Making recordings during Lockdown

The pianist Christopher Guild discussed the problems of recording during Covid Lockdown

You might think that the Society, having been in existence for several decades now, would not have anything new to offer, yet Christopher’s presentation on 13 March was new in several respects. First, it was a description of the recording process itself (more later) second, we had we had recordings performed by Christopher and third, two recordings which had never been performed in public before. Christopher used to teach at Godolphin School in Salisbury.

One composer he featured was Ronald Stevenson who is somewhat neglected today and whose work Christopher has been exploring and unearthing new pieces. Other composers featured during the evening were by William Beaton Moonie, Berhard van Deeren, Ronald Center and William Brocklesby Wordsworth, great nephew of the poet of the same name. There were transcriptions of works by Purcell. Stevenson is no stranger to the Society as Christopher gave a presentation of some of the composer’s work in an earlier visit in 2015.

Recording, like many other aspects of life, was all but impossible during Lockdown although there were attempts at performing elements and then melding them together. One such was a recording with a poem in medieval French included.

Christopher explained the recording process generally. Except for major stars, the record company will not make any up-front payment. This means the performers need to secure finance themselves unless they self-fund. The process starts with an idea which is proposed to the record label. Then a recording studio needs to be located and in the case of a piano recording, with a full size instrument. This is to do with the dynamics of the sound and the harmonics which are important for the integrity of the final sound. Perhaps surprisingly, the piano has to be kept in tune several times during the day which of course is another expense. This arises because of temperature and other changes in the studio during the day. The studio Christopher used was near Beccles.

Each piece can be played three times together with ‘patching’ where there are mistakes or infelicities of playing to be corrected. This process can take two days.

This was a fascinating evening with several never before heard pieces performed by composers – such as Ronald Center – of whom few if any of us had heard before. The process of recording was especially interesting and it’s perhaps surprising to note that as a recorded music society we have not touched on the process itself before.

The next meeting is on 27th March and concerns the conductor Leopold Stokowski who died at Nether Wallop.


Music in eighteenth century London

This was the title of a presentation by Ruth Barlow which included a range of music popular in that century. London at that time was a rapidly growing city and the largest in Europe. The country was becoming prosperous as a result of the growing empire and people were looking for entertainment which would of course have included music.

Music was also coming out of the great houses and into the public sphere with an ever-increasing number of public concerts. Indeed, it was noted that if you wanted to learn about music you went to Paris or Italy, if you wanted to earn a living, you came to England.

The evening started with a performance of Corelli’s Concerto Grosso No 8 (excerpts) and ended with the last movement of Haydn’s Symphony No 4 nicknamed the ‘London’. This framing so to speak seemed to sum the century up with Corelli’s piece echoing the previous century and Haydn’s symphony, written in 1795, which ended it and gave hints of what was to come.

In between, we heard pieces by Handel, JC Bach, Thomas Arne, and William Boyce. We also heard part of the Beggar’s Opera, hugely popular in its day receiving 62 performances in its first season, on a recording directed by Ruth’s husband Jeremy which must be a first for the Society.

Music from men only ‘catch clubs’ was also performed. Today we would call them rounds but they are centuries old and involve singers coming in one by one singing the same melody. We heard examples by Henry Purcell and JS Smith sung by the Hilliard ensemble.

A sad moment was a Violin Sonata in A major by Thomas Linley, and English prodigy born in Bath who was certainly destined for great things. He was a friend of Mozart and they met and became friends in Italy. Unfortunately, he died at the tender age of 22 thus ending what was likely to have been a successful career.

Altogether a well put together programme and an interesting evening.

Sibelius – the less well known works

Last meeting of the season focused on Sibelius

Just over a century ago, Finland declared its independence at the time of the Russian revolution in 1917. At the start of the second world war in 1940, they then had to fight a fierce war against Stalin’s Russia who invaded the country with overwhelming force. The Russian general assumed it would all be over in around 12 days but the Russian army, although vast, was poorly led – following Stalin’s murder of thousands of Red Army officers – poorly equipped and the Finns put up a fierce resistance. They were ultimately successful losing only a small piece of territory but, they maintained their independence.

