Ensemble 360: A dawn chorus worth getting out of bed for

This was the second time in a fortnight that I had set my alarm for 4.15am on a Sunday. Being naturally more of an owl than a lark, this is not a time of day generally witnessed. However, during spring months I attempt to drag myself from slumber to hear the delicious sound of the dawn chorus. After the initial ‘why on earth did I think this was a good idea’ grumble, the thrill of hearing nature’s early risers usually soon soothes any bleary-eyed blues. Birding apps like ChirpOMatic and Merlin help with identification, something that past musicians who were known to attempt to transcribe birdsong (from Mozart to Messiaen) would have surely loved.

One of the most famous composers to take inspiration from our feathered friends was Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose sesquicentenary is celebrated this year. The Lark Ascending, as the title suggests, evokes a soaring bird through a lush violin solo with orchestra. It is one of the most beautiful melodies ever written, and not for nothing has once again recently topped Classic FM’s Hall of Fame (as voted by over 150,000 members of the public).

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But there’s much more to explore by Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). His varied symphonies consider both the bustle of London and the horrors of war, and go far further than his reputation as an English pastoral composer often allows. The Lark Ascending will probably always be his best-known concertante work, although the 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 under Nicholas Collon (August 26) and oboist Nicholas Daniel is the soloist with the Royal Northern Sinfonia conducted by Dinis Sousa (August 14).

Claire Jackson is a writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter here

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