Thanks to my incomplete knowledge of southeast England, I had not before this year come across West Malling in Kent, a small market town out towards Maidstone. But I’m glad to say that thanks to the incredible Music@Malling Festival (yearly – 2018 was its eighth edition) this omission has been rectified, and I’ve seen quite a bit of this interesting, historic place, to musical accompaniment.
Music@Malling is the brainchild of a very busy violinist and conductor, Thomas Kemp, who grew up in the town. He told me that he started the festival because he had been shocked by the present-day lack of music in the local schools, and wanted to bring some good music to the area. I was in awe at the constant stream of innovative concerts,two weeks’ worth, every one I heard given by outstanding performers who clearly shared Tom’s zeal to bring music to a place rather far-flung from official concert halls.
A first world war-themed concert in St Mary’s Church, given by the wonderful string section from Tom’s Chamber Domaine ensemble was packed out. Of course the presence of Charles Dance as narrator may have helped to bring them in, as did an irresistible English string programme, Elgar to Vaughan Williams, (boldly including my own I give you the end of a golden string ). But also swelling the throng were proud mums and dads of school-age string players joining in some of the numbers ( for instance RVW’s wonderful Concerto Grosso, written for the Rural Music Schools) sitting side by side with some truly high-end musicians. Minimal school music versus amazing iniatives of this kind ? It’s a troubling equation; ideally, we need both regular school music and exciting events. At least, how inspiring that hardworking musicians will go to almost any length to bring music to where it needs to be.