There is something faintly familiar with that story in the current events in Ukraine. Russia invading a neighbouring country with overwhelming force with the hope of a quick victory, being resisted by a much smaller but better led army. So what has this to do with the Recorded Music Society you ask? Living through this period was Finland’s greatest composer, Jean (as he is known today) Sibelius. His music contributed to Finland’s sense of nationhood from the time of independence and subsequently the war against Russia. So in addition to writing brilliant music, he was important giving the Finns a sense of national identity and pride. These things are significant during a time when a country is under threat.

Many of Sibelius’s works are well known and receive a regular airing in concert halls around the world. But like many composers, there is the well known and there is the less familiar. At last nights meeting, we were delighted to welcome again, Simon Coombs, who presented a range of less well known works, combining them with the life of the composer through his nation’s sometimes troubled history.

Sibelius started by studying law but while doing so, joined the Helsinki Music Institute. He was a capable violinist but decided to concentrate on composition and to that end, studied in Berlin and Vienna where he met Bruckner. He returned to Helsinki to compose his first major piece Kullervo. Among the pieces selected by Simon was A Conferment Cantata, A Song for Lemminkäinen, Finlandia, and a number of examples of incidental music. Also an extract from Pelléas et Mélisande and incidental music the the Tempest.

Simon was helped in his presentation by discs produced by Bis Records who have produced recordings by all of Sibelius’s music. Simon ended with some fragments of the 8th Symphony: it is not clear if Sibelius ever finished the work and destroyed it. Members were delighted with the presentation and the curation of the pieces linking it to key events in the composer’s life.

Sibelius’s music was an element of Finland’s struggle to achieve statehood and independence from Russia. It is strange to note that Ukraine’s famous composers; Prokofiev and Szymanowski among others, have not played a similar role in Ukraine’s resistance. Tchaikovsky is of Ukrainian extraction – the family name was originally Chaiko before the move to Russia.

This was the last meeting of the current season and the programme for the autumn is in final stages of preparation.

Peter Curbishley

Meeting report – September

The second meeting took place on 13 September 2021 and it was good to be back in person. The sessions have a quite different style now as we are now working around the screen on the wall and linking the sound through our speakers. Initially, there were some technical issues connected with the laptop but once this was changed, we could continue.

It was a member’s choice evening and demonstrated a wide not to say eclectic choice of pieces. The programme was:

  • Rimsky-Korsakov arr. Lindberg: Concerto in Bb for trombone

(Christian Lindberg (Trombone), Tapiola Sinfonietta, Osmo Vänskä)

  • Mozart: Clarinet Concerto, 3rd movement.

(David Shifrin (Bassett Clarinet in A), Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Gerard Schwarz)

  • Wagner: Siegfried Funeral Music

(Vienna Philharmonic, George Solti)

  • Mozart: “Ruhe sanft” from Zaide

(Mojca Erdmann, Salzburg Festival 2006)

  • Mozart: “Misericordias Domini”
  • Shostakovich: Symphony no.8, 3rd movement.

(Leningrad Philharmonic, Evgeny Mravinsky)

  • Hermann Suter: Le Laudi di San Francesco d’ Assisi

No. 2 (Sister Moon and the Stars)

No. 4 (Sister Water)

(Edith Mathis, Norma Procter, Eric Tappy and Fernando Corena, with the Basler Sangverein and Orchester-Gesellschaft, Hans Münch)

  • Vaughan Williams: Concerto in F minor for Bass Tuba

(JáTtik Clark (Tuba), Corvallis-OSU Symphony, Marlan Carlson)

  • “Playing a flaming tuba on Londonʼs South Bank” 
  • Jenny Pluck Pears, a Playford country dance

(The Broadside Band, Jeremy Barlow)

  • Heidrich: Variations on a theme (extracts)

(Zubin Mehta)

A range of pieces and genres with some rarities not usually heard.

We were delighted to welcome two new members to the Society.

Peter Curbishley

New season gets underway

The Society was able to meet for the first time in many months at our normal venue off St Ann Street in Salisbury. Covid arrangements meant we could not offer refreshments unfortunately. Being back in person was good however.

The topic for the evening was the legend of Orpheus and the birth of opera. We tend now to think of opera in terms of major theatrical productions by Verdi, Wagner or Mozart etc replete with arias, an overture and full orchestra. It did not start out that way.

