Concert Overtures

Poster for the premiere of Andrew Downes' Overture, In The Cotswolds, commissioned by the Gloucestershire Youth Orchestra, to perform at the opening concert of the Three Choirs Festival under Mark Foster in 1986


PREMIERES:


Festival Overture for St Céré

24th February 1976

Birmingham School of Music Recital Hall
Birmingham
School of Music Symphony Orchestra
Conductor - Frank Downes

Overture: In the Cotswolds

16th August 1986

Gloucester Cathedral, Three Choirs Festival
Gloucestershire Youth Orchestra

Conductor - Mark Foster


Overture: Towards a New Age
28th January 1997

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductor - Andrew Constantine

More information and sheet music

Have you performed in any of these works or come to watch? Please share below!


An account by Andrew's wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on September 29th, 2021


FESTIVAL OVERTURE FOR ST CERE Opus 8 (1975)
 

flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 3 trumpets, timpani, strings
More info

In August 1976 the Symphony Orchestra of the Birmingham School of Music (now Royal Birmingham Conservatoire) went to St Céré in the Dordogne, France, to play in the celebrated International Music Festival there.  The trip was organised by Andrew’s father, Frank Downes, the Director of the Orchestra (and also Head of Orchestral Studies at the college).  Frank asked Andrew to compose an Overture for the opening concert of the Festival.
 
In preparation, the exciting Overture which Andrew composed was first performed by the Birmingham School of Music Symphony Orchestra, directed by Frank, on February 24th 1976 in the Recital Hall of the School of Music.  These performers then broadcast the work live on BBC Radio from the Centre for the Arts at Aston University on March 10th 1976.  They gave the French premiere at the Château de Montal, St Céré, on August 5th 1976.

Andrew and I, as well as Andrew’s mother Iris, went on the trip. That was the year England experienced the worst and longest heatwave ever recorded.  The Dordogne area of France was cooler, to our great relief!  I had plenty of opportunities to speak French, not least when interpreting in the local hospital when students got ill…

Right to left: Frank Downes, Cynthia Downes, Iris Downes

Château de Montal

Frank conducting the orchestra in rehearsal

We had a lovely time at the Festival. I sang in the choir for the performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Andrew sang as soloist in Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms!

The Overture opened the Festival in an open air concert outside the Château de Montal and was a great success.  I was in the early stages of pregnancy and suffered sickness during the performance, so I had to run out of the concert, scrunching on the pebbles of the Château’s outdoor venue as I went.  I had to silence protesting audience members by whispering, “je vais vomir!” (I’m going to be sick!)  My exit didn’t detract from the audience’s appreciation of the music, fortunately.  The following article appeared in the newspaper next day:

'La musique en est détendue, agréable, comme il sied pour un soir de vacances. L'auteur ne s'écarte jamais d'un évident parti-pris de simplicité et de clarté. Sa musique s'écoute donc sans effort.
'

'The music is relaxed, pleasant, as befits a holiday evening. The composer never moves away from an obvious preference for simplicity and clarity. His music is therefore listened to without effort.' 


LA DEPECHE DU MIDI

Advertising before the concert:


Programme for the Festival Concert including Andrew's Overture:


Programme for the Festival Concert including Bernstein's Chichester Psalms:


Review of the Overture:



In those days Andrew wrote his music out by hand, often in blue biro, and so it sat in a trunk in our music room until eventually, benefiting from the wondrous advances in technology, we asked Paul Trippett, our daughter Paula's cousin-in-law, to typeset it, and I proofread it.

Paula then created a multitrack recording of the work, mixing her violin and viola playing with synthesised sounds, in May 2020, releasing it on souncloud as part of #andrewdownes70.  It was very exciting to hear this work come to life again after all those years!

In April 2021, Anna’s professional Orchestra, Central England Camerata, socially distanced, recorded the Overture in the Countess of Huntington Hall, Worcester.  The players were delighted to be booked for the recording, having had few opportunities for work due to Covid-19.  The recording was launched on YouTube one month later, put together with films of the Château de Montal and the St Céré area by Paula.



