Poster for performance of New Dawn in King's Chapel Cambridge under Stephen Cleobury, October 2001
18th February 2000
Debbie Bennet - Soprano
Louise Brownbill - Alto
Tom Solomon - Tenor
Lawrence Broomfield - Baritone
Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra
University of Central England Chorus
Conductor - Steven Lloyd
An account by Andrew's wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on August 28th, 2021
Also see Education Resources on Native American Culture by Paula Downes and Native American Influence in Andrew Downes' Music: Part 1
to read about:
Song of the Prairies: SATB soloists, semi-choir of high voices, full chorus and orchestra;
Symphony No.4 for Concert Wind Band (including Native American Flute);
Concerto for Native American Flute and Strings
Oratorio New Dawn
In celebration of the millennium Andrew was asked by Birmingham Conservatoire to compose a work to be performed in early 2000. Not believing in half measures, Andrew chose to set Native American (from New Mexico) poetry in translation to create his Magnum Opus: New Dawn, lasting 90 minutes, for SATB soloists, SATB chorus and symphony orchestra, including guitar ensemble. Such a huge work required a long period of composition from Andrew, and then a lot of reproduction of scores (2 volumes) and parts by me.
The oratorio is in Two Parts and is scored for SATB soloists, SATB chorus and symphony orchestra including guitar ensemble!
There are 6 movements:
'A Spirit is Departing'
'Journey' (Orchestral Tone Poem);
'Awaiting Dawn' (Song for unaccompanied chorus)
'Kitchi-Manitou' (Orchestral Tone Poem)
The texts are 19th century translations of traditional poetry from various tribes of North American Indians, predominantly of the New Mexico area.
Together, the poems form a story about the life-cycle of the Earth from the death to the re-birth of a soul. The Oratorio is a celebration of this natural cycle, and is dedicated to all those societies and individuals who are content to see themselves as part of Mother Earth, rather than seeking to own and, eventually, destroy her.
The work was first performed on 18th February 2000 in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham, by soloists Debbie Bennet (soprano), Louise Brownbill (alto), Tom Solomon (tenor), Lawrence Broomfield (baritone), the Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, the Birmingham Conservatoire Guitar Ensemble and the University of Central England Chorus, conducted by Steven Lloyd. The premiere was stunning in every way.
Advertising in Birmingham City Council Forward Festival brochure:
Previews in the Birmingham Post, Highbeam, ISM and Hagley Village News:
The premiere was a great success. The capacity audience really enjoyed it.
We were delighted to read the following report in the Birmingham Post next day:
'On Friday Andrew Downes' mammoth 90 minute oratorio New Dawn received its first performance.
'Andrew Downes, of course, is a prolific and accessible composer, as well as a popular Professor and Head of the Conservatoire's School of Composition and Creative Studies. His unthreatening musical style, which often embraces traits from non-European cultures, has an appealing immediacy and considerable attractiveness. "It's very modern, but so beautiful", was a remark I heard during the interval.
'New Dawn, a millennium commission as part of Birmingham's Forward Festival, is one of those back-to-the-roots works which defies modern trends, being full of Downes' fondness of Modal tunes, parallel harmonies, clear cut textures and simple structural devices.
'As an expression of the human and natural life-cycle, through the poetry of North American Indians, it works very well.
'The performance was certainly a triumph, with the UCE Chorus and Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra responding confidently and accurately (especially the trumpets) to Steven Lloyd's calmly assured direction. Debbie Bennett, Louise Brownbill, Lawrence Broomfield and Tom Solomon made a fine quartet of soloists...'
Here are some responses Andrew received following the performance:
From Jim Lowe:
A video recording made of the first performance is available from Lynwood Music.
Our daughter Paula came up from Cambridge to attend the premiere. She was in her final year at the university and the work was dedicated to her, since Andrew dedicated a work to each of our daughters when they left for university. After her degree she stayed on to do teacher training, and announced to us that she was going to put on New Dawn in King’s College Chapel! She asked Stephen Cleobury, King’s Chapel organist and choir master, to conduct and he said yes! It was an enormous undertaking for Paula to find all the musicians, do all the publicity, programmes etc. She only found the marimba player the day before the performance and we had to wheel the enormous instrument (bigger than a grand piano) across the courtyard to King’s Chapel on the day of the concert. The performance was absolutely stunning. Paula sang in the solo quartet with three King’s College choral scholars. Stephen Cleobury said they were the best solo quartet he’d ever heard. The choir, consisting of choral scholars from Trinity College and other colleges, was equally amazing. Having studied music as a choral scholar at Cambridge (Trinity College), Paula had a lot of contacts. Her choral scholar friends made up most of the amazing choir and she had a number of instrumental scholar friends who formed the fantastic orchestra. Andrew organised for the guitarists from Birmingham Conservatoire to travel down for the performance. They enjoyed their trip thoroughly. We have a recording, but the echoey acoustic of the chapel needed much better equipment than we had. This second performance of the work took place in King's College Chapel, Cambridge, on 27th October 2001. Soloists Paula Downes, Timothy Mead, Richard Butler and William Gaunt, with the Millennium Scholars Chorus and Orchestra and the Birmingham Conservatoire Guitar Ensemble were conducted by Stephen Cleobury.
Tickets, poster and programme:
Email about clash with King's Chapel rehearsal:
Andrew Downes' preparation lists:
Email from a violinist in the orchestra to Paula on the day of the performance:
The reviews in Cambridge Varsity Magazine were also favourable:
'...the sounds heard in King's Chapel last Saturday were ... an uplifting fusion of ethnic, jazz and traditional elements.' Jonathan Styles
'It takes American Indian poetry from the South West USA and sets them to a luxurious, rich melodic style.' Ben Ward
Movement 3 of the work, Awaiting Dawn, was arranged for soprano voice and string quartet by Paula in 2019. Paula gave the first performance of the movement in this version with the Silver Swans on 5th May 2019 at the Elm Tree pub, Cambridge, as part of a concert and talk about Climate Change.
In 2020, during Andrew’s 70th birthday year and during the coronavirus lockdowns, Paula embarked on a multitrack recording of the work with synthesised sounds, playing all the string parts herself and singing the solo and chorus parts, with her husband David Trippett. She used their recording of movement 3 for a music video she was asked to create of the Red Rebels' Shoe Ceremony in Cambridge, where they laid out 100 shoes to show the victims of Climate Change:
Paula then put her recording of the whole work together with films of Pueblo Indians in New Mexico. Her video can be viewed here:
Also see Education Resources on Native American Culture by Paula Downes
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