The presenter, Jeremy Barlow, introduced the evening with a discussion of the legend of Orpheus. This is a Greek myth and there are several versions but essentially, his wife, Euridice, is bitten by a snake and descends to Hades. Orpheus descends into Hades in an effort to see her again. Orpheus had been given a Lyre by Apollo and taught him to play which he did so well that few could resist his playing, even animals. Jeremy showed a number of artist’s representation of the myth and how the things like the instrument Orpheus played changed as those like the lyre went out of use.

Opera started he explained with things called intermedio which were short intervals between straight plays. These were put on during special court events in Italy such as feasts and weddings. After around 1600, operas as we now know them really began.

Monteverdi was not the first but is remembered because his music is still performed today. Various extracts from these earlier operas were played. Many composers through history have based their work on this legend.

A most interesting evening and the use of the monitor meant it was a new departure for the Society. Jeremy was able to mix legend with history and weave in musical examples to show the early development of the genre. We will almost certainly be using these methods in future and during lockdown, we were able to use YouTube to great effect.

The next meeting, on 27 September, will be ‘committee member’s choices’. We hope to see some returning members then. The full programme can be read here.


Jan Dismas Zelenka

The second meeting of the Society using a combination of Zoom and YouTube took place on 19 October 2020 and concerned the Czech composer Zelenka presented by Peter Horwood. There are many who may not have heard of this composer, born in the town of Lounovice near Prague in 1679. His problem – if it can be described thus – was to be around at roughly the same time as Bach and Handel and so his fame was eclipsed after his death.

We listened and watched his Missa Votiva in E minor performed by Collegium 1704 under the energetic baton of Václav Luks. The playing and singing was of a very high standard and the conductor kept to a brisk tempo. The YouTube video was not of a high quality and may also have been compressed so that the full range of sound was not fully available. The recording took place in a large church yet there were no dynamic problems one usually experiences in these large spaces.

Although the music was harmonically rich, it did lack much in the way of memorable melody which might explain his low profile after his death. He was nevertheless a composer of great talent and does deserve to be heard more. As we have said before, one of the roles of the Society is to bring to the fore some of these lesser lights who sometimes get swept aside by musical titans of Bach, Mozart or Beethoven etc.

For those who want to know more there is a Website which tells you more and also lists recordings available on CD or for download.

Peter Curbishley

Behold the sea …

It is perhaps not too surprising that an island nation should feature the sea in the compositions of its native composers.  Examples of these – from well known and some less well known composers – featured in the last meeting of the Society on 27 January 2020.

Society member Ed Tinline kicked of the second half of the season with a wide selection of pieces composed by British composers, all with the sea as their inspiration.

We started with part of Vaughan William’s Symphony No 1, A Sea Symphony composed in 1909.  Inspiration for the symphony came in part from Walt Whitman.  It was premiered when he was 38 and established him as a leading composer.

Brighton born Frank Bridge was next with his Symphonic Suite: The Sea composed in 1910.  Then a piece by Judith Weir with her Lament, Over the Sea from her The Bagpiper’s String Trio first performed in 1989.  Judith was the first woman to be appointed Master of the Queen’s Music.

Next – another woman – Ethyl Smyth with her Overture: The Wreckers from 1906.  I wrote ‘jaunty’ at one point with some interesting orchestral colours.  Dame Ethel Mary Smyth attained prominence as one of the most accomplished female composers in a male dominated environment, and as one of the main representatives of the suffragette movement.  Tchaikovsky said of her ‘[she] one of the few women composers whom one can seriously consider to be achieving something valuable in the field of musical creation’.  Source: British Library.

The first half ended with Arnold Bax’s On the Sea-shore And Elgar’s Sea Pictures.

The second half started with the unfamiliar Mass of the Sea composed by Paul Patterson composed in 1983.  Next was By the Sleepy Lagoon written at Selsey by Eric Coates – who like Frank Bridge, was born in Brighton – looking across the bay and is used as the theme for Desert Island Discs on Radio 4.

The Kent coast inspired David Matthew’s Overture: From Sea to Sky composed quite recently in 1992.  The Sea Interludes from Britten’s Peter Grimes are very familiar.  Interestingly, Britten was taught composition by Frank Bridge.

The penultimate piece was The Needles by Matthew Taylor commissioned by the LSE Music Society in 2000.  Finally we returned to Elgar and another of his Sea Pictures composed at the end of the nineteenth century.

A fascinating evening and a wide range of music based on this one idea.