OVERTURE: IN THE COTSWOLDS Opus 36 (1986)   

4 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion (4 players), strings


More info

One of my early ambitions for Andrew was a performance of his music in the Three Choirs Festival.  My wish was fulfilled in 1986.  A colleague of Andrew’s at the Birmingham School of Music, Mark Foster, was also  Director of the Gloucestershire Youth Orchestra, who were due to perform at the opening concert of the Three Choirs Festival.  Mark asked Andrew to compose an overture for it.  
The cathedral was packed for the occasion and there was a real buzz in the air before the orchestra struck up.

'Downes talent is unquestionably a lyrical one, as is immediately demonstrated in the work's evocation of the Cotswold landscape in the song-like opening melody for strings...it stilled Gloucester Cathedral before the first bar-line had been reached. But as if fully aware of this picture postcard world, Downes soon clouds his musical vocabulary with more jagged, strident, wholly 20th century utterances depicting the modern world of the town. The climax comes when the two sound worlds are set against each other, with the enduring beauty of the Cotswold landscape triumphing over all assaults. Instrumentation is lavishly bold and technicoloured...'   CLASSICAL MUSIC FORTNIGHTLY.


Advertisement in The Musical Times:


Preview in the Birmingham Post:


Communication from Andrew to Louis Carus, Principal of Birmingham School of Music:


Correspondence with the conductor, Mark Foster:


Three Choirs Festival brochure, programme, and letter:


Invitation to pre-concert reception:


Review:


Letter to Andrew from an orchestral player:


Letter from conductor Mark Foster about another performance at the Stroud Festival:


In July 1996 the Overture was chosen by the conductors of our daughters’ Youth Orchestra, the Dudley Schools Symphony Orchestra, for their concert in the National Festival of Music for Youth in the Royal Festival Hall, London.  We were all very excited to go down to London for the event.  Our daughters were in the first violins and Anna led the orchestra. They played wonderfully.


In 2001 Anna founded her own orchestra, Central England Ensemble, which still exists today.  I have played in most of its concerts and was thrilled to take part in their performance of In The Cotswolds, conducted by Lee Armstrong, in Carrs Lane Centre, Birmingham, in June 2012. The critic, Maggie Cotton, really liked the work:

‘…our imaginations were teased by Andrew Downes’ overture In the Cotswolds: Gloucestershire lyricism, deliciously user-friendly.  Sunny pastoral scenes, horn solos, then diminishing pianissimos disappearing to delightful oblivion: smiles all round.’   BIRMINGHAM POST


Poster for a performance by the Central England Ensemble:


Programme for the performance by Central England Ensemble:


Review in the Birmingham Post of a performance by Central England Ensemble:


In 2013 Andrew received a large sum of money by way of compensation for the clinical negligence he had suffered at Russells Hall Hospital, where doctors failed to recognise over many hours that he had broken his back, leaving him paralysed.  When the compensation came, I suggested to Andrew that we should use some of it to hire the services of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra to record Andrew’s Symphonies 1-4 and 2 Overtures.  At the time Ondrej Vrabec, Principal Horn of the Orchestra and great friend of Andrew’s, had become Associate Conductor of the Orchestra.  He was thrilled to be asked to conduct Andrew’s works and booked the best recording engineer and producer, as well as the best extra players required.

So, in February 2015 this Overture was recorded in the Dvorak Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague, Czech Republic, by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Ondrej Vrabec, as part of a 2 CDs set of 4 symphonies and 2 overtures by Andrew Downes, all recorded in the spring of 2015 on the Artesmon label.  We weren’t able to go to the recording because of Andrew’s paraplegia, but the engineers in Prague and our computer repair man here set up streaming and skype for us to watch the recording and make comments.  The set of 2 CDs and one Documentary DVD were launched in the Suk Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague, on 1st December 2015.  The CDs were launched on iTunes on March 18th 2016 and voted CD of the Month of March 2016 by Czech Music Direct.  The UK launch, organised by Laurence Lewis of Czech Music Direct, took place on 17th April 2016 at the National Film Theatre, London, where excerpts were played and the Documentary DVD was shown, together with Paula’s films portraying Andrews' Songs from Spoon River and also an excerpt from the DVD of Andrew's opera, Far from the Madding Crowd.  Paula and her husband David Trippett were interviewed by Laurence Lewis about the songs, which David had accompanied, and the opera, which David had conducted and in which Paula sang the part of Bathsheba.  Anna also gave a talk about the up-coming Andrew Downes 65th Birthday concert which she was organising in Birmingham Cathedral, featuring Symphony no 1.  It was a thrilling day for us all and a great success!





