The Premieres and Subsequent Performances of String Quartets 1, 2 & 3

String Quartet No.1
May 15th 1980, 7.30pm
Blakedown Church, Worcestershire
The Perry Quartet

String Quartet No.
December 5th, 1989, 1pm
Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham
The Isis Quartet

String Quartet No.
March l6th 1995, 1pm
Birmingham and Midland Institute, Birmingham
The Almira Quartet

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More info on these works

An account by his wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on March 1st, 2018

String Quartet No.1 Opus 14 (1977)

One of the first pieces I published under Lynwood Music was Andrew's String Quartet No.1.  In those days our photocopier paper was on a roll and our ink in a bottle!  I created Andrew's first brochure with this equipment too.  There were not too many compositions published by Lynwood Music at that time (the work was premiered in 1980), so they fitted on to 2 sides of an A4 sheet folded lengthwise.  I designed the title page of the brochure on an old-fashioned typewriter, writing Andrew's name in rows of crosses, like a tapestry.  As time went on, Andrew's list of works grew to fill an A3 sheet folded in concertina fashion.  Eventually the works filled a 30-page printed booklet, before we went on to the early days of the website.

The first performance of String Quartet No.1 was on May 15th 1980 in Blakedown Church, Worcestershire (We lived in Blakedown then).

At first some people didn't take this work seriously.  String quartet players in those days were indeed very serious.  There were a number of famous Quartets, whose concerts were extremely popular, but also highbrow.  Andrew entered this world with a lighthearted, jazzy, dance-like piece.  Moreover, he wrote the parts out in blue biro (no computers then) and his double stopping was difficult and hard to read.  Even the Perry student quartet, who premiered the work, treated it as a less important part of their programme of otherwise established works.  In those days only composers from past eras were respected.
The audience in Blakedown Church, however, seemed to like the jollity and jazz of Andrew's music.

Premiere memorabilia:

2nd performance:

The first professional performance of String Quartet No.1 was given by the Arioso Quartet, as part of their 1983 concert series at the Birmingham and Midland Institute.  The work went down very well with the concert goers.

String Quartet No.1, mini extracts from the 2nd and 3rd movements:

Arioso Quartet first performance memorabilia:

Arioso Quartet performance in Moseley, 1984:

As time went on I was able to typeset the work and redistribute the double stopping, to make it more 'string player friendly'.  Performances, both by string quartets and string orchestras, have continued to take place, with audiences nowadays really enjoying the music's groovy and humorous nature.

Numerous subsequent performances have taken place over the years, including one by the Belgrave String Quartet, who won the inaugural Andrew Downes Performance Prize at Birmingham Conservatoire in February 2014.  This excellent Quartet performed the work again in their prizewinners' recital in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham, in December 2014.

Belgrave Quartet: Andrew Downes Performance Pize winners:

Many performances of individual movements have also been given.  I remember in particular ones in which our daughters Anna & Paula and I have been involved: notably our first one: Anna and Paula on violins with me on viola and cellist Yvonne Parsons at Hagley Hall Worcestershire (movements 1 and 2, July 1997).  Then 2 performances by the Thomas Quartet, in which our daughter Paula played, in the Master's Lodge of Trinity College Cambridge (movement 1, February 1999) and in the Frazer Room of Trinity College, Cambridge (movement 1, November 1999).  Also several performances by the string quartet of the Central England Ensemble, in which Anna, Paula and I all played: in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham (movement 3) and the Crescent Theatre, Birmingham (movement 1), as part of the 2004 and 2006 Birmingham Artsfests; in the Eglise de la Madeleine, Paris (movement 1  - which we entitled 'Jubilate Deo' - February 2007); at the Coventry School of Music (movement 1, April 2007); and in St Georges Church Edgbaston, Birmingham (movement 1, May 2007).

Memorabilia for performances of individual movements:

The work has also been performed as a string orchestra piece, by such ensembles as: the Hagley String Orchestra, in which Anna, Paula and I all played, directed by Joan Best (movement 1 in Hagley Community Centre, Worcestershire, in March 1992); Hagley Free Church Pupils' Orchestra, directed by me (movement 2, April 1997); 4 performances by the Mozart Orchestra, directed by Gordon Heard (movement 3, which they entitled 'Scherzo', in Stratford-upon-Avon Civic Hall in December 1996 and December 1998, in the Countess of Huntingdon Hall, Worcester, in December 1996, and in Walsall Town Hall in October 1998); and Volante Strings, led by Angela Richey (movement 2, in September 2006, in St Peter's Church, Martley, Worcestershire, and the whole work in August 2007 in St Helen's Church, Worcester, as part of the Worcester Music Festival).  Volante Strings performed movements 2 and 3 of the work on their tour of Corfu during Autumn 2006.  The Oldswinford Hospital School String Orchestra, directed by our daughter Anna, performed the second movement, which they entitled 'Andante with Jazz', in June 2011 at three venues in Berlin: the Spandau Freilichtbühne an der Zitadelle; the Heilig Kreuz Kirche, Kreuzburg; and the Kaiser Willhelm Gedächtniskirche.

