The Premiere and Susequent Performances of Andrew Downes' Works for Piano Ensembles

Sonata for Two Pianos
July 12th, 1987, 7.30pm
Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham
Concert in aid of the Interdenominational Society for Soviet Jewry

Sonata for Eight Pianists and Four Pianos
Wednesday December 6th 2000
Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham

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Photo from Birmingham Post, 25/03/2014

More info on these works

An account by his wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on April 17th, 2018

Andrew's piano ensemble music is well travelled...

Andrew was commissioned to compose his Sonata for 2 Pianos by Joseph Weingarten and Margaret Newman, 2 leading concert pianists, who had been asked to give a piano duo recital in aid of the Interdenominational Society for Soviet Jewry.  This society existed before the fall of Soviet Communism and was created to help Jews who were kept in the USSR against their will.

Andrew composed a beautiful, yearning work, influenced by Jewish modal scales and inspired by certain psalms, which I had picked out and which illustrated the persecution of the Jews throughout their history.

The world premiere, which took place in July 1987, was a great success. It was recorded on cassette tape, which sold well, further raising funds for the cause.


BBC producer, Gillian White, suggested sending copies of the work to a well known Israeli piano duo, Bracha Eden and Alexander Tamir.  I duly did this, and to our great surprise and delight, we heard from them that they were going to programme the work in a concert in Tel Aviv, to celebrate the return to Israel of the Refusnik, Elena Keiss Kuna.  Andrew was invited to attend this Israeli premiere of his Sonata, which was to take place in the Israel Philharmonic Guest House in January 1989.

The following article, with photo of Andrew with me and our daughters Paula and Anna, appeared on the front page of the Birminham Post!

Unfortunately for Andrew, this all coincided with a flare up of his ankylosing spondilitis in his neck.  He didn't want to miss this very important landmark in his career, but the journey was very difficult for him.

Andrew's sister, Judith, and her husband, David, kindly drove us down to Heathrow in their comfortable car and we booked a wheelchair to take Andrew to the plane.  I was very worried about him.  On the way he found himself next to a very large woman who fell asleep and he couldn't get out to go to the toilet!
After that, however, the trip did Andrew a lot of good.  The Tel Aviv climate was perfect therapy.  He enjoyed long walks along the sea front, which cured his neck pain.  He visited Bracha and Alexander in Jerusalem for a rehearsal of his Sonata for 2 Pianos at their home, and was fascinated by the city.  He gave a talk at the Jerusalem Conservatoire and also interviews on TV and radio.

Read Andrew Downes' Diary of his trip to Israel
Read Andrew Downes' article about his trip to Israel

The beautiful Tel Aviv beach:

One of the cafe terraces along the beach:

St Peter's Monastery, Old Jaffa:

Andrew Downes outside the Monastery:

The view from St Peter's Square:

The Artists' Quarter, Old Jaffa:

Down towards the Wailing Wall, Old Jerusalem:

The Jewish Cemetery and the Mount of Olives:

The Israeli premiere of the Sonata for 2 Pianos in Tel Aviv went extremely well.  Andrew was presented with two gifts: a beautiful book on Israel with an inscription from the Society, and a framed line drawing of a tree with the inscription: "Trees planted in Israel in the name of Andrew Downes by the Interdenominational Society for Soviet Jewry".

Presentation of gifts after the Tel Aviv performance of Sonata for 2 Pianos:

After that, Bracha and Alex came to the UK, in 1990, to perform the work in a concert which they gave in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham.  The same producer who encouraged us to send the Sonata to Bracha and Alex came to record the work for BBC Radio 3.

In the 1990s Andrew built up a liaison with the Parisian based Duo Scaramouche: Filippo Antonelli and Malvina Renault.  They had first contacted Andrew with the hopes of forging links between their Ecole Franco-Italienne in Paris and Birmingham Conservatoire.  I gave them copies of Andrew's Sonata for 2 Pianos, and they gave the first Parisian performance in the Salle des Arts in St Germain-en-Laye in October 1995.