Photos of the launch by Caroline Carsky:

Laurence Lewis of Czech Music Direct

Paula being interviewed by Lawrence

After the Launch: Left to right: Anna Downes, Andrew Downes, Cynthia Downes

Left to right: Anna Downes, Andrew Downes, Cynthia Downes, David Trippett, Paula Downes


Display of Copies and CDs by Cynthia Downes

After-Party in the bar

'Symphonies and Overtures by Andrew Downes, released by Czech label Artesmon, is destined to be one of the most important orchestral recordings of 2016.  They are played by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Ondrej Vrabec, who deliver one of their greatest recorded performances since the days of Karel Ancerl, in sound of vast depth and power.'  CZECH MUSIC DIRECT

'...the Cotswolds Overture.. is earnestly recommended to those listeners who are willing to make the acquaintance of an attractive composer who is prepared to meet them halfway.


'Some of the orchestral players are heard remarking on how much they enjoyed playing the scores, and their enthusiasm is infectious; there is no sense here of bored instrumentalists going dutifully through the motions.  There is also a startlingly interventionist producer, who seems to be acting as a persistent critic dedicated to the detection of the slightest error or pitch or rhythm.   


'This is a thoroughly worthwhile release; and the presentation, with three discs in a gatefold sleeve including a substantial booklet of forty pages (English with Czech translation), is a model of what such things should be.'
MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL



‘… a real find  …  rarely can contemporary music deserve more exposure than these colourful characterful pieces … uses percussion and seductive Arnoldian tunes in the most beguiling of fashions … these discs will persuade the receptive listener that Downes has a truly individual voice … a solid addition to the canon of such works. 

cdchoice.co.uk


CONCERT OVERTURE 'TOWARDS A NEW AGE' Opus 60 (1996) 

full Symphony Orchestra
More info and sheet music

In 1997 the Institution of Mechanical Engineers celebrated their 150th anniversary with a grand concert in Birmingham’s Symphony Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.  For the event they asked Andrew to compose an overture.  Andrew was absolutely delighted.  Since we were so close to the Millennium I suggested the title to Andrew, to point to the inventions to come by the engineers.  Andrew filled the overture with hope for the future and sounds of machines, creating a really exciting result.  

I had prepared all the scores and parts from Andrew’s original which he composed on the newly invented computer program, Sibelius 7.  Andrew was very nervous in case there were mistakes in the computer extracted parts.  The orchestra only rehearsed the work half an hour before curtain up!  The first run-through was virtually unrecognisable.  Andrew was terrified.  The second play through was recognisable, so Andrew breathed a sigh of relief.  Andrew Constantine did not want to rehearse any more, but leave the best performance until the concert.  Both Andrew and I were on tenterhooks.  But we did not need to be.  The performance was stunning and the capacity Symphony Hall audience loved it.


Advertising beforehand:

ISM Journal article, July 1996


Classic FM Magazine


Symphony Hall brochures:


Booking form:


Tickets and Programme:


Following the performance:

St John's College, Cambridge Alumni News


As a result of the success of this work Andrew was awarded a commemorative gold medal for his "outstanding contribution" to the anniversary celebrations of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.  Andrew and I went down to London to their Headquarters, which were in a beautiful building overlooking St James’ Park, for the ceremony. We had a lovely day and stopped off at the Ritz Hotel for tea just before the ceremony!



In November 2004 I was thrilled to play in a performance of the Towards a New Age by the Central England Ensemble, conducted by Anthony Bradbury and led by Anna, in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham.


Advertising for a performance by Central England Ensemble, Birmingham 2004:


Poster and programme:


Then in May 2009, I prepared and conducted a performance with my Haybridge Community Orchestra in St John's Church, Hagley, Worcestershire, as part of the 2009 Hagley Music Festival.  We only had strings and woodwind in the orchestra, so Andrew himself covered all the brass parts on his keyboard! The wonderful composition came across brilliantly.

