It was the second time in a fortnight that I had set my alarm clock at 4:15 a.m. on a Sunday. Being naturally more of an owl than a lark, it’s not a commonly observed time of day. However, during the spring months, I try to rouse myself from sleep to hear the delightful sound of the dawn chorus. After the initial “why the hell did I think that was a good idea” grunt, the thrill of hearing nature’s early risers usually quickly quells any cloudy-eyed blues. Bird-watching apps like ChirpOMatic and Merlin help with identification, which ancient musicians known for attempting to transcribe bird song (from Mozart to Messiaen) would surely have loved.
One of the most famous composers to draw inspiration from our feathered friends is Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose sesquicentenary we celebrate this year. The rising lark, as its title suggests, evokes a soaring bird through a lush violin solo with orchestra. It’s one of the most beautiful tunes ever written, and it’s not for nothing that it once again topped Classic FM’s Hall of Fame (voted by over 150,000 audience members).
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But there is much more to Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) to explore. His varied symphonies consider both the turmoil of London and the horrors of war, and go far beyond his reputation as an English pastoral composer often allows. The rising lark will probably always be his best-known concerto work, even if oboe concerto is a close second.
There’s a chance to hear both in this year’s Proms; Pekka Kuusisto flies with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Collon (August 26) and oboist Nicholas Daniel is soloist with the Royal Northern Sinfonia conducted by Dinis Sousa (August 14).
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