Concerto for Four Horns and Symphony Orchestra
28th February 2002
Dvorak Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague
Concerto for Solo French Horn and Symphony Orchestra
12th October 2012
Birmingham (UK) Town Hall
Andrew Downes in rehearsal for his premiere, Birmingham Post.
An account by his wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on January 11th, 2019
Part 1: Concerto for 4 Horns (skip to Concerto for French Horn and Symphony Orchestra)
More info on this work
To our great delight, Andrew had a lot of performances of his horn works by the horns of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, in the Czech Republic, Germany and the UK! Our trips to hear them were all amazingly exciting!
Andrew was keen to compose for these superb players with the whole Czech Philharmonic Orchestra...
So he asked our good friend, Stanislav Suchanek, who had introduced Andrew's Sonata for 8 Horns to his Czech colleagues and organised their many marvellous performances of the work, if the CPO would be interested in a Concerto for 4 Horns and Symphony Orchestra. Birmingham Conservatoire had given Andrew permission to use his research grant for the project. Stanislav wrote back and told Andrew to go ahead with the composition of the concerto!
Articles advertising the premiere:
Andrew really wanted to create an impactful opening. He was quite nervous about needing to impress these famous players and their audiences from the start. A 'pop' style theme came to him in the middle of the night! :-
And I loved the sweeping CPO strings throughout. Here they are accompanying the horns in Movement 1:-
The outstandingly accomplished soloists Radek Baborak, Stanislav Suchanek, Ondrej Vrabec, and Zdenek Divoky, with the wonderful Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Valek, premiered the Concerto in the Dvorak Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague, on 28th February 2002.
Andrew's Dad, horn player Frank Downes, came to the premiere with 4 of our friends. It was incredibly exhilarating and moving to sit in the auditorium of the Dvorak Hall, listening to Andrew's wonderful music performed by such brilliant players. The atmosphere seemed electric.
A second performance took place in the same venue the following evening, 1st March. This time our daughters, Anna and Paula, came with a group of friends. My brother, Bob, and his wife, Kirsti, also flew over from Finland for the performance! Bob and Kirsti stayed in an Ibis Hotel near Wenseslas Square, while our daughters and their friends opted for a Youth Hostel which was near the Ibis. It was lovely that Anna and Paula could spend time with their uncle and aunt, while Andrew and I stayed in a hotel nearer the Rudolfinum in order to more easily attend rehearsals. We were thrilled to see the posters for the concert around the city!
We were also absolutely delighted to read the following in the concert programme:-
Also this from Dr David Wright on MUSICWEB:-
Later that year, the Concerto for 4 Horns and Symphony Orchestra was recorded by the same soloists with the Czech Radio Orchestra and broadcast on Czech Radio in March 2003.
Here are 3 more extracts from the work:-
Poster now in Andrew and Cynthia's house.
Part 2: Concerto for Solo French Horn with Symphony Orchestra
When Radek Baborak moved from the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Ondrej Vrabec became first horn in the Czech Philharmonic. Ondrej too became a great friend of Andrew's and commissioned a work from Andrew for his Brahms Trio Prague. This ensemble has performed Andrew's Sonata for Violin, Horn & Piano many times. They recorded the work on CD in 2008. Andrew then offered to write a Concerto for Solo Horn and Symphony Orchestra for Ondrej. Andrew and I organised, with our daughter, Anna, for the work to be performed with the Central England Ensemble (founded and led by Anna) in Birmingham UK Town Hall, in a concert to celebrate the 10th anniversary of CEE.
When Andrew had composed half of the first movement, he had a devastating accident, on the morning of October 8th 2009. His left hip gave way and he fell and broke his back, which had become brittle because of his ankylosing spondilitis. His spinal fracture was left undiagnosed by Russell's Hall A&E for well over 24 hours. He was not immobilized and gradually lost all feeling from the waist down. After 40 hours a brilliant surgeon at the Birmingham Royal Orthopaedic hospital finally operated and put Andrew's spine back together. Andrew then underwent 9 months of rehabilitation in Stoke Mandeville Hospital spinal injuries unit.
Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where Andrew Downes spent 9 months recovering from his spinal injury. (Photo by sijon)
Our lives changed completely. During those first 9 months I spent half of each each week staying in nurses' accomodation at Stoke Mandeville and being with Andrew, and the other half at home, looking after our house (and adaptations to it) and the Lynwood Music orders. I wondered if Andrew would compose again and what would happen to his Horn Concerto.
We were very grateful for all the prayers that were said for Andrew during this time. Here is an article I wrote for Hagley Contact Magazine:
It wasn't long after his return to our newly adapted home, however, that Andrew was back composing. He completed the Concerto quite quickly. I think he had already composed it in his head in his hospital bed.
The premiere was to take place on October 12th 2012. Andrew and I, well used to publicity, having managed to virtually fill Birmingham Town Hall for Andrew's Piano Concerto in 2009, had a lovely summer taking posters and flyers to all the towns around Birmingham. This time we had Andrew's new wheelchair accessible vehicle, and our Romanian carer to drive.
On the night of the concert, I was very glad that we had Radek, our Polish carer, who looked after Andrew while I led the violas in the concerto, and also had a fair amount in common with Ondrej, since their countries bordered on each other. Ondrej stayed at our house during his trip.
Andrew wrote 2 small viola solos for me in the Concerto. I was delighted, especially when Ondrej said they went well!
We organized for the concert to be sponsored by Irwin Mitchell, Personal Injury Solicitors, and we raised funds for Paraplegic Sports at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.
Other articles and adverts in the lead-up to the concert:
From the programme:
We were extremely gratified to read the following in the Birmingham Post next day:-
'.. the renowned composer Andrew Downes ... horn star Ondrej Vrabec took centre stage in the exhilarating new Andrew Downes Horn Concerto. Conductor Anthony Bradbury had obviously worked everyone thoroughly for this taxing work, therefore all evidently enjoyed the fanfares, echo phrases, catchy dance-rhythms, musical questions and answers.
'Thrilling woodwinds eventually led to a richly harmonic plainsong style and gentle sensitive solo lines.
'Complex rhythms teased in the exciting finale of this most accessible work, eventually finishing with the soloist's triumphant 'whoop'.'
THE BIRMINGHAM POST
And later in the in the magazine, Focus on Spinal injury, published by Irwin Mitchell Solicitors:-
‘The audience were enraptured, and left the building with the harmonies dancing round their heads.’
Letters we received following the performance:
Here are some extracts of the premiere to demonstrate Ondrej's brilliance and the beauty of the music:-
The next 2 snippet feature firstly a viola solo followed by a violin solo written for me and Anna respectively, and secondly solo strings including myself and Anna:-
Ondrej's beautiful virtuosity shines through in these extracts from the last movement:-
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