Andrew Downes’ Symphonies
Symphony No.1

Brochure for Cheltenham Fringe Festival 1984, including premiere of Andrew Downes' Symphony No.1, Birmingham School of Music Symphony Orchestra with Michael Haynes Organ, conducted by Mark Foster.


11th July 1984
All Saints Church, Cheltenham
Cheltenham Festival Fringe
Birmingham School of Music Symphony Orchestra
Organ - Michael Haynes
Conductor -
Mark Foster

More information and sheet music

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An account by Andrew's wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on October 17th, 2021

SYMPHONY No.1 Opus 27 (1982) 

For organ, brass (8 trumpets, 4 horns, 3 trombones, tuba), percussion (including vibraphone) and strings.

4 movements: Prelude and Fanfare; Ricercare; Scherzo; Postlude
More info

Andrew wrote his first symphony in the early 1980s.  At the time he, with many other people, was preoccupied with the fear of nuclear war.  This coloured his composing to the extent that the symphony is full of foreboding and drama.  He chose to use organ instead of woodwind, which added starkness to the sound world.
The dynamic first performance of Symphony No.1 was given by the Birmingham School of Music (now known as the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire) Symphony Orchestra, with Michael Haynes, organ, conducted by Mark Foster, on 11th July 1984 in All Saints Church, Cheltenham, as part of the Cheltenham Festival Fringe, in a concert to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Gustav Holst, former organist at the church.

Grant award:

Newspaper preview article:

Concert programme:

The same musicians gave a second performance of the work in St George’s Church, Edgbaston, Birmingham, on July 13th 1984.

Programme for second performance:

We were delighted to read these reviews in the Birmingham press after the performances:

'...this is a brilliant work written as a cry from the heart for 
recognition of the horror of nuclear war.' 

'...a fine work laid out with the orchestral clarity that is a salient feature of the composer's individual style...this symphony progresses with dignity from despair to a final ray of hope expressed by Downes with an immediacy of communication that lies at the heart of all musical inspiration.' 

Birmingham Evening Mail review:

Letter from conductor Mark Foster:

I took our cassette tape recorder to both concerts and recorded the performances on my lap. The second performance was a brilliantly balanced rendition.  Alas, something went wrong and the second performance recording didn’t come out!  Fortunately we had the premiere recording of the work which came in very handy as time went on.  

Movement 1 of the Symphony was performed by musicians at Shrewsbury School, conducted by Andrew Auster, in the Alington Hall of the school in March 1987.

Correspondence with Andrew Auster, Director of Music at Shrewsbury School:

A student of Andrew’s, Fa Fa Jin, whose father was the conductor of the China Film Philharmonic Orchestra, was keen for his father to hear Andrew’s music and asked us to send scores and parts of Andrew’s orchestral works which had recordings.  I got the music and recordings ready, parcelled them up and took them to the post office.  The address which Fa fa gave me was all in Chinese, so I stuck it firmly on the large box which I had prepared.  The post office worker in Hagley at the time was rather unpleasant.  He impatiently refused to take the parcel when I asked to insure it, because of the difficulty of reproducing the address on the forms.  I had to carry the heavy box back home (in tears!) and create small photocopies of the address to stick on the forms.  My efforts were worthwhile however: the recording of the first performance of Symphony No 1 was broadcast on Central Peking Radio four times in September and October 1990.

The symphony then sat in our trunk for many years.  I was bothered about the scores and parts being hand-written, and photocopied and bound using equipment which went out of date, but later performers loved them because Andrew’s handwriting was so clear.  I had stapled the pages in white card with a label featuring a photo of Hiroshima, which appealed to the players.

Copy of Andrew Downes' Symphony No.1 created by Cynthia Downes

In 2013 Andrew received a large sum of money by way of compensation for the clinical negligence he had suffered in 2009 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 two of his 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 delighted 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 Symphony 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, 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!

From Czech Music Direct:

An advert in the Southbank Centre Concert Programme:

Email to Andrew from Czech Philharmonic Orchestra hornist, Zdenek Divoky:

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 our daughter 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.  Our daughter 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!

Invitation to the UK launch:

Laurence Lewis's (Czech Music Direct) draft plan for launch:

At the Launch at the BFI Southbank: Left to right: Anna Downes, Andrew Downes, Cynthia Downes, David Trippett, Paula Downes

Email from Laurence Lewis of Czech Music Direct following the launch:

Write-up of the UK launch by Czech Music Direct:

ISM Journal article:

BBC Music Magazine 4-star review:

Email from MusicWeb Internation Critic, Rob Barnett:

Read the MusicWeb International article here.

Public reaction:

Other reviews: (also visit the press page)

'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


'I've started to listen to the recordings, which are fabulous.' Tony Palmer, film director and author

'Downes is clearly not at all afraid of the big statement – the First Symphony is inspired (if that is the right word) by the subject of nuclear war – and there is much here that has an immediate impact in terms of memorable thematic material, idiomatic orchestration and subtle use of harmony... the contrasts between the various sections of the scores are often arresting.

'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.'

"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":

In 2016, Symphony No.1 was performed by the Central England Camerata, the professional orchestra founded and led by Anna and directed by Anthony Bradbury, as part of Andrew’s  65th Birthday Concert in Birmingham Cathedral.  I was thrilled to play in this performance.  We had large sections of strings and everyone gave their all.  The audience loved it and I was delighted that this work, which had lain in the trunk for so long, had resurfaced with the stunning recording by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and this truly exciting concert.

Poster for Andrew Downes' 65th Birthday concert:



Emails between Andrew and Anthony Bradbury:

Email from a player:

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