String Orchestra performances:

In October 2020, the Amabile Quartet - Anna (violin 1), Chloe Baker (violin 2), Dan Neville (viola) and Joanne Jefferis (cello), recorded all 3 movements for an online 70th birthday tribute to Andrew.  They went on to record Andrew's String Quartet.  The videos, put together by Paula, can be viewed here.

Our daughter Paula has put my latest pdf copies of Andrew's 3 quartets on the website, to be sold as digital downloads, as well as performances which I originally recorded on cassette and have converted to CD.

Anna was a toddler at the time of the composition of String Quartet No.1 and Paula a twinkle in her Dad's eye!

String Quartet No.2 Opus 41 (1987)

Because of the initial reaction to his first string quartet, Andrew chose a serious and passionate atmosphere for his String Quartet No.2.  The outstanding Isis Quartet (Michael Seal, Leon Gee, Garry Doidge and Fa Fa Jin), premiered this work on 5th December 1989 in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham, as part of the Birmingham Conservatoire Festival of New Music and Art.

Premiere memorabilia:

Notes in the composer's handwriting!

A letter from the celebrated violinist, Ernest Element:

The Isis String Quartet went on to perform the work at venues throughout Britain, including the Fifth International String Quartet Week at the Countess of Huntingdon Hall, Worcester, in April 1990 and 2 performances at the London International Opera Festival at the Place Theatre in June 1990.  Andrew and I went to both of the London events.  The London ones took place just before a short opera composed by 3 of Andrew's students.  While we were waiting for the performances, Andrew and I had a lovely time exploring the quaint streets and cafes in Bloomsbury, just a stone's throw from the busy Euston Road.

Memorabilia from the further performances of String Quartet No.2:

What I remember about the first performances of String Quartet No.2 and the Isis Quartet, however, was the wonderful framed drawing which  the players presented to Andrew and which featured a chimpanzee sitting in front of a musical score and saying: "Lovely sound, lads.  Could be more passionate, though!"  The quartet had all signed it and put: "To Andrew ... for the challenge ... the excitement ... the caring!"  Andrew's relationship with his students was always very close and warm. (See the picture under the main title above).

The Almira String Quartet then took up the work and gave performances in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in January 1992 and in the Church of the Christian Community, Stroud, in February 1992.

Almira Quartet performances of String Quartet No.2, 1992:


'Downes's style seems to combine the least cloying aspects of English pastoralism with dashes of European eclecticism.  He is also an unashamed romantic, and is not afraid to use words like aggression, tenderness and dreamlike to convey his intentions.

'Yet there is no sentimentality or self-indulgence.  The musical points are made with terse cogency and economy of means - quite brilliantly so in the finale.  With the Andante Downes shows that traditional beauty of expression still has a place in late twentieth century music, and need not sound derivative.'

In 2020, in celebration of Andrew's 70th birthday year, the Amabile Quartet, Anna Downes (violin 1), Chloe Baker (violin 2), Dan Neville (viola) and Joanne Jefferis (cello), recorded String Quartet No.2 during the Coronavirus pandemic.  Their recording of all 4 movements, together with a film by Paula Downes, can be accessed here.  The movements were shared individually online in October and November and the whole work in November 2020. 

String Quartet No.2, mini extract from the last movement

String Quartet No.3 Opus 54 (1994)

Andrew dedicated his String Quartet No.3 to Indian composer, John Mayer, whom Andrew had appointed Composer in Residence in the new School of Composition and Creative Studies, which Andrew set up in 1992 at Birmingham Conservatoire.  John Mayer was a fount of knowledge on Indian ragas and also encouraged Andrew to make 2 concert tours with him to India.  The String Quartet No.3 has strong Indian influences.  In certain sections, it mimicks the sitar, the tanpura, the tabla and uses aspects of ragas.  The Almira Quartet (who had also given 2 performances of String Quartet No.2) commissioned and gave a superb first performance of the work in the Birmingham and Midland Institute in 1995. 

They went on to perform it in numerous venues around the UK thereafter. 

String Quartet No.3 premiere memorabilia, 1995:

When our daughter Paula was a student at Cambridge, she formed, with 3 fellow students, the Thomas Quartet.  They performed Andrew's String Quartet No.3 in St John's and Trinity colleges in March and May 1999.  Paula had the task of mimicking the tabla on her violin.  The stunning performance by the Thomas Quartet in the wonderful acoustics of the Chapel of Trinity College can be heard here.

String Quartet No.3, Cambridge, 1999:

The Thomas Quartet after their performance in the Chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge:

Article in the Incorporated Society of Musicians Journal:

String Quartet No.3, mini extract based on aspects of ragas:


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