Song Cycles 4

Soprano Soloist & Symphony Orchestra

Soprano Paula Downes performing Andrew Downes' Celtic Rhapsody with Central England Ensemble conducted by Anthony Bradbury. Photo by Jenni Bradbury.

An account by his wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on May 19th, 2020

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On this page, "Song Cycles 4" -  Soprano Soloist with Symphony Orchestra:
Settings of poems by William Butler Yeats, Thomas Moore and Anon.

On "Song Cycles 1":
Casterbridge Fair - Baritone and Piano
Old Love's Domain - Tenor and Piano (can be sung by Soprano)

On "Song Cycles 2":
Songs from Spoon River - Soprano (mezzo) and Piano
Songs of Love - Soprano (high) and Piano
Finished Fields - Baritone and Piano (version available for Soprano)

On "Song Cycles 3" - Soloists with Instrumental Accompaniment:
Five Holy Songs - Counter-tenor, mezzo soprano or baritone with 3 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos and double bass
Lost Love
soprano with tenor recorder/flute; viol da gamba/cello; harpsichord/piano
soprano voice, soprano saxophone and piano (the soprano saxophone can be substituted with clarinet in Bb or violin)

The Four Songs of Bluebeard's Wife - soprano  with violin and piano
The Door of Winter - soprano  with violin, viola and piano

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Three Celtic Poems: The Land Oversea, poem by unknown author from ancient Irish legend; The Meeting of the Waters by Thomas Moore; and Celtic Twilight by William Butler Yeats - set to music for Soprano Solo and Symphony Orchestra. 

Our younger daughter, Paula, played in and led the Midland Youth Orchestra during her sixth form at school.  When she left to take up a choral scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge, she asked Andrew to compose a work for her to sing with the Midland Youth Orchestra.  Students often came back to play concertos with the orchestra, so Paula wanted to do the same, but vocally. 

Andrew was delighted to be asked, and so Celtic Rhapsody for Soprano Soloist with Symphony Orchestra was composed, especially for Paula and for Anthony Bradbury and the Midland Youth Orchestra (led by our older daughter, Anna), who gave the first, very memorable performance on 8th March 2003 in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham.  

Stephen Williams, chairman of the Midland Youth Orchestra, wrote a very moving tribute in the premiere programme:-

'That an internationally recognised composer should wish to write a work as a present for his local youth orchestra is indeed an astonishing and deeply gratifying gesture... In fact the connections between the Downes family and the MYO go back to the very beginnings of this orchestra... Frank Downes, father of Andrew... was the inspiration behind many of the MYO's early horn sections... Frank... taught horn-playing to so many of those players covering, perhaps, the first 20 years of the orchestra's history... Then, some 4 decades later, Frank's two granddaughters Paula and Anna both became violinists in the MYO. Each has had the opportunity to be leader of the orchestra, both very much on merit, and Anna (the current leader) has also been able to make an invaluable contribution to the health and well-being of the orchestra behind the scenes... Andrew, father of Anna and Paula, has been moved to give to the orchestra still more by composing Celtic Rhapsody for Soprano and Orchestra specially for it. His Celtic Rhapsody now links three generations of the Downes family to the Midland Youth Orchestra... It will be a great honour for all involved this evening that, with Paula, the orchestra will bring its own work to life for the very first time. Andrew, on behalf of the MYO, I give you my heartfelt thanks.' - Programme tribute from Stephen Williams, Chairman of the Midland Youth Orchestra.

Left to right: Anna Downes, Andrew Downes, Paula Downes, Anthony Bradbury after the premiere at the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham

A thrilling review appeared in the Birmingham Post next day:

'Gaelic culture..., pastoralism... and fairy tales... were given an engaging reworking in Saturday's premiere of Andrew Downes' Celtic Rhapsody. Musically, the Celtic influence was most obvious in the high, sustained soprano lines of the three poem settings. Written for the composer's daughter, soloist Paula Downes, the cool beauty of her voice projected the atmospheric phrases... true and clear against the accompaniment. Authoritatively conducted by Anthony Bradbury, a generally confident orchestra was at its best in the first song (a simple, eloquent cello opening and arresting juxtapositions of lyricism with rollicking motifs) and the third's rousing close. This was preceded by a poignant duet which skilfully set Paula's pure timbres against the warm, moving violin playing of her sister (and MYO leader), Anna.'