Peter Curbishley

Next month’s meeting is Berlioz’s vocal music and is on Monday 10 February. 


Members’ evening

A members’ evening following the agm doesn’t sound like a barrel of fun but in fact it was an outstanding evening with some interesting pieces.   We must thank Robin for assembling the programme for the Society.

First up was the first half of Brahms’s magisterial Piano Concerto No1 played by Stephen Kovacevich.  This can be ‘overplayed’ and I have been to concerts where the pianist seems determined to put the concerto to death but what we heard of this version was finely balanced and it was a pity we could not have heard the whole of it.

Second up was Joseph Kosma’s Les Feuilles Mortes sung by Gigi Marga – a version with the composer can be seen here:

Few may have heard of Ginette Neveu, a French violinist but her playing is quite distinctive and, at the risk of sounding like a Classic FM announcer, extremely smooth.  The sound was somewhere between a violin and a viola, quite magical and the adagio from Sibelius’s Violin Concerto was wonderful.

Beatrice and Benedict was Berlioz’s last opera and had some success in Germany.  He wrote it soon after the Trojans disaster and we heard Je vais le voir – Il me revient fidèle in a performance by the LSO and conducted by the late Sir Colin Davies.

The first half ended with the amazingly difficult Violin Sonata in G minor – 3rd movement “Devil’s Trill Sonata” by Tartini the inspiration for which supposedly came to him in a dream.

In the second half we had a audio-visual presentation of Gigue Fugue BWV 577 by JS Bach, played on the organ and which was the music played at the presenter’s marriage.  This mode of playing music was the first for the Society.

Few will have heard of the woman composer and pianist Guirne Creith not least because although not prolific, many or her compositions were lost after her death.  She had a very varied life, not just as a musician but – following her move to France – as a food writer under the name of Guirne van Zylen.  Her best known work is a Violin Concerto from which we heard the Adagio.

After Andantino from Sibelius’s 3rd Symphony, The Man I Love by Gershwin played by Don Shirley.  Shirley was a precocious musician who was the subject of the 2018 film Green Book.  Being black, he had to take a bodyguard with him when he performed in the southern states of the USA.

A most interesting and varied evening with a mixture of the well known and some more or less completely unknown works.

Peter Curbishley

The next meeting is on 11 November and is a presentation on some less well known British composers. 7:30 start as usual.

George Lloyd

George Lloyd was born in 1913 in St Ives (Cornwall) and had a traumatic life.  Both his parents were keen musicians and encouraged his talent from an early age.  Illness meant he was taught at home then left to continue his studies in London.

He wrote his first symphony at 19 which was premiered in Penzance.  We heard the Introduction,  Theme and Five Variations and it was music which showed great accomplishment.  Two other symphonies followed as well as two operas; The Serf and Lernin.  The latter was also first performed in Penzance before being transferred to London where it had an unusually long run.  Alan Forshaw, the presenter, played the Duet from the opera and it was an outstanding piece of music.

A crucial event in his life was joining the Marines as a bandsman and took part in the awful North Cape convoys to supply the Red Army in WWII.  A most terrible event took place in many of his fellow marines were drowned in fuel oil.  This affected his mental wellbeing and prolonged hospitalisation with what was still being called shellshock, now called PTSD.

It was physically difficult for him to write music because of the shaking but with devoted care from his wife he was able to start again.  A movement from a subsequent symphony demonstrated a change in style.

He wrote music for brass bands and one such was HMS Trinidad March, the ship he had served on.  He had almost no success with commissions from the BBC with his scores returned with no comment.  A member of the audience suggested this might have been the influence of William Glock and the pressure to use the 12 tone scale which Lloyd has little time for.

He quit the musical life and he and his wife opened a market garden in Dorset.  He began to be appreciated in later life and had some of his work performed at the Proms and he did well in America.  Albany Records recorded several of his works.  We heard a movement from the 4th Piano Concerto and a movement from the 6th Symphony.  Other pieces included extracts from the Requiem, and the Black Dyke Mills Band playing a memoriam following the IRA atrocity in the Royal parks.

For those of us who knew little of this composer’s work it was a revelation.  He had a sure touch when it came to orchestration.  I felt his style would have suited film music where he may have done well.  We were grateful to Alan for his work in preparing the evening.

