Cumbria prepares for the Black Mahler

Music goes in and out of fashion. I wonder whether audiences will still be dressing up as nuns and nazis at Sing Along a Sound of Music evenings a hundred years from now? Until the outbreak of World War II, a piece by Coleridge-Taylor called The Song of Hiawatha was the regular centrepiece of the Royal Albert Hall’s summer programme. Conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent, it was a lavish affair with a vast chorus in full costume, elaborate staging, and attended by capacity audiences dressed up in their idea of “Red Indian” native costume.

Nowadays the piece is a rarity in both the concert hall and the CD catalogue. So it’s a surprise that this year’s Lake District Summer Music Festival opens on 28th July with a complete performance of this historic work. At the first choir rehearsal last night, only one singer admitted to having sung the entire work before (I’d never heard of it).

Fortunately for conductor Ian Jones, the first run through by his choir went smoothly, and bodes well for a memorable performance in July. Let’s hope the event prompts a revival of interest in Coleridge-Taylor’s story – and how a rare musical talent drove an illegitimate mixed-race boy born in 1875 London to being the most feted composer of his day.

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