In March 2005 our daughter Anna organised an orchestral trip to Germany for her Central England Ensemble (which she had founded in 2001 inviting newly professional players and extremely talented amateurs to take part).  I was delighted to play in the orchestra and we gave performances of Celtic Rhapsody in Bremen, Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven, North Germany, with Paula singing the soprano solos, Anna leading and Anthony Bradbury conducting.  I compiled our programme and publicity and translated everything into German, with a bit of help from German composer, Andreas Salm.  We had great fun on this trip.  The Orchestra was full of big and witty personalities.  We laughed through the long coach journeys and gave our all in the performances, which were very successful, as described by the North German press:-

'Der Solopart der Keltische Rhapsodie... erwies sich als genau zugeschnitten.  Paula Downes... führte mit klarer Stimmführung und makelloser Intonation in eine anrührende vergangene Welt der Poesie.  Die sanften Melismen wurden vom Orchester mitatmend begleitet.

'The solo part of the Celtic Rhapsody... proved to be... perfectly tailor made...  Paula Downes... led with clear vocal projection and immaculate intonation into a moving bygone world of poetry.  The orchestra accompanied as one the gentle melismas.'  NORDSEE-ZEITUNG

Rehearsal at the Volkshochschule, Cuxhaven, Anna Downes in front of CEE

Paula Downes and Anthony Bradbury in front of CEE

Cynthia Downes

Celebrating at the end of the tour:

Right to left then anticlockwise: Andrew Downes, Stuart Pickford, Margaret Pickford, Matthew Price, Paula Downes, Rebecca Wilson

Right to left: Andrew Downes, Stuart Pickford

Left to right: Matthew Price, Paula Downes, Rebecca Wilson, Cyntha Downes

Cynthia and Andrew Downes

In 2019, Paula created a version of Celtic Rhapsody for Soprano with Piano Reduction to perform with pianist Tony Bridgewater in recitals.  They premiered the arrangement in their recital at St James Church, Wollaston, Stourbridge, as part of the Local and Live concert series, on 4th May 2019, and performed the work again in St Alphege Church, Solihull, in July 2019.

In May 2019, Paula performed the work in its original form at the Hagley (Worcestershire) Music Festival with the Central England Camerata, again under Anthony Bradbury and with Anna leading the professional orchestra which she had founded in 2013.   Just before the Festival, Andrew had tipped backwards in his wheelchair and broken his neck.  (I describe this traumatic period in my Blog post entltled Andrew Downes: A Life of Ill Health.)  He was in University Hospital Coventry when the Hagley performance of Celtic Rhapsody took place.  I tried to get back from my visit with Andrew to attend the performance of Celtic Rhapsody, but was too late and just managed to attend Faure's Requiem.

Left to right: Anna Downes, Anthony Bradbury, Paula Downes outside St John's Church, Hagley

The same artists recorded Celtic Rhapsody the following day at the Foleyan Centre, Oldswinford Hospital School, with recording Engineer Paul Baker.  Andrew and I were very sad not to able to attend either of these events because of Andrew's hospitalisation following his wheelchair accident.  We were delighted to hear the recording however.

Central England Camerata, Leader Anna Downes Soprano Paula Downes, Conductor Anthony Bradbury

In the summer of that year, using the recording of Celtic Rhapsody, Paula created 3 beautiful films portraying Celtic landscapes and featuring herself and her 2 daughters.  Quite a lot of the filming took place in Worcestershire.  Paula and the girls came to stay with us and I went on the filming expeditions with them.  I often found myself operating the camera for the scenes featuring Paula.

Paula and her daughters. filming at the top of the Clent Hills, Worcestershire.

