Ryedale Festival's artistic director Christopher Glynn on legacy of great English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ryedale Festival is paying tribute to great English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams in this year’s programme, as artistic director Christopher Glynn explains to Laura Reid.

He is remembered today as a composer of the utmost importance for English music and one of the great symphony writers of the 20th century.

As the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society celebrates the 150th anniversary of his birth this year, Yorkshire’s Ryedale Festival is also paying tribute to Vaughan Williams as part of its programme this summer.

Roderick Williams presents two recitals based around his Songs of Travel and Mystical Songs as part of the festival and there’s the premiere of a new concert-theatre piece by composer Julian Philips, exploring Vaughan Williams’ legacy and themes from his life and work, such as landscape and pilgrimage.

Ralph Vaughan Williams conducting the Boyd Neil Orchestra in 1953. Picture: Ron Burton/Keystone/Getty

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“As we relaunch our festival after the pandemic, I can’t think of any better role model than Vaughan Williams to guide us as we think afresh about what a classical music festival should be.”

“His music continues to inspire us,” Glynn continues. “Its incredible breadth of style and outlook seems especially important in our polarised times. Because in the culture wars of his day, Vaughan Williams was wonderfully – and creatively - unpindownable.

“His music encompasses the old and the new, folk music and art music, religion and humanism, town and country, practicality and spirituality. He’s not an ‘either-or’ composer, he’s a ‘both-and’ composer.

“And as a festival director, I’m just as interested in the man as the music, and especially his vision of what our national musical life should be.”

There are three big lessons to be learnt from his example, Glynn says, the first being the way that he embraced both tradition and progress.

“He never let himself become marooned in one camp or the other. That seems a good lesson for any programmer... No wonder his admirers include musicians as diverse as Frank Sinatra and Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys. Any festival worth its salt needs to follow his example and have both a popular touch and a pioneering edge. So our festival this year features six world premieres, but also an invitation to Come and Sing ABBA with the National Youth Choir.”

Glynn has also taken inspiration from Vaughan William’s view of how professional and amateur music making can enhance each other.

He explains: “Inspired by RVW’s ideal of ‘an art in which all can take part’, we recently commissioned Pickering-born composer Joseph Howard to create a community song cycle celebrating the heritage and talent of his home town. It was performed by an all-age, professional/amateur cast, including junior members of the Kirkbymoorside Town Brass Band – just the kind of inspirational, community-enhancing organisation that Vaughan Williams always admired and supported.”

The festival also aligns itself with Vaughan William’s support for the next generation.

“Spotting and supporting the next generation of performers and composers is a key part of my job, and our talent development programme now extends from primary school age – through our partners, the Richard Shephard Music Foundation – to the fast-rising professionals featured in our Young Artist Platform concerts that pop up in some of Ryedale’s most beautiful village churches.”

Ryedale Festival begins on Friday, July 15.