Peter Curbishley

Please note we now have a page on Facebook – Salisbury recorded music society.

Next meeting on 28 October  

Modern music

The last meeting of the Society was a presentation by Peter Horwood on modern music.  He called it 21st Century music 2.  For some, modern music is a bit of a mystery.  Often seemingly tuneless, with no discernable structure it meanders through a series of discordant sounds until finally coming to an unexpected end with a crash.  At the Prom concerts where they often give new compositions a hearing, there is polite applause and the composer emerges from the audience to take his or her bow.

Peter’s presentation took us through a number of modern pieces and although some might take a while, the audience took immediately to several of them, proving that with a little effort and concentration, modern music can be rewarding and accessible.  Of particular note was – probably for the first time in the Society’s history – there were two compositions by (wait for it) women.

Peter has very kindly sent me the script for the evening which is well researched and very informative.  As a departure from normal practice therefore I have included the whole of it with grateful thanks to Peter.  It will make this the longest blog for this site but it is worthwhile and will be a reference for some of the composers he mentions.  I have left it in the first person.

UPDATE: 23 April 2019: Huw Watkins, one of the composers featured in this presentation, will have a piece performed in this year’s Promenade concerts.

Peter Curbishley

21stCentury Music 2

Following my last survey of new music 3 years ago ‘Bright, Shiny and New’, not only have new works continued to appear at a prodigious rate but my own listening has unearthed other previously unknown, to me, pieces that I have found rewarding. Hopefully this brief survey today will provide snapshots of at least a few composers you may not have encountered so far and will stimulate further enquiry and journeys of increased enlightenment.
As before the main problem in creating this presentation is a question of what to leave out. Many top names have not been included, this time.

However, we will hear some other major or upcoming composers that I hope will make up an interesting programme and that I hope you will enjoy.
Without further ado let’s start our journey. Welcome to the 21st Century:-


Symphony 3 : 1st movement – excerpt
You’ll be forgiven if you think I have made a mistake and this presentation is about early 20th century music.  The ‘Brahmsian’ glow of this particular composer’s third symphony, written in 2000, of which we heard the opening minutes, is obviously stuck in a time warp, but some would argue, none the worse for that! Late romanticism lives on, or did!
Unfortunately German composer Thomas Schmidt- Kowalski passed away in 2013, but not before producing a number of notable works including four symphonies, concertos for piano, viola, violin and cello, chamber pieces, piano and choral works.  Born in Oldenburg in 1949 Schmidt-Kowalski studied in Berlin and in the course of his studies turned from the musical avant-garde and chose to write in a more traditional vein.  Let’s now take this opportunity to hear an excerpt from the adagio of his cello concerto Op 84, completed in 2002: –


Cello Concerto Adagio – excerpt
Well, that‘s a lovely wallow in late romanticism, and written in all sincerity. Schmidt-Kowalski did not consider his tonality and romanticism to be at all nostalgic!  His use of traditional instruments, harmonic patterns and absence of processed sound was fully intentional and lies in strict contrast to a lot of contemporary composers, as we will see.  And his approach found a ready market as since the late 1970s he earned a good living as a freelance composer, mainly writing commissioned works for soloists and events.


Aheym. That stimulating piece was written in 2009 by American composer Bryce Dessner and commissioned by the artists playing in that recording, The Kronos Quartet.  The title of the piece is ‘AHEYM’, meaning ‘Homeward’ in Yiddish, was written as a musical evocation of the idea of flight and passage.  The composer’s grandparents were immigrants to America and this piece helps express their past cultural identity and connection to their roots, held as a race memory.

Bryce Dessner, born in 1976 gaining a master’s degree in music at Yale. Dessner’s compositions draw on elements from Baroque and folk music, late Romanticism and modernism, as well as minimalism.  His unique and individual voice as a composer has earned him a number of high-profile commissions from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, The New York Philharmonic, Kronos Quartet, Carnegie Hall, The Barbican Centre, Edinburgh International Festival and Sydney Festival.  A recent commission has included Concerto for Two Pianos, written for The Labèque Sisters, premiered with London Philharmonic Orchestra in April 2018. Also worth noting is his score in 2015 for the Oscar winning – The Revenant).  Active in all traditional classical genres he is one to watch, I think!