The Duo Scaramouche went on to give numerous performances of Andrew's Sonata in Paris and England.  Particularly memorable was their broadcast on Radio France Musique (the French equivalent of Radio 3).  Philippo danced down the street as we left the France Musique studios after the programme, because their broadcast had gone so well!
Being a linguist and fluent in French, I was delighted with all the visits we made to Paris, particularly seeing inside the Radio France Musique concert hall for the live broadcast of Andrew's music.

The programme for the Duo Scaramouche broadcast of Sonata for 2 Pianos on Radio France Musique:

Filippo and Malvina also performed the work in a concert in Barletta, Southern Italy.  The concert was broadcast on Italian TV and Andrew was interviewed in the programme.  Soviet Communist rule had ended by this time, so Filippo and Malvina's programme concentrated on the oppressed peoples of the world.

Andrew was given superb hospitality by Filippo's family in Barletta, and thoroughly enjoyed his time there.

Andrew Downes and Malvina Renault of the Duo Scaramouche.

The Duo Scaramouche

The Duo Scaramouche

Andrew Downes with the cleaning lady in the church

The Duo Scaramouche

Sightseeing in a port further south:

The Duo Scaramouche were very much involved in Andrew's Sonata for 8 Pianists playing 4 pianos.  Filippo and Malvina introduced Andrew to Paola Biondi & Debora Brunialti, an Italian Duo, and Cecile Deneau & Laure Pinsmail from France.  Malcolm Wilson, Head of Keyboard at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and RBC piano teacher Philip Martin joined these Duos for the world premiere of the Sonata for 8 Pianists in December 2000 in the Adrian Boult Hall of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.  The 4 Steinway grand pianos looked amazing on the stage of the Adrian Boult Hall.  These excellent players gave a dynamic performance.  

After the concert we all went for a Chinese meal in the Chung Ying Garden restaurant.  We all sat round a very large round table, spouses, Anna, Paula and her boyfriend David Trippett, also a pianist, included.  It was a very memorable evening.

Poster and press for the premiere of Sonata for 8 Pianists:

Paola and Debora organised the first Italian performance of the Sonata for 8 Pianists at the Conservatorio Nicolo Paganini in Genoa.  The performers were slightly different.  Mark, Cecile and Laure were replaced by Philip Martin, Gisela Herb and Naomi Shibayama Aarnio.  At both the UK and the Italian premieres the pianists were conducted by Neil Aston.  We were amazed how many people came to hear the Italian premiere. The hall was packed and the performance was brilliant.

Andrew Downes' Sonata for 8 Pianists and 4 Pianos, at the Conservatorio Nicolo Paganini in Genoa, 2002:

Andrew Downes and Neil Aston, Conservatorio Nicolo Paganini in Genoa

Cynthia Downes in front of the statue of Paganini, in the Conservatorio  Nicolo Paganini in Genoa

Further photos of our visit to the Conservatorio Nicolo Paganini, Genoa, for the Italian premiere of Andrew's Sonata for 8 Pianists:

We loved Genoa. Andrew and I stayed in the flat of Paola's parents, who were away and kindly lent us their home, which was very close to the sea front.  We discovered a beautiful coastal walk.

Andrew and Cynthia Downes in Genoa:

After the concert, a friend of the Italian players invited us to a rooftop party at her flat, where she cooked pancakes.  This was a trip I will never forget!

Meantime, the Sonata for 2 Pianos continued on its journey.  We attended 2 performances by Julian Hellaby & Peter Noke, at Coventry University and in the CBSO centre in Birmingham, and we were delighted when they included the work on their CD entitled "British Doubles" in 2006.

The story of the Sonata for 2 Pianos came full circle when Margaret Newman and Duncan Honeybourne performed the work in their concert celebrating the 150th anniversary of Singers Hill Synagogue.  This performance was also recorded for CD, entitled "Singers Hill Synagogue 150th Anniversary Concert 4th June 2006".

Most recently, Duncan Honeybourne, with Katharine Lam, performed the Sonata for 2 Pianos in Dorset, and then recorded it for Duncan's CD of piano music by Andrew Downes, entitled "Daybreak in the Fields".  The recording was broadcast on Radio New Zealand in November 2017!


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