Flyer for the premiere of Andrew Downes' Symphony No.2, Sutton Coldfield Chamber Orchestra 10th Anniversary Concert, 1985, Sutton Coldfield Town Hall, conducted by Anthony Miller
17th November 1985
Sutton Coldfield Town Hall
Sutton Coldfield Chamber Orchestra
Conductor - Anthony Miller
An account by Andrew's wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on December 1st, 2021
SYMPHONY No.2 Opus 30 (I984)
For Chamber Orchestra (2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings) 3 movements
A colleague of Andrew’s at the Birmingham School of Music (now known as the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire), oboist Anthony Miller, also conducted the Sutton Coldfield Chamber Orchestra, who in 1985 were about to celebrate their tenth anniversary. Tony asked Andrew for a work for the Orchestra’s celebratory concert and Andrew took the opportunity to create his Symphony No.2 for Chamber Orchestra.
The Symphony was first performed by the Orchestra, directed by Anthony Miller, on November 17th 1985 in Sutton Coldfield Town Hall.
This is a beautiful work, which is loved by everyone who hears it. It has had numerous performances and glowing reviews. After the premiere, we were thrilled to read the following from Barry Grayson, Birmingham Post critic:
'The music is imaginatively laid out with interesting ideas developed most skilfully. Another virtue, that of developing these meaty musical ideas in concise fashion, gave this first hearing immediate communication.'
Correspondence about the commissioning of this work:
The second performance of Symphony No.2 was given by the Birmingham School of Music Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Anthony Miller, in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham, in 1988. The performance was excellent and fortunately it was recorded.
Advertising before the performance:
Andrew had a Chinese student at around this time, Fa Fa Jin, whose father was the conductor of the China Film Philharmonic Orchestra. Fa Fa was keen for his father to hear Andrew’s compositions and asked us to send scores and parts of Andrew’s orchestral music which had good recordings. The address was all in Chinese, so I stuck it firmly on the large box of music which I took to the post office. 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 in 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 form. My efforts were worthwhile however: the recording of Symphony No 2 was broadcast on Central Peking Radio four times in September and October 1990. It has also been broadcast many times on Musicians Page Radio, Los Angeles, USA, where I also sent recordings.
Fa Fa himself created his own orchestra, the Sinfonia of St Paul's. In 1992 he conducted his orchestra in an excellent and dramatic performance of the Symphony in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham. Christopher Morley, the Birmingham Post critic, enjoyed their performance:
'Andrew Downes' Second Symphony speaks eloquently and directly, rendered last night with conscientious commitment and a tantalising hint of flair'
Advertising for the Sinfonia of St Paul's concert:
That same year we went to hear The Leamington Chamber Orchestra perform the work in the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick. The amazing conductor, Andrew Mogrelia, really impressed us. Andrew as a result asked him to conduct the Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra in the premiere of his Symphony No 3 in April 1993. Mogrelia readily agreed and conducted a stunning performance of that symphony too, brilliantly overcoming the tricky multi-time passages in the work.
In the early millennium the Symphony received more performances. A German Phd student in composition, Andreas Salm, who spent some time at Birmingham Conservatoire was keen to organise a joint concert with his own and Andrew’s music at two North German Universities, Bremen and Oldenburg, with which he was associated. Andrew and I had a great trip to Germany to attend the first of these concerts in Bremen, which we nearly missed. Andreas gave Andrew directions to get to the venue at the University. When we arrived, however, there was no sign of any concert. I was able to use my German to ask quite a few people if they knew where the concert was. At last one person told us that the concert was in a different venue in the University: we had to run up the road in the fine falling snow and catch a tram (fortunately just one stop) in the dark. We just arrived in time as the orchestra was tuning up!
Unfortunately, as a result, we didn’t manage to get a copy of the programme notes which I had translated into German. We loved the concert, however, and went for a meal afterwards with Andreas and his family. I sat next to Andreas’ mother, who didn’t speak English, so I was delighted to talk to her in German.
