The 300th anniversary of the birth of landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown is be commemorated by a new composition at this year’s Fringe in the Fen music festival in Cambridgeshire. Graham Ross's The Fallen Elm will be premiered on the final night of the festival to mark an occasion that has a special resonance for Fringe in the Fen – Brown, who designed and worked on over 250 sites in his lifetime, owned the parish of Fenstanton, where the festival is based.
Ross, who is director of music at Clare College, Cambrdige, was inspired by a poem by John Clare, the 19th-century English poet who wrote extensively on the power of nature. The poem is also named The Fallen Elm, which explores not only the beauty of the English countryside but also its destruction by mankind. It charts the story of a tree that survives storms and everything nature throws at it, but is ultimately removed by mankind.
Ross sees this as a very poignant motif, and hopes to replicate the sentiment in his music. 'The piece should be a reminder to us all that although we have such beautiful landscapes around us, we have to be careful that mankind’s destruction is ever-present,' he says. 'It was in the 1800s and it is now. It’s an attempt to remind us to be grateful for what we have, but also to respect the environment in which we live.’
Ross’s commissioned piece will be featured in the same closing concert as Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending, a piece to which Ross feels his work is inherently linked. ‘The Fallen Elm certainly should be able to work as a standalone piece,’ he says, ‘but it is conceived with the idea of being performed in the same concert as the Vaughan Williams.'
Both pieces feature a violinist with a small chamber orchestra, are of a similar length, and share similarities in terms of intention and a fondness for English pastoral scenes. ‘I wouldn’t say that my harmonic language is necessarily like Vaughan Williams,' says Ross, 'but I’ve been very much aware of his score, and have always had it at my side when I’ve been writing, so I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been in my thoughts.’
The new work will be played by Clare College alumnus Jamie Campbell with the Covent Garden Chamber Orchestra. All the profits from this year’s festival will go to Macmillan Cancer Support, as well as all future proceeds made from the commission, through performances, recordings and broadcasts. ‘I hope this new commission will be a new angle that hasn’t yet been explored in the festival,’ says Ross.