Reminiscent of a minimalist influenced Bossa Nova with Astrid Gilberto on vocals that was an excerpt from the title track of what can only be described as a modern ‘song cycle’ as conceived by English composer Graham Fitkin. Scored for small ensemble soprano and two countertenors this score has been part of a recent European tour funded by The Arts Council, as was this recording.

Fitkin’s work is broadly classified as minimalist and post-minimalist, tonal in nature and frequently complex.  Between 1994 and 1996 Graham was resident composer with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Since, amongst others, he has had work commissioned by The Halle, BBC Philharmonic, Tokyo Symphony, RSNO, BBC Orchestra of Wales, New York City Ballet and BBC Symphony Orchestra and various international ballet companies, including The Royal Ballet.

Recent works include Circuit, for soloist Kathryn Stott with BBC Philharmonic, a Cello Concerto for Yo-Yo Ma and Lens for violinist Janine Jansen.

This brings us to the next musical example, a multiple keyboard suite titled KAPLAN and performed by Fitkin and Ruth Wall.  We will hear the first half of part K2: –

Kaplan K5 – excerpt
I’m sure that you are thinking, this doesn’t sound like classical or serious music, it’s more like modern dance, or trance?  However we only need to go back a century or two and a lot of classical music was dance music, the type of thing people would play at social events.  This is maybe indicative of a crossover return to these roots, rather than preserving serious music as a preserve of the elite? Maybe?

Another historically based language of the people, through religion, is the celebration of the sacred rite, and in Europe the Christian Mass.  The use of these ancient texts has been carried into modern music through such composers as James Macmillan, John Tavener and Christopher Wood.

However, we will now look at another contemporary composer using these texts, in this case a Requiem Mass as realised by Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian in 2011. Let’s hear the Kyrie:

Requiem – Kyrie
That piece, part of an eight section composition entitled ‘Requiem’ is “Dedicated to memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide.”
Tigran Mansurian , now in his 80th year, is a leading Armenian composer of classical music and film scores.  His works convey nostalgia, both for his country’s ancient traditions and for the departing Romantic style.  He began to be noticed in the West from the 1990’s and his vast output ranges from large scale orchestral works to individual art songs.

He rose to greater prominence in the new millennia when his “Monodia” album was nominated for the 2005 Grammy Award for best contemporary classical composition.  Well worth exploring further as this composer has a unique voice and tonal palette.

Now we turn to minimalisn, a movement that was a huge influence on composition from the 1960’s onwards and that is still evident, to a greater or lesser extent, in many contemporary composers.

Jeroen Van Veen, hailed as ‘the leading exponent of minimalism in Holland today’ by Alan Swanson (Fanfare)” is a Dutch pianist, performer and composer of minimalist works.  Recordings of works by Part, Crumb, Glass, Ten Holt, Yiruma, Tiersen, Richter, Nyman and Riley testify to his immersion and acclaimed ability in this style.

His various compositions could be described as Minimal Music with different faces, crossovers to jazz, blues, soundscape, Avant-garde, techno, trance and pop music.

Lets hear some of his work.  This is the last seven minutes from the first part of his composition for two pianos Incanto No 4. Joining him to perform this is his sister Sandra (they often tour as a duo)


Incanto No 4 – Part 1 – excerpt
I think that you can hear in that a number of influences including jazz, minimalist repetition and dance.  In my last survey I expressed regret at not including any contemporary female composers. Now here is one: –

That was a piece entitled ‘Insight’ composed for String Trio.  Well, I think that’s a pretty formidable piece composed by someone still in their 30’s. The lady concerned, Dobrinka Tabakova is a Bulgarian composer just beginning to make a name for herself.

She was born in Bulgaria, then moved to London where after study at the RAM she was awarded a PhD in composition from King’s College, London. Her composition “Praise” was sung at St. Paul’s Cathedral to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.  Winner of the GSMD Lutosławski Composition Prize in 1999, the Adam Prize of King’s College London and in she was awarded first prize and medal of the Sorel Organization’s choral competition in New York.

Tabakova has received commissions from the Royal Philharmonic Society, BBC Radio 3, Cheltenham Music Festival, Britten Sinfonia, Three Choirs Festival, Wigmore Hall and the PRS for Music Foundation’s first UK New Music Biennial in 2014.

In 2013 an album devoted to her music, entitled String Paths reached No.2 in the UK specialist classical chart and attracted numerous positive reviews and a Grammy nomination.  I think we can expect more great things from Dobrinka.  I’ll certainly be looking out for them.

