Annual tribute keeps Arnold’s music alive

Julian Bliss
Julian Bliss

The fate of so many composers and artists is often to be appreciated more after their death than they were in life.

Although work by Northampton’s own composer, Sir Malcolm Arnold, was celebrated during his lifetime, there was a period when his cheerful brand of tuneful film music was considered out of fashion.

But in his home town, in recent years, there has been a loyal team of people fighting to ensure Sir Malcolm’s name is always remembered and his talent appreciated.

The Arnold Festival, which will take place at the Royal & Derngate this Saturday and Sunday, has been running for eight years and has now become a regular highlight of Northampton’s concert calendar.

Festival director, Paul Harris, said: “The first one was intended to celebrate his 85th birthday. Tony Meredith and I had written Malcolm’s biography, Malcolm died two weeks before the concert so it became a celebration of his life. It was supposed to be a one-off but everyone really enjoyed it so it carried on.

“He was so prolific there is all of this lovely music we can keep pulling out.”

This year’s highlights are too many to mention in one article, but include a performance of The Turtle Drum (which Arnold wrote for school children), by pupils from the Malcolm Arnold Academy. There will be a rare performance of Arnold’s string quartets by the Royal Northern College of Music and an off-site family concert at St Matthew’s Church, including a selection of pieces by Arnold, Prokofiev’s Peter And The Wolf and The Unhappy Aardvark by Paul Harris.

There will also be a Sunday evening finale concert focusing on ‘Movie Classics’ and including a performance by clarinettist Julian Bliss in a programme comprising Arnold’s Inn Of The Sixth Happiness and Clarinet Concerto No. 2.

Events will be launched at Royal & Derngate at 11am on Saturday when world famous ballerina, Dame Monica Mason, will open the festival and the Fanfare For Malcolm will be played.

Paul said the festival had worked to boost Sir Malcolm’s profile: “With the fact it is now an annual event, people have started to see it as part of the musical landscape each year and it has raised his musical profile in Northampton. Many people now know he is Northampton’s greatest composer and one of the greatest 20th century British composers.” For more information on booking and timings, see this week’s music pages and