Email about a radio interview:


expressandstar.com:


Hagley Festival brochure and programme:


In 2013 Andrew received a large sum of money by way of compensation for the clinical negligence he had suffered at Russells Hall Hospital, where doctors failed to recognise over many hours that he had broken his back, leaving him paralysed.  When the compensation came, I suggested to Andrew that we should use some of it to hire the services of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra to record Andrew’s Symphonies 1-4 and 2 Overtures.  At the time Ondrej Vrabec, Principal Horn of the Orchestra and great friend of Andrew’s, had become Associate Conductor of the Orchestra.  He was thrilled to be asked to conduct Andrew’s works and booked the best recording engineer and producer, as well as the best extra players required.

So, in February 2015 this Overture was recorded in the Dvorak Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague, Czech Republic, by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Ondrej Vrabec, as part of a 2 CDs set of 4 symphonies and 2 overtures by Andrew Downes, all recorded in the spring of 2015 on the Artesmon label.  We weren’t able to go to the recording because of Andrew’s paraplegia, but the engineers in Prague and our computer repair man here set up streaming and skype for us to watch the recording and make comments.  The set of 2 CDs and one Documentary DVD were launched in the Suk Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague, on 1st December 2015.

The CDs were launched on iTunes on March 18th 2016 and voted CD of the Month of March 2016 by Czech Music Direct.  The UK launch, organised by Czech Music Direct, took place on 17th April 2016 at the National Film Theatre, London, where excerpts were played and the Documentary DVD was shown, together with Paula’s films portraying Andrews' Songs from Spoon River and also an excerpt from the DVD of Andrew's opera, Far from the Madding Crowd.  Paula and her husband David Trippett were interviewed by Laurence Lewis of Czech Music Direct about the songs, which David had accompanied, and the opera, which David had conducted and in which Paula sang the part of Bathsheba.  Anna also gave a talk about the up-coming Andrew Downes 65th birthday concert which she was organising in Birmingham Cathedral, featuring Symphony no 1.  It was a thrilling day for us all and a great success!





'Symphonies (and Overtures) by Andrew Downes, released by Czech label Artesmon, is destined to be one of the most important orchestral recordings of 2016.  They are played by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Ondrej Vrabec, who deliver one of their greatest recorded performances since the days of Karel Ancerl, in sound of vast depth and power.'  CZECH MUSIC DIRECT

'...the overture flickers into life like a willing machine, broad chorales soaring proudly over energetic rhythms.'

THE BIRMINGHAM POST


'...an incredible score. Among its many qualities is a marvellous understanding and control of the orchestra.  The music is very loud and dramatic at times and almost unbearably exciting and yet the texture of the writing is absolutely faultless.' Dr David Wright MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL

'Symphonies and Overtures by Andrew Downes, released by Czech label Artesmon, is destined to be one of the most important orchestral recordings of 2016.  They are played by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Ondrej Vrabec, who deliver one of their greatest recorded performances since the days of Karel Ancerl, in sound of vast depth and power.' CZECH MUSIC DIRECT

'Some of the orchestral players are heard remarking on how much they enjoyed playing the scores, and their enthusiasm is infectious; there is no sense here of bored instrumentalists going dutifully through the motions.  There is also a startlingly interventionist producer, who seems to be acting as a persistent critic dedicated to the detection of the slightest error or pitch or rhythm.   


'...earnestly recommended to those listeners who are willing to make the acquaintance of an attractive composer who is prepared to meet them halfway.  This is a thoroughly worthwhile release; and the presentation, with three discs in a gatefold sleeve including a substantial booklet of forty pages (English with Czech translation), is a model of what such things should be.' 
MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL



'… a real find  …  rarely can comtemporary music deserve more exposure than these colourful characterful pieces … uses percussion and seductive Arnoldian tunes in the most beguiling of fashions … these discs will persuade the receptive listener that Downes has a truly individual voice … a solid addition to the canon of such works.' 

cdchoice.co.uk



Have you performed in any of these works or come to watch?

We would love to hear about your experience. Please share it here!

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If you have performed in any of Andrew Downes' works or come to listen, please share your experiences in the Premieres Blog! Also see what others have said. Thank you so much for your contribution.





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