Lark’s Flight Over Suffolk to celebrate Vaughan Williams' 150th

Skylark

Lark's Flight is one of the nation's favourite pieces of music and will be the focus of a Suffolk celebration of its composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Suffolk Philharmonic turns 10 in 2022 - the same year the country will mark the 150th anniversary of Vaughan Williams' birth. SPO founder and conductor Leslie Olive has created an exciting programme of events to celebrate the occasion.

A small brown bird flies up out of a meadow - straight up until there is nothing but a tiny speck in the sky. At that moment there is a cascade of the most glorious song. The lark is one of the most remarkable British birds, barely noticeable until it sings, which it does almost incessantly when in flight.

This was the inspiration for one of the UK’s most loved pieces of music, The Lark Ascending. Its composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, was born 150 years ago, in October 1872. To celebrate this and its own 10th anniversary, Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing a series of events this year in villages across the county called The Lark’s Flight Over Suffolk. 

Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra founder and conductor Leslie Olive. - Credit: Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra

Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra founder and conductor Leslie Olive. - Credit: Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra

Suffolk Philharmonic was formed in 2011 by conductor, composer and music visionary Leslie Olive to bring London-quality music to the people of Suffolk. All its players, many of them based in the county, earn a living by performing music and many have played in the world’s most famous venues.

The orchestra plays several large-scale concerts every year in venues such as The Apex in Bury St Edmunds, St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Ipswich Corn Exchange and Snape Maltings. It also runs an education programme in which children and young people can hear and play alongside some of the country’s best players, while its community outreach programme takes mini-concerts to villages across the county.

The Lark’s Flight over Suffolk is typical of SPO’s work in the community. Written by Leslie Olive in collaboration with Graham Muncy, former county music librarian for Surrey, it combines music and words, telling the story of Vaughan Williams’ life and how The Lark Ascending came to be written. It will be performed by a small chamber group of players from SPO, and an actor reciting extracts from the poem and acting out imagined scenes from Vaughan Williams’ life. 

Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra

Suffolk Philharmonic was formed in 2011 and plays several large-scale concerts every year. - Credit: Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra

Suffolk Philharmonic is a professional orchestra formed in 201

Suffolk Philharmonic is a professional orchestra formed in 201 - Credit: Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra

Leslie Olive has admired Vaughan Williams since his early childhood. “I was listening to the radio with my mother when Vaughan Williams’ death was announced,” he recalls. “I knew instantly that this composer would have a profound influence on my life.” Leslie has spent his entire life sharing his passion for music through teaching and performing. “I want people to discover how music can enrich their lives. The best way to do this is to take it as close as possible to their homes,” he explains.

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Vaughan Williams was probably the first composer to give British music its own unique style. He broke from the Germanic style popular in Victorian times and looked to Tudor music and English folk song for inspiration. He composed distinctive operas, ballets, chamber music, choral and orchestral works, including nine symphonies. He toured the country collecting folk songs and is almost single-handedly responsible for the preservation of many of the folk melodies that we still know today.

“In The Lark Ascending, Vaughan Williams used the violin in an entirely new way to create a sense of weightlessness, soaring flight and the lark’s song,” Leslie explains. Based on the poem of the same name by Victorian poet George Meredith, it represents the human spirit freed from the shackles of everyday life. 

Ralph Vaughan Williams as a young man

Ralph Vaughan Williams as a young man. - Credit: courtesy of English Folk Dance and Song Society

The concerts will also include another of Vaughan Williams’ distinctive pieces, his Oboe Concerto, which oboist Jonathan Small describes as “surely one of the finest for our instrument”. Written especially for the world-class oboist Leon Goosens, it is as exquisite in its own way as The Lark Ascending.

There will be six performances of The Lark’s Flight over Suffolk, starting at Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds on June 30, and visiting Eye, Aldeburgh, Felixstowe, Hadleigh and Carlton Marshes, flagship site of Suffolk Wildlife Trust, which is partnering the SPO in the project. 

Tickets will go on sale through the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds (theatreroyal.org, booking@theatreroyal.org) and further information can be found on the SPO website (suffolkphil.org). 

If you're interested in supporting the work of the SPO contact Julia Read, development fundraiser, at Julia.Read@Suffolkphilharmonic.org