Poster for the premiere
3rd April 1993
St John’s Church, Wolverhampton
Wolverhampton Civic Choir
Orchestra da Camera
Baritone Soloist - Brian Rayner Cook
Conductor - David Hart
An account by Andrew's wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on January 16th, 2022
A SAINT LUKE PASSION Opus 50 (1992) 40'
The story of the death and resurrection of Christ set to music for baritone soloist, SATB choir, piano duet, percussion (2 players) and string orchestra.
The history of the commissioning of A Saint Luke Passion began with the premiere of Andrew’s String Quartet No 2 on 5th December 1989. That premiere was in the Adrian Boult Hall of the Birmingham School of Music (now Royal Birmingham Conservatoire) and was part of Andrew’s Festival of New Music. Unfortunately, the audience was quite small that evening. One important person there, however, was the critic, David Hart. He was very taken with Andrew’s music and not only did he write a very favourable review, but also very shortly afterwards asked Andrew to compose a large-scale choral work for the Wolverhampton Civic Choir which he directed, to be performed in St John’s Church, Wolverhampton.
I suggested to Andrew that this was a perfect opportunity for him to compose a setting of the Passion of Jesus. In order not to sound too presumptuous, we thought St Luke was one of the less well-known from the point of view of Passion settings and it should be called A Saint Luke Passion, so as not to give the impression that Andrew thought it was the only one. Andrew’s Passion treats both the Death (Part 1) and the Resurrection (Part 2) of the Passion of Christ story. He includes 2 Latin motets from the 'Tenebrae Responses', Judas Mercator Pessimus (The Wicked Merchant, Judas) and Tenebrae Factae sunt (A Darkness fell over the Land) in part 1, and ends part 2 with Credo in unum Deum (I believe in one God), again in Latin.
So, commissioned by the Wolverhampton Civic Choir, with baritone soloist Brian Rayner Cook and the Orchestra da Camera, under the direction of David Hart, the premiere of A Saint Luke Passion took place on 3rd April 1993.
I was born in Wolverhampton, and my great-grandparents lived in one of
the houses around St John’s Church, so I felt quite emotional when I
arrived at the premiere with Andrew of A Saint Luke Passion, which I
knew was an amazingly moving work. The performers and the capacity
audience loved it. Christopher Morley, critic of the Birmingham Post,
wrote a very complimentary review:
'Two triumphant premieres in three days! After Thursday's success of his eloquent Third Symphony, Andrew Downes heard his deeply affecting St Luke Passion given on Saturday by the Wolverhampton Civic Choir (who commissioned it) in the elegant and accommodating Parish Church. 'Scored for string orchestra, percussion and piano duet, the work also calls for a baritone soloist singing the words of Christ. 'Brian Rayner Cook performed with gentle sincerity, quietly commanding in these grateful melodic lines. Many of Downes' well-loved fingerprints are here, not least the music circling round a note before coming to rest on it, and now, too, his recent, striking discovery of independent multi-tempi. '... the music's drama as it progressed to a moving sense of exaltation touched us all.' THE BIRMINGHAM POST
In 1993 Andrew took a group of hugely talented students, who called themselves 'The 4D Crimson Orchestra', from his School of Creative Studies, on an exchange visit to the State University of New York. The Orchestra did several concerts during the visit, while Andrew had discussions with the music department to plan further exchanges, and also was invited by the Crane Concert Choir of the State University of New York to conduct them in the first American performance of his A Saint Luke Passion. The Crane Concert Choir has a tradition for inviting composers to conduct their works with them. Composers to be invited in the past have included Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland! Andrew, with his Conservatoire colleague David Brock, trained the musicians for this first American performance of A Saint Luke Passion. The choral department and the choir there were excellent. The performance took place on 5th November 1993. Read the talk which Andrew gave before the performance.
Correspondence before the performance:
ISM Journal articles:
Postcards from Andrew to our family:
Andrew at Potsdam University:
Colleague and great friend David Brock:
After the performance:
In 1997, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Adrian Boult Hall at Birmingham Conservatoire, Andrew’s A Saint Luke Passion was chosen for a special concert, given by Bryan Rayner Cook with the Birmingham Conservatoire Choir and Orchestra, conducted by Steven Lloyd. Andrew had composed his wonderful choral work The Marshes of Gylynn for the Royal Opening of this Hall 10 years previously, and this 1997 concert choice was in recognition of that.
Birmingham Conservatoire Brochure:
Letters after the performance:
In August 2006, our daughter, Paula, who was then living in Massachusetts USA, put on a performance of Andrew’s unaccompanied choral music, including Judas Mercator Pessimus and Tenebrae Factae Sunt from his Passion at King's Chapel, Boston, on August 22nd 2006, with the Millennium Scholars directed by herself. She had made a number of highly talented singer friends, mainly from the Church of the Advent, Boston, in which she and they sang, and they made up the Millennium Scholars. She also invited Andrew and me to sing.
That summer was a very exciting one for us. At the end of July the whole family were involved in the premiere performances of Andrew’s opera, Far from the Madding Crowd. Then Andrew and I flew to Pittsburgh for the USA International Flute Convention to hear the Columbia Flute Choir play Andrew’s Mountain Song, and then we slowly drove to Boston, stopping off at the beautiful Finger Lakes, where we stayed in a gorgeous Victorian hotel in rolling countryside. Finally we arrived in Boston to sing in the concert which Paula organised. Throughout our travels I practised the music for our concert, which turned out to be an unforgettable experience. I took some of Andrew’s CDs to sell. One audience member was so taken with Andrew’s music that she bought a copy of every CD on offer! Listen to this concert.
Comments from the singers:
"It was a pleasure indeed. Thank you for writing the music and for including me in its performance."
"It was wonderful to meet you both and work with you! I hope we can work together in the future."
"I had such a wonderful time singing this music. Thanks so much for giving us all the opportunity to perform (and hear) such beautiful, sensitively-wrought music."
"It was a pleasure for me to sing your beautiful music, and in such fine company as well!"
Comment from an audience member:
"Please tell your father how deeply moved I was by his music. It opened springs of emotion for me I guess! So thank you all for a real epiphany!"
In April 2020, during Andrew Downes' 70th birthday year, the recording of the Birmingham Conservatoire performance of A Saint Luke Passion was shared online.
In March 2023, as part of the Andrew Downes Year of Remembrance, Tenebrae Factae Sunt from A St Luke Passion was performed by Cambridge Vocal Consort, during their Lent concert in the Church of St Pater and St Mary Magdalene, Fordham, Cambridgeshire.
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