William Vann is part of inspiring programme that marks return of festival of English song

PUBLISHED: 14:21 03 May 2012

Will Vann

Will Vann

© Tom Allwood, All rights reserved

The musician will feature in The Forge's celebration of English song- something in need of serious attention

Song recitals used to be endangered species and that they’re now off the red alert list is largely thanks to the efforts of accompanists like Graham Johnson, Roger Vignoles and the late, lamented Geoffrey Parsons, who took matters in hand by organising their own, often thematic song series at venues like Wigmore Hall.

But an enduring cause for concern is English song, a treasure trove of repertory that demands attention but doesn’t often get it. And true to form, it’s an accompanist who’s come to the rescue – creating an English song festival that ran, very successfully, for the first time last year at The Forge in Camden Town.

Its second annual season starts tonight, running through to May 13. As before, the young accompanist William Vann has pulled together a compelling programme, with four concerts respectively focused on settings of William Blake and Walter de la Mare, songs in praise of London and songs by women composers.

The last is the most intriguing. Challenged to name a significant female composer of English song, not many of us would find it easy. But that’s a consequence of historical prejudice. Digging into the archives, Vann has come up with some potentially fascinating examples of work by Liza Lehmann, Muriel Herbert (among the dead) and Rhian Samuel (among the very much alive) that have to be worth exploring.

Vann’s own route into this world came through the not unrelated one of English choral music. A boy treble at King’s Cambridge, he was a choral scholar as an undergraduate before studying piano at the Royal Academy.

Anglican choral repertory is still a major force in his life. He’s just been appointed director of music at the chapel of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, where he’ll live on the premises and (as he says) “be almost certainly the youngest resident”.

But it’s as an accompanist – or collaborative pianist, as some in the business prefer to be called – that he’s been making his mark on the concert circuit.

And although he’s now reached the status where he appears alongside class acts like James Gilchrist (one of his festival stars), he’s not too proud to encourage the odd amateur.

This is why the festival includes two afternoons when complete amateurs are invited to step onto the platform with songs they’re prepared to sing through in public.

“It will be like a masterclass with coaching aimed at choral society type singers who want to get more involved in the experience of solo performance,” he says. “There are no auditions although they have to pre-book – and it’s anyone’s guess what the quality and quantity will be.

“But I’m sure we’ll all get something from it and it’s good for people who are normally in the audience to know how tough it is to be up here. There’s nothing so exposing as a song recital. This will give some sense of what it takes.”

The London English Song Festival runs from May 3 to 13 at The Forge, Delancey Street, Camden Town. For full details of concerts, coaching and talks, visit www.londonenglishsong festival.org.

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