Whilst compiling this presentation I have become aware of the number of really good concertos for string instruments, cello, viola and violin, that are now being created.  To give us all a nice warm glow before the break we’ll now hear part of the Barcarolle from British composer Paul Patterson’s violin concerto no.2:-


Violin Concerto 2: Barcarolle –excerpt

The English pastoral tradition lives on, definite influences of Vaughan Williams discernible there I think.  Paul Patterson is a British composer and teacher.  He composition at the Royal Academy of Music and returned there to become Head of Composition and Contemporary Music and is a regular guest on international composition competition panels.  Currently Composer-in-Residence with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain Patterson has produced a number of large-scale choral works including the Mass of the Sea (1983), a Stabat Mater in (1986), Te Deum (1988) the Millennium Mass (2000).

Recent commissions include a Double Bass Concerto premiered in 2018 and Mosquitoes, for the 4 Girls 4 Harps first performed in the Ryedale Festival in 2015.

My last survey was subtitled ‘Bright, Shiny and New. This certainly applies to this next piece:-

Symphony 1st movement – excerpt
That tightly expressed and dynamic piece is an excerpt from the first movement of Huw Watkins Symphony (his first) and was premiered in 2017 by The Halle orchestra, who played on the recording we just heard.
Well known as a piano accompanist Huw has also been very active in this new century in creating an extensive catalogue of orchestral and chamber pieces.  He has received commissions from amongst others, the BBC Symphony, the LSO, the Nash Ensemble and is composer in association with the BBC National orchestra of Wales and in 2016 he wrote a cello concerto for his brother Paul that was performed at The Proms in 2016.  Currently teacher of composition at The Royal Academy of Music and is an honorary research fellow of that esteemed institution.

Now for something completely different, and I’d pay careful attention towards the end of this excerpt: –

Pert Em Hru:
Media Vita in Morte sumus
This piece, first performed in 2007, is from Swiss performer and composer Paul Gigers’s oratorio ‘Pert Em Hru’.  This title is taken from the ancient Egyptian book of The Dead and translates roughly as ‘The Soul emerges into full daylight’, an alternative way of expressing the Christian thought of ‘From Darkness to Light’.  You may of noticed that at the end of that section that we heard a brief sample of the Gregorian chorale ‘Pieu Jesu’. This melding of medieval mysticism, orientalism and jazz reflects Gigers background.

He travelled Asia as a busker and was concertmaster with the St. Gallen Symphony Orchestra before he embarked on a freelance career, playing a repertoire that ranges from the Baroque to contemporary composition, improvisation, jazz, music of diverse folk traditions and most important: his own music.  Giger has composed choral and orchestral pieces as well as chamber music, music for films and music for dancers.

We’ve already heard music from a female composer, now here’s another:-

Sulamith Ballet Suite: Introduction – excerpt
That excerpt was from Sulamith, a ballet based on a story by Kuprin concerning King Solomon’s love for a poor girl, a servant from his vineyard and the only love of his life.  This piece was composed by Alla Pavlova, a Ukrainian born composer who moved to Moscow in 1961.  She gained her Master’s Degree in Moscow in but in 1990 moved to New York.  Her American life has seen her become prolific in creating compositions across a wide range for orchestra, her first symphony was published in 1995, chamber, instrumental and the voice.

Her works combine classical, romantic and contemporary styles, and sometimes include elements from gospel and popular genres.  She has become popular in Russia through the efforts of leading Russian conductor Vladimir Fedoseyev.

A fervent supporter in the cause of promoting women composers Pavlova is a member of New York Women Composers, Inc and an active member of The International Alliance for Women Composers.

In 2017 Pavlova completed and premiered her 10th symphony to popular acclaim.  In a recent review on Music Web International Rob Barnett commented:

Have you given up on modern symphonies as sources of melodic reward? Pavlova will restore your faith.

Max Richter is a composer whose level of visibility and development has fallen entirely within this new century and represents an almost quintessential example, in his range of work and use of techniques, of what being a serious composer in the 21st century represents and how this has translated into acknowledged achievement.

