The next meeting of the Society – the penultimate – is on May 9th and is a members’ evening. This is where individual members can suggest pieces which can be played with or without an introduction by them as they wish. It is usually and enjoyable evening, eclectic of course and everyone’s choice is different. Usual place, usual time.
New members are welcome and the entry is a modest £2 to help us defray costs.
The last meeting of the Society was a presentation by Anthony Powell of the conducting of Sir Charles Mackerras illustrated by extracts from some of his recordings. Mackerras was born in Schenectady in USA to Australian parents but they returned to their home country when he was two to live in Sydney.
He was a precocious talent and wrote a piano concerto when he was 12. His parents were not convinced a musical life would be a viable profession so sent him to The King’s School with its focus on sport and discipline hoping that he would pursue a different career. It was not to be and at the age of 16 went to the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music where he studied oboe, piano and composition.
At 19 he was the principal oboist with the ABC Sydney Orchestra. A few years later he sailed for England and began his career at the Saddlers Wells Theatre. He studied conducting with Vaclav Talich (pictured) in Prague and returned to resume his career at the English National Opera.
There then followed a distinguished career with a variety of famous orchestras including the BBC Concert Orchestra; Covent Garden; the Met and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. He was the first non Briton to conduct the BBCSO at the Proms.
Tony selected a wide range of his conducting and started with a piece by Sir Arthur Sullivan followed by a piece by Delius: Paris: the song of a great city first performed in 1899 in Germany and this recording with the Liverpool Philharmonic.
Mackerras had a great attachment to Czech music – indeed he spoke the language fluently – and we heard the Symphonic poem: the Noonday Witch by Dvorak. This was followed by an extract of the familiar Sinfonietta by Janacek.
The classics were not neglected and two movements from Mozart’s Symphony No. 32 in G major performed with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Then it was Beethoven’s seventh followed by Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5. All these extracts illustrated the close attention to rhythm and pace which Mackerras had. This was particularly illustrated by an extract from Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, a piece of great energy and requiring great skill to keep the orchestra together. This was an electrifying performance.
To record Handel’s Messiah using no less than 26 oboes were needed – which is what the composer required – meant it had to be done at night finishing in the small hours. After the final scene of Janacek’s Jenufa we heard the final movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, again with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchesta.
The range of this conductor’s performances was well illustrated and the pieces carefully chosen to give good examples of his style and ability. Sir Charles died in 2005. He had received many honour including a CBE; Medal of Merit from Czech Republic and was made Honorary President of Edinburgh International Festival Society.
THE next meeting of the Society will be tonight, Monday, 18th April starting at 7:30 usual place. See the ‘Find us’ tab on the front page for a map or details if this will be your first visit. The presentation will be by Anthony Powell – no stranger to the Society – who will be taking about the conductor Sir Charles Mackerras and illustrating his talk with examples of his conducting.
Mackerras was one of the great polymath conductors of the 20th century, with interests that ranged from the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan to the high opera of Wagner and Strauss. His rigour and empathy with both music and musicians, as well as his intellectual curiosity, earned acclaim and respect from across the musical world. Any performance directed by Mackerras – particularly one featuring Janacek – bore the imprimatur of unsurpassed authority.
In the 1960s he was at the forefront of the period instrument movement, uncovering the original intentions of composers such as Handel, Mozart and Beethoven, and bringing to audiences some of the first “authentic” performances to be heard in Britain. Of particular note was a production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at Sadler’s Wells in 1965 in which he controversially – and to some ridicule – reinstated the appoggiaturas and other ornamentation that would have been used in the 18th century.
A century ago, the First World War was in full swing. The battle for Ypres was taking place in April 1916 and it was the first time phosgene gas was used. It is difficult to believe that out of this carnage and bloodletting, some lovely music, poetry and art was created.
At the last meeting, Richard Seal played a selection of pieces which were composed during the time of the war or inspired by it. Richard was much moved by visits to the war graves in Flanders including Vimy Ridge, Arras and Thiepval where he hopes to go to again.
He began with A Shropshire Lad by George Butterworth who died on the Somme in 1916 aged just 31. This is a familiar piece and his death was a great loss to music. This was followed by the last movement of Morning Heroes by Sir Arthur Bliss who lived until 1975 but who lost his brother in the conflict. He returned to the battlefield in 1928 and this piece was the result of that visit.
This was followed by Three songs by Ivor Gurney. Gurney had a troubled life and was both a poet and composer. He was gassed while serving with the Gloucester regiment but his biggest problem was his mental health. At the time he was thought to be the greatest of his generation but his full promise never materialised.
Britten was too young for the war but his War Requiem, which was composed for the consecration of Coventry Cathedral destroyed in WWII, was inspired by the poems of Wilfrid Owen who regrettably died a week before the Armistice.
This was followed by an Elegy for strings and harp by Frederick Kelly who died in 1916. An Australian he also had a gold medal for rowing in the 1908 Olympics and this elegy was in memory of Rupert Brooke who also lost his life.
Some pieces by Charles Ives followed including In Flanders’ Fields composed in 1917.
The evening finished with the last movement of the Pastoral Symphony by Vaughan Williams. The First World War, in which he served in the army in the medical corps, had a lasting emotional effect.
It was a fascinating evening and the presenter’s erudition about this moving period of our history shone through.