Facebook Watch Party of a filmed socially distanced performance of Christmas Cantata for #andrewdownes70, 2020
18th December 1974
The Chamber Choir, Girls' Choir, Chamber Orchestra
Thames Valley College, Twickenham
Conductor Andrew Downes
An account by Andrew's wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on February 14th, 2022
CHRISTMAS CANTATA Opus 4 (1974) 15'
Cantata in 7 short movements for SATB choir and orchestra (easy enough for school orchestra and choir); (arrangements for SATB Choir, Brass Sextet, Keyboard and Side Drum; and of movement 5 for SA and optional TB with Piano and Side Drum)
This Cantata was written for and first performed by The Chamber Choir,
Girls' Choir and Chamber Orchestra of Thames Valley College,
Twickenham, directed by Andrew, on December 18th 1974.
After his time at Cambridge Andrew went on to the Royal College of Music to study composition with Herbert Howells and singing with Gordon Clinton. He began teaching, to finance himself, firstly in a rough Secondary Modern School and later at Thames Valley Grammar School, where he wrote for his pupils his Christmas Cantata opus 4. (Although Andrew wrote a lot of music before and during Cambridge, he counted his opus numbers from his time with Herbert Howells).
I went to the first performance, which Andrew directed. I wasn't the only one to be 'knocked out' by this amazing work: audience and pupils alike loved it. I sat next to Frank, Andrew’s father, who was very impressed. The pupils loved performing it too. I sat in the audience with a very cheap cassette player on my lap. This old recording (unfortunately muffled) can heard here.
Programme for the premiere of Christmas Cantata:
At first the Cantata was written out by Andrew in blue biro in the days when photocopiers worked with liquid ink and special photographic paper on a roll. In the 90s, with the advent of Sibelius 7, I was able to typeset the work and create lovely published copies. This video starts at the point where I speak and show my copies. You can rewind to watch the whole video.
Over the years I have performed individual movements from the Cantata quite often in Christmas concerts and church services in our area with many local musicians, adapting the instrumentation to the players I’ve had available. Hagley Community Orchestra will be performing it again at the St Saviour’s Church Christmas Carol Service in 2021. People love its tender simplicity.
Programmes for my Hagley performances:
Andrew’s music lends itself well to arrangements. In December 2019 the Meridian Singers, directed by our daughter Paula, performed the whole Christmas Cantata in St John the Baptist Church, Holywell, Cambridgeshire, in an arrangement by Paula, with Brass sextet (Hextura Brass), keyboard (Olga Elbourne) and side drum (David Cammish). I remember spending quite a long time proofreading Paula’s arrangement, but it was well worth it and the copies are now available from Lynwood Music.
Poster for the Meridian Singers' Christmas Concert 2019:
For Andrew's 70th birthday year, a socially distanced online performance of the whole Christmas Cantata in its original form was recorded in the Countess of Huntingdon Hall by the Central England Camerata orchestra and soloists, leader Anna Downes, conducted by Anthony Bradbury, during the coronavirus lockdown in December 2020. The performance was shared in a Watch party on December 23rd, so Andrew and I could watch it from the confines of our home, as did many other people.
Here is a transcription of Andrew’s contribution to the comments in the video of interviews before the performance:
“The Christmas Cantata is a very early piece, written at a time when I still had lessons at the Royal College of Music with Herbert Howells. I taught at Thames Valley Grammar School in Twickenham and the Head of Music, Angela Sleeman, asked me to write a new piece for the forces which made up the school orchestra, namely some fine brass and woodwind players, some decent percussion and a few strings, together with a good choir. I conducted the premiere at Christmas 1974.”
The video will begin at Andrew's interview:
Comments from viewers after the Watch Party:
"It's good to see Andrew's concerts filmed."
"Brilliant! Loved it all."
"On first hearing, I'm struck by the excellent and confident performance by a very well blended chamber choir and highly competent orchestra."
"Well done to all involved - it was certainly a special occasion."
"Absolutely lovely Paula. You must be so proud of your talented Dad."
"It was lovely to watch and listen to this, beautifully sung and I especially liked the March and the Finale. The blending of the singers is skillfully composed and sung."
"The unaccompanied vocal pieces would suit a church choir very well and ought to made available as separate items perhaps?"
"It sounds just as individual in personality as his later works."
"Fantastic music and fab film."
Movement 3, Lullaby, is, in actual fact, an instrumental version of Andrew’s song for unaccompanied AATTBB male voice group, What Shall I Do to show how much I love her? There have been various arrangements of this song, for Baritone/Alto soloist with SSAB choir, Alto/Tenor soloist with string quartet or voices, and Tenor and Soprano soloists with Clarinet, Cello and Double Bass. Our daughter Paula changed the words to a Native American text for some other versions to perform in her Climate Change concerts. I talk in detail about this song in a separate blog post.
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