A life in music – Em Marshall-Luck
Katie Carpenter talks to musical festival organiser and author, Em Marshall-Luck
Published in February ’13
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee last year led to the revival in the county of the Royal Society of St George, founded in 1894 to celebrate all things English. The society has since its foundation had a scattering of members around the county, but the Royal celebrations of a wedding in 2011 and the Jubilee celebrations in 2012 brought a resurgence of support, with branches started in both South and North Dorset.
The southern section is led by chairman Dr Elspeth Caswell, an Anglo-Canadian academic at Bournemouth University who attended a St George’s Ball in Abu Dhabi and was prompted to start a branch locally: ‘A lot of people feel it important to celebrate their heritage. About a third of our members are not actually English, but feel English and want to be proud of our history.’
The northern section, launched in October last year, is headed by Em Marshall-Luck, who in her own right celebrates the chairmanship of a number of prestigious musical societies. They include the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, which she has chaired since 2008, and the Granville Bantock Society, which was revived in 2010.
She has been secretary for the Association of English Singers & Speakers and editor of its journal, secretary of the Peter Warlock Society, and head of publicity for the Elgar Society. Em, in her early thirties, has a classical background, having read ‘The Greats’ at Brasenose, Oxford, but music has been her great love since she was a teenager.
Her particular enthusiasm is for English composers, many of whom have to some extent fallen from the popularity ratings, and she has an inspiring determination to see them fully appreciated. ‘England is fortunate in having a great legacy of brilliant composers who are full of character and whose inspiration and craftsmanship never fail to surprise and delight,’ she says.
‘Although Elgar’s great symphonies and Britten’s powerful operas are well represented in the concert hall and opera house, the exquisitely crafted songs of Quilter or Warlock, Vaughan Williams’ delightful chamber music and the choral masterpieces of Holst, Bantock and Howells remain unjustly neglected. In ten years of Promenade concerts from 1992 to 2001, for example, more time was allocated by the BBC to the music of Kurt Weill than to the music of Stanford, Parry, Delius, Walton, Bax, Moeran, Purcell and Holst put together.’
Using the considerable festival experience she had gained through work with both the Three Choirs and Aldeburgh Festivals, Em founded the English Music Festival, held annually in Dorchester on the Thames, five years ago.
Although she had lived most of her life in London and Surrey, she had holidayed on many occasions in the cottage of family friends at Shillingstone and, when the owner died, first rented and then purchased her home in Lanchards Lane. She has been joined there by her violinist husband, Rupert, to whom she was married last September, and whom she met through the music festival she had founded.
Apart from a course in Ancient Greek at Bryanston School when she was 16, her earliest memory of Dorset is a holiday in Swanage with her grandparents, uncle, aunt and cousin when she was very young, and recalls ‘drudging up a long, steep hill to the sweet shop at the top with my grandmother’.
Now, though, she loves to walk, especially with her dogs Æthelwulf – an Irish Wolfhound – and Krishna, a border collie. ‘I like to scramble up Hambledon Hill – so rich in history and atmosphere, before heading down and through Child Okeford for a sandwich and ale at the Saxon Inn before back through the fields via sleepy Hammoon to Shillingstone.’
Her love of the county is not restricted to her home, however: ‘I’m very fond of Corfe Castle and Wareham,’ says Em, ‘and TE Lawrence is one of my greatest heroes. I love spending time at Clouds Hill and soaking up the incredible atmosphere. I’ve also spent much time on Wareham Heath, the inspiration for Hardy’s Return of the Native and Holst’s brooding work Egdon Heath, dedicated to the author. I’m extremely interested in castles/historical sites so love visiting Sherborne, Portland and Maiden Castles. Maiden in particular has lots of composer connections, with John Ireland, for example, and most of the English composers of the early 20th century visited it.’ Her favourite town is Sherborne with its boutique shops and her favourite restaurant.
She is regularly in print, primarily as a reviewer and freelance programme-note writer, she spent over six years with Thames Publishing and has been concert assistant for concert promoters Music at Oxford. Her book, Music in the Landscape, which charts the relationship of England’s finest composers with the landscape in which they lived, was published in November 2011, and she has produced a number of recordings for the English Music Festival of little known works of equally less-celebrated composers, including Bantock and Holbrooke, the piano music of Roger Quilter, and Bliss, Walford Davies and York Bowen. The Coming of Christ, by Cheltenham-born Gustav Holst 1874-1934, was commissioned in 1927 by the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, George Bell, as a setting of a text by John Masefield. The work received its première the following year to critical acclaim, but was then abandoned until its resurrection at The English Music Festival in 2010. A recording featuring Robert Hardy as reciter, the Holst Orchestra and the City of London Choir conducted by Hilary Davan Wetton, was released on CD in November 2011.