Post-modernist, post minimalist, and yet influenced by these styles, Richter incorporates tonality, traditional compositional development (fugues etc), played by conventional acoustic instruments, with elements of ‘musique concrete’, electronics, digital manipulation, sampling and John Cage’s techniques of using ambient sound and integration.
Let’s hear an example from his Ballet score ‘INFRA’.


Infra– excerpts
We heard Infra 4 and Journey 3 from INFRA.
Max Richter is a German-born British composer who has been an influential voice in the meeting of contemporary classical and alternative popular musical styles since the early 2000s.  Richter is classically trained, having graduated in composition from the Royal Academy of Music and studied with Luciano Berio in Italy.  Richter composes music for stage, concert, opera, ballet and screen as well as collaborations with performance, installation and media artists.

Richter has very definite opinions about the situation of contemporary classical composition:

Somehow in Europe over the last century, as complexity and inaccessibility in music became equated with intelligence and the avant-garde, we lost something along the way.  Modernism gave us so many stunning works, but we also lost a shared communion in sound. Audiences have dwindled.  All my pieces over the last few years have been exploring this.

In 2002 Richter worked with Radio 3 on ‘Memory House’ an experimental collection of music, ambient sounds and voices (including John Cage) and in collaboration with the BBC Philharmonic.  This was critically acclaimed as,‘ a landmark work of contemporary classical music’ and cited by BBC Music mag as: ‘a masterpiece in neoclassical composition’.

Richter’s next project The Blue Notebooks in 2004 used musical extracts, ambient sounds and the actress Tilda Swinton reading from Kafka’s The Blue Octavo Notebooks .  This was acclaimed ‘…one of the most affecting and universal contemporary classical records in recent memory, and, in view of its anti-war agenda Fact (UK magazine) named the album “one of the most iconic pieces of classical and protest music of the 21st century”.

If Richter’s solo work had indicated that he was primarily a miniaturist, arranging sequences of sounds, voice and short musical pieces to produce an overall effect, this notion was belied by subsequent events. Richter has provided a number of recent pieces where variations are developed and explored over extended periods of time..

In 2015 Richter composed ‘Sleep’, a concept piece with that lasted 8 hours, and intended to be played during the night. (it is interesting to mention that Bach’s Goldberg variations were reputedly written for The Duke of Saxony to cure insomnia!)

The entire composition was performed on 27 September 2015, from midnight to 8:00 A.M. as the climax of the “Science and Music” weekend on BBC Radio 3.  The performance broke several records, including the longest live broadcast of a single musical composition in the history of the network. The full-length Sleep has been played live by Richter in Amsterdam, Sydney, Berlin, Madrid, London and Paris. In September 2018 it was played in the Antwerp cathedral for an audience of 400 who were provided with beds for the night.

“I think of it as a piece of protest music,” Richter has said.

It’s protest music against this sort of very super industrialized, intense, mechanized way of living right now. It’s a political work in that sense. It’s a call to arms to stop what we’re doing.’

As you can imagine, difficult to provide extracts from this piece in the short format of this presentation – we might all doze off!

From 2010 Richter had begun a fruitful association with The Royal Ballet’s Wayne Mc Gregor and he commissioned a series of ballet scores, commencing with ‘Infra’, continuing with ‘Vivaldi recomposed’ in 2012 and in 2017, ‘Wolf Works’.  The latter is based on works by the writer Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and the Waves, and incorporates read extracts as well as acoustic music, digital composition and ambient sounds mixed in.

The Waves is a 20 minute tone poem of themes that continuously ebb and flow, recalling the dream like narrative of the book, and not easily extracted for this presentation. So, alternatively we will hear extracts from Part 1, Mrs Dalloway, the music for Septimus (in the composer’s words realised as a mini De Profundis using a typically English device of ground base over which a cello solo extends from the bottom of the instrument and ascends out of sight) and we will follow this with extracts from Part 2; Orlando, including a read extract:


Woolf Works – excerpts
60 screen and stage scores and 20 International awards later Richter can now feel creatively independent. At the peak of his powers what will come next?  Also, that thought applies to contemporary music overall as it continues to change and develop to provide surprises, challenges and pleasures for us to experience.

Let’s conclude this survey with where we started but, rather than something new that sounds old, let’s hear something old that has been made new! Here’s an excerpt from Vivaldi’s four seasons – as recomposed by Max Richter.


Recomposed by Max Richter- Vivaldi – Summer 1

Text by Peter  Horwood