This first German performance was given at the University of Bremen by the Orchestra of the University of Oldenburg, conducted by Rida Murtada, on January 26th 2002. The same musicians gave a second performance at the University of Oldenburg on January 31st 2002.
Correspondence between Andrew Downes and Andreas Salm before the performance:
Cynthia Downes in front of the train station in Bremen:
Afterwards: Second from left: Andreas Salm, then his mother (to his right), then Cynthia and Andrew
In 2001 our daughter Anna founded her own orchestra, Central England Ensemble, which she led herself. The inaugural concert which Anna organised took place at the CBSO Centre, Birmingham, in October 2001. Anna chose Symphony No 2 for this concert, which was conducted by Rachel Hyde.
ISM Journal article, 2001
In 2002, conducted by Anthony Bradbury, CEE performed the symphony at a Queen's Jubilee concert in Hagley, Worcestershire.
orchestra then performed the work twice in Paris, at the American
Cathedral and the American Church in February 2007. I was delighted to
play in all of these CEE performances.
The trip to Paris which Anna organised was very special. Anna even managed to organise a concert in La Madeleine, where we were allowed to perform chamber music items which had to have a sacred theme. I was the violist in a performance of Andrew’s String Quartet No 1 Movement 1, which we named Jubilate Deo, and three of the CEE horns and the tuba player performed Andrew’s Sonata for 4 Horns Movement 2, which I arranged for the group and which we entitled Gloria. Paula flew over from America to sing Vivaldi’s Nulla in Mundo Pax Sincera with the CEE strings in this thrilling concert in the packed Madeleine.
Hand bill by Cynthia Downes for La Madeleine:
Concert programme by Cynthia Downes for La Madeleine:
Hand bill by Cynthia Downes for the concerts in the American Church and American Cathedral, Paris:
Concert pogrammes in French and English by Cynthia Downes:
Before the performances in the American Cathedral and the American Church Andrew and I enjoyed ourselves distributing flyers (which I had translated into French as well as the concert programmes) and got quite a good audience. Unfortunately Andrew had caught a chest infection from the plane coming back from the USA just before this trip. He had become very ill before the American Church performance. I was very worried about him because he was extremely ill during the night before the concert in the American Church. I had to arrange his mattress so that he could sit up all night. Fortunately he began to recover the following day, but needed strong antibiotics on our return.
In 2013, our daughter Anna also founded a professional orchestra, Central England Camerata, which she led herself. I have been thrilled to play in this orchestra which is of an extremely high standard. Conducted by Anthony Bradbury, Central England Camerata performed the Symphony at the Hagley Music Festival in St John's Church, Hagley, in May 2017...
...and again in the Foleyan Hall of Old Swinford Hospital School in January 2018 in a concert sponsored by Lynwood Music in celebration of our 40th anniversary.
Over Christmas 2017 and in January 2018, Andrew was very poorly in hospital and was finally diagnosed with non-alcoholic sclerosis of the liver, which was treated in the end to our great relief with the miracle drug Rifaximin. I was spending my days with Andrew at the hospital and so had to bow out of playing in our 40th anniversary concert. On the concert day, however, Andrew said I should go and watch, because his Symphony No 2 was being played for this special occasion. I arrived early enough for the rehearsal and I was greeted by Anthony Bradbury and Anna who told me I was needed in the sopranos in Haydn’s Nelson Mass. I found myself on the front row of the choir. Fortunately I knew the work very well. The anniversary concert was a great success. I was delighted to hear Paula singing as soprano soloist in the Nelson Mass and Anna leading the superb Central England Camerata in a wonderful performance of Andrew’s Symphony No 2.
Letter from Margaret from Contact Magazine:
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 Downes, 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 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. 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 the UK 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 International Critic, Rob Barnett:
Read the MusicWeb International article here.
Public reactions to CPO CDs:
Other reviews: (also visit the press page)
(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
'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.' MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL
"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": cdchoice.co.uk
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