Although the four composers who revolutionized music in the United Kingdom during the first half of the 20th century were all, technically, English—Edward Elgar having been born in Worcestershire, Ralph Vaughan Williams in Gloucestershire, William Walton in Lancashire, and Benjamin Britten in Suffolk—there’s a good reason why the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s Spring Festival is subtitled A British Fantasy rather than An English Fantasy. “English” would eliminate the rest of the British Isles from consideration, making it impossible for the London-born Bramwell Tovey and his band to program things like Ernest MacMillan’s Fantasy on Scottish Melodies, which will be performed at the Orpheum on April 29, as part of a concert headlined by Walton’s Henry V.
Actually, MacMillan’s a bit of a ringer in the VSO’s British Fantasy. Despite his resolutely Scottish full name—Ernest Alexander Campbell MacMillan—the composer was born in Mimico, Ontario, in 1893, and died almost 80 years later in Toronto. And despite having been interned as an enemy alien in Germany during the First World War—he had been attending the Bayreuth Festival when hostilities broke out—he was an enthusiastic supporter of German music, gaining fame for his interpretations, as a conductor, of works by Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Another intriguing showcase comes on April 30, when Tovey will display his own impressive skills at the keyboard as soloist in Elgar’s Piano Quintet, after which he’ll take to the podium to lead the VSO in the same composer’s magnum opus, the Enigma Variations. After that, the festival ends on a lighter note with the traditional Last Night of the Proms on May 1—thereby reinforcing all the stiff-upper-lip stereotypes it had earlier exploded, but offering a jolly good time nonetheless.