Enigma of Elgar's missing festival music

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Classical music fans have reacted with shock to the news that a festival organised in memory of Edward Elgar will not feature any of his music.

Some members of the Elgar Society are upset that this year's Malvern Elgar Festival will incorporate the work of Schubert and Brahms, but not the man after whom the event is named.

The organisers say they made the unusual move because the annual festival has been switched from a large concert hall, which is being refurbished, to a church which is unsuitable for Elgar's compositions.

Artistic director William Boughton confirmed that a committee had decided to ditch Elgar's works in favour of Continental composers for the event held in Malvern, Worcestershire, from 27 May to 7 June.

John Harcup, a society member, said he could understand why the Priory Church's limited capacity meant that Elgar's most famous works were unsuitable, but thought lesser-known pieces should be performed. "I don't see how one can have an Elgar Festival with no Elgar," he said. "It is daft to call it an Elgar Festival when there is no Elgar. It's quite unbelievable. Elgar got engaged in Malvern and if he was still alive I think he would be very upset".

Mr Harcup said the change to a smaller venue should have been an opportunity for organisers to line up the composer's lesser-known works, such as his church music, which would be perfect for the venue.

But Mr Boughton, the artistic director at the centre of the controversy, said that Elgar's larger works, such as Dream of Gerontius, could not be performed for financial reasons and because of poor acoustics. "Including his minor works would be just tokenism," he said. "It would be disrespectful both to Elgar and the audiences to put in a few little pieces of his just to placate people. The arts are not about placating people - they are about stimulating people."

The event was to have been staged at the town's Winter Gardens, where, Mr Boughton said, Elgar's music will definitely be heard next year: "I can assure people Elgar will be back in '98. The reasons for this are artistic and financial. I am sorry they are not having their beloved Elgar, but I have too much respect for him and his music to reduce him to a token."

Hywel Davies, secretary of the 250-strong West Midlands branch of the society, said: "One understands that a few people are upset about this. It's a shame, but I think it's out of our control.

"You can't expect someone to put on a concert and lose money, but our society will live through it; we are a broad church."