Paula sang the songs again in a special Central England Ensemble reunion concert, directed by Anthony Bradbury, in the Elgar Concert Hall, Bramall Building, University of Birmingham, in February 2020, celebrating Andrew's 70th Birthday year, and raising funds for Stoke Mandeville Spinal Research.  I was thrilled to play in this very special performance and especially because Andrew could come to it with our son-in-law, Mike, and our 2 grandsons, Oscar and Max.

(See the write-up on this 70th Birthday concert, compiled by Paula)

Andrew Downes (in wheelchair), Paula Downes Soprano, Anna Downes Leader, Anthony Bradbury Conductor, Cynthia Downes, Viola, Central England Ensemble, Elgar Concert Hall, Birmingham University. Photo by Jenni Bradbury.


It is hard to describe our devastation when, on January 2nd 2023, Andrew tragically died.  The outpouring of grief and tributes from family, friends, students and colleagues was overwhelming.  After his funeral in a packed St John's Church, Hagley, our daughters Anna and Paula set up a "Year of Remembrance", during which many performances of Andrew's music took place.  On January 28th 2024, Anna organised with her Central England Ensemble "The Andrew Downes Memorial Concert" in the Bradshaw Hall of the new Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.  Under the direction of Anthony Bradbury, we gave the first performance of Andrew's Festival Fanfare: In a Modern City (composed in 1976 and rediscovered by Paula in 2022); Celtic Rhapsody (with Paula as soprano soloist): the 3rd performance of Andrew's Piano Concerto with soloist Duncan Honeybourne and Centenary Firedances. The concert was an amazing success.  The audience and performers alike loved it.


Anna wrote to all the players on social media: "Dad, I think we did you proud tonight. Central England Ensemble, Paula Downes and Duncan Honeybourne played out of their socks, directed so expertly by my gorgeous Partner in crime Anthony Bradbury - we had such a fabulous time playing your amazing music.  You are so missed, but your music lives on."

Paula wrote: "I loved singing in Andrew Downes' Celtic Rhapsody with Central England Ensemble for my Dad's Memorial Concert last night.  Thank you so much to Anna Downes for organising such a wonderful event.  My Dad was definitely there and I am missing him a lot today." 

I wrote to the performers: "Andrew would have been overwhelmed by your wonderful performances of his music last night!  I'm sure he was there.  Every one involved gave your all and performed absolutely brilliantly.  I can't thank you all enough.  You are all stars"

Here are just a few of the messages we received on social media:

"Bravo... hugely emotional evening. Your fabulous Dad was and still is a 'legend' in my world."

"It was brilliant."

"I loved playing every second.  He's incredibly missed, but we could feel him beaming with pride tonight."

"What a day/evening... Feeling a bit emotional after a beautiful concert.  Was tearing up, because of the feeling of unity and the gorgeous sounds emanating from all corners of the orchestra within Andrew's music."

"Fantastic concert, Anna. A privilege to have heard it."

"What an evening! Thank you so much."

"It was a wonderful concert, all beautiful pieces. Congratulations everyone!"

"Fantastic! Andrew would be so thrilled. Well done everyone!"

"It was such an honour to play Andrew's music last night. Thank you Anna and Anthony."

"Bravo Andrew! Your incredible musical soul lives on in all our lives."

"You did do him proud Anna. It was lovely to hear so much of Andrew's music."

"A brilliant occasion - enjoyed by all of the Aldridge Grammar School contingent."

"Super concert of wonderful music. Thank you to everyone involved."

"It is always a huge privilege and pleasure to play in CEE, and even more so to play an entire concert dedicated to Andrew and his music which was just fantastic.  Anna, Paula and Cynthia, I am full of admiration for you all on what must have been a very emotional occasion."

"I had an absolute ball!"

"It was fabulous... it's such a spectacular repertoire! You did Andrew proud!"

"It was so wonderful to play.  I felt very honoured to be playing Andrew's music for an entire concert.  My 14 year old daughter has not stopped raving about it!"


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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.