’s Adagio in E and Elgar’s Sonata for Organ Op28 (£10)

Fri Sept 21, St Mary’s Church, West Malling, 7pm: Americana!

Trombonist Callum Au and his jazz Octet play music from Hollywood films and Broadway shows (£20).

Sat Sept 22, All Saint’s Church, Birling, 12pm: Quartet Classics

The Tippett Quartet perform Debussy’s String Quartet in G Op10, dedicated to Eugène Ysaÿe, and Elgar’s String Quartet from 1918 in E Op83 (£10).

Sat Sept 22, St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Trottiscliffe, 3pm: Young Artist Platform

Outstanding young harpist Gabriella Jones performs a programme of French and British music supported by Park Lane Young Artists, including Britten’s Suite Op83 for Harp, Ravel’s Prelude in A minor, Debussy’s Images Oubliees: Lent, Paul Patterson’s Bugs, Debussy’s Rêverie and Tournier’s Images Suite No 4 Op39 (£10).

Sat Sept 22, St Mary’s Church, West Malling, 7pm: Commemorating the Armistice

Chamber Domaine and the Tippett Quartet perform works by Elgar, Bridge, Delius, Walton, Britten and Vaughan Williams with readings from Siegfried Sassoon by Charles Dance. Includes side-by-Side performances of Vaughan Williams’ Concerto Grosso and Walton’s Touch Her Soft Lips And Part with young string players from across Kent (£15).

Sun Sept 23, St Augustine’s Chapel, Tonbridge School, 3pm: Commemorating the Armistice

The Tenebrae Choir, conducted by Nigel Short, sing works by Elgar, Parry, Stanford, Parry, Vaughan Williams and Taverner. Includes a side-by-side performance of Owain Park’s Footsteps with young singers from local secondary schools (£15).

Mon Sept 24, West Malling Abbey, 11am: Virtuoso!

Study event exploring the life and times of the ‘king of the violin’ Eugène Ysaÿe with Thomas Kemp and Thomas Bowes (free).

Mon Sept 24, West Malling Abbey, 1pm: Virtuoso!

Violinist Thomas Bowes performs Eugène Ysaÿe’s Sonata No 1 in G (dedicated to Joseph Szigeti), Sonata No 2 in A (Jacques Thibaud) and Sonata No 3 in D (Georges Enescu) (£10).

Tues Sept 25, West Malling Abbey, 1pm: Virtuoso!

Violinist Thomas Bowes performs Eugène Ysaÿe’s Sonata No 4 in E (Fritz Kriesler), Sonata No 5 in G (Matthew Crickboom) and Sonata No 6 in E (Manuel Quiroga) (£10)

Wed Sept 26, West Malling Abbey, 11am: Virtuoso!

Study event exploring contemporary music with Judith Weir, Master of the Queen’s Music, and Thomas Kemp (free).

Wed Sept 26, West Malling Abbey, 1pm: Virtuoso!

Principal cello of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Richard Harwood performs Walton’s Passacaglia, Weir’s Unlocked and Solo Sonatas by Ligeti and Crumb (£10).

Wed Sept 26, St Mary’s Church, West Malling, 7pm: Bach Recomposed

Cellist and composer Peter Gregson performs a reinterpretation of Bach’s Cello Suites for Cello and Electronics (£15).

Thurs Sept 27, West Malling Abbey, 1pm: Hommage à Debussy

Thomas Kemp (violin), Sami Junnonen (flute), Richard Harwood (cello) perform Debussy’s Syrinx for Flute, Ysaÿe’s Sonata for Cello, Ravel’s Duo for Violin and Cello, which was written as a homage to Debussy (£10).

Thurs Sept 27, St Mary’s Church, West Malling, 7pm: The Invention Reinvented

James Pearson, Artistic Director at Ronnie Scott’s, performs a solo reworking of Bach’s Two and Three-Part Inventions and reinterpretations of music by Debussy, one of the first classical composers to be inspired by jazz (£15).

Fri Sept 28, St Mary’s Church, West Malling, 1pm: Debussy 100/Clair de Lune

Pianist Vanessa Benelli Mossel performs Debussy’s Clair de Lune and Préludes Book I and Weir’s Roll Off The Ragged Rocks of Sin (after JS Bach) (£10).

Fri Sept 28, All Saint’s Church, Tudeley, 7pm: Corrido! A Ballad for the Brave

Lizzie Ball (violin/vocals) and Morgan Syzmanski (guitar) perform a celebration of the life and times of Frida Kahlo and her association with Marc Chagall (£20 NB not included in season ticket)

Sat Sept 29, Malling Abbey, 11am: Bach Pilgrimage

Guitarist Craig Ogden performs Bach’s Suite in G Minor BWV 995, Prelude and Fugue in C minor BWV 999 and Suite in E Minor BWV996 (£10).

Sat Sept 29, Malling Abbey, 2pm: Bach Pilgrimage

Guitarist Craig Ogden performs Bach’s Partita in C Minor  BWV 997, Prelude and Fugue in E BWV 998 and Partita in E Major BWV 1006a (£10).

Sat Sept 29, The Control Tower, King’s Hill, 5pm: Virtuoso!

Chamber Domaine perform Prokofiev’s Sonata for Solo Violin, Weir’s Night and Sundew and Ysaÿe’s Duo for Two Violins (£10).

Sat Sept 29, St Mary’s Church, West Malling, 7pm: Grand Finale

James Pearson jazz trio from Ronnie Scott’s perform a Stephane Grappelli tribute with violinist Lizzie Ball (£20).

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