Monday, 26 July 2010

Summer concerts

Summer brings a change of pace from the usual round of orchestra concerts. I find myself taking part in more chamber music. This summer is no exception.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to join players from Ealing Symphony Orchestra in their end-of-season chamber concert in St. Mary's Perivale. It happened to be on the night of the World Cup Final, so the audience was a bit thin, but never mind. I took part in a performance of the Strauss Suite for Winds. As the church is very small (seats about 100 max) and the Strauss uses 13 performers (2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 4 horns, 2 bassoons and contrabassoon) the loud passages really raised the roof! It's a thoroughly happy and optimistic piece, with some lovely delicate touches, especially in the Gavotte. And to think that Strauss was less than 20 years old when he composed it!

On Friday August 6th I'm taking part in the St Barnabas Last Night of the Proms. I'm playing in an arrangement of the Fantasia on Sea Songs. it promises to be a very jolly occasion. Sometimes classical musicians take themselves far too seriously, and I think these kinds of concert are a wonderful corrective to that.

But the main summer event for me, as it has been for the last few years, is St Clement's Wind Ensemble's concerts on the Edinburgh Fringe "Airy Delights". We are playing in Canongate Kirk on 19th and 20th August at 5pm.

This year the big piece we are doing is Brahms' Serenade No. 2. The instrumentation is a bit between that of a chamber ensemble and an orchestra. It requires 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 each of oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns, plus violas, cellos and double bass. But curiously , no violins. As far as I'm aware, there isn't anything else scored for quite the same group of instruments. This means that it doesn't get performed all that often, which I think is a great pity because it has some lovely music in it. I've listened to recordings but never played it before, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Taking advantage of the fact that we will have some strings with us this year, we are also playing Spohr's Grand Nonet. Again, an unjustly neglected work. I've had a run through this with friends, but never before performed it. This is one of the joys of playing chamber music if the majority of your playing is in an orchestra - there are all sorts of little gems to be found that you don't come across in the normal run of playing.

Michael Round has made an arrangement for double wind quintet of a Mozart Sonata for 2 pianos, which should be a thoroughly enjoyable and tuneful addition SCWE's repertoire of larger wind chamber works. Some people get a bit sniffy about arranging chamber works for groups other than those which the composer used. This of course is nonsense, composers themselves have re-arranged their pieces for all sorts of groups. Beethoven and Brahms both made arrangements of their symphonies for piano 4 hands, movements from Mozart's great Gran Partita serenade pop up again in one of his flute quartets, and abbreviated versions of the Beethoven Septet also exist as arrangements by the composer himself as a piano trio and as a string quintet. There's no reason to think that the composers would disapprove of others making arrangements for different ensembles, provided it is tastefully done. In pre-recording days it was a way of providing additional opportunities for their music to be heard.

And we are doing a couple of wind quintets, one by
Ketil Hvoslef, written in 1964, and also Lyle Sanford's Timepiece. I'm particularly looking forward to doing Timepiece, partly because I enjoy doing first performances and first UK performances, bringing a new piece to an audience, partly because it is an enjoyable piece and a worthwhile addition to the wind quintet repertoire, but mainly because of Lyle Sanford's obvious delight in seeing that the piece will be performed and his willingness to trust us on performance details. I hope that when he hears the concert recording he will still be as happy!


  1. Hi, Jonathan - No matter what - I'm happy! As I said somewhere along the way, that you and SCWE decided to go forward with the piece was a tremendous moment for me. For one thing, it encouraged me to go back and look at some other pieces I've done, if only to see if I can discern influences ;-)

    I've been doing a lot of arranging of hymns and folk tunes for my group lately, and this whole experience of being taken seriously as a composer has been a huge confidence builder. The result has been feeling more sure footed as I go about arranging, and getting what seems a better result far more quickly.

    The other thing is that I've been playing around with ideas for new compositions for the first time in years. Don't know that it'll end up leading anywhere, but for me, composing (or just thinking about composing) is wonderfully engaging and rewarding on all kinds of levels.

  2. I'm so pleased we've helped provide some inspiration to you!

  3. Hi Jonathan! I want you to know how much admire musicians who are into the classics. Classical music makes me relax and I think this is the type that would suit summer concerts in Denver. I had this passion from my mom who plays the piano. I love the classics of Mozart, Beethoven and more. I hope my mom will perform again in some parks in Denver, CO. For you, I wish all the best in your musical career. God bless!