Downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, depicted in Andrew Downes' 4th Symphony for Concert Wind Band (Photo CC by Brandon Stephenson)
9th December 1997
Adrian Boult Hall Birmingham
Birmingham Conservatoire Wind Band
Conductor - Guy Woolfenden
An account by Andrew's wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on December 20th, 2021
SYMPHONY No.4 - scored for Concert Wind Band Opus 59 (1996)
5 movements: City; Mountains; Sky City; Desert; Rio Grande
This Symphony was commissioned by Janice Lee Sperling MD. I first of all need to relate how we met Jan:
In 1995 James Lowe asked Andrew to compose a work for the University of New Mexico Horn Octet. James was a physicist working half of the year at UNM and in labs in Brooklyn, and half the year at Birmingham University. James is also a fanatical horn player and played in the UNM Horn Octet. He organised the commission for Andrew to write a work for the group. Andrew composed his highly successful Sonata for 8 Horns for them. The premiere of the work took place in March 1995, as part of the Composers’ Symposium at the University, at which Andrew gave talks, took part in conferences and also heard two of his other works, Songs from Spoon River, and his Sonata for Four Horns in the nightly concerts in the Keller Hall.
I went with Andrew on this amazing trip to New Mexico. Jim Lowe had enough ‘air miles’ to pay for our flight and he arranged for his friend Janice Lee Sperling MD to put us up in her gorgeous Victorian hotel, W.J.Marsh House. Together with a grant which Jim got from the British Horn Trust, Andrew’s commission fee for his Sonata for 8 Horns was thus taken care of.
Leaflet for the B&B and correspondence before the trip from Jan Sperling:
Breakfast at Jan's B&B:
Postcard to our daughters, Anna and Paula:
Outside the B&B, left to right: Maragaret Lowe, Andrew Downes, Cynthia Downes:
Andrew Downes in the Peach Room:
Breakfast: Left to right: Jan Sperling, Margaret Lowe, Cynthia Downes, Andrew Downes:
Janice Lee Sperling MD loved Andrew’s Sonata for 8 Horns, Horn Quartet and Songs from Spoon River so much that she asked Andrew for a work for the Albuquerque City Concert Band, in which she played bass clarinet. She financed the commission herself and kept it secret, so as to surprise the conductor and the band when it was completed.
Andrew was fired up and composed his Symphony No 4, scored for Concert Wind Band, taking his inspiration from New Mexico in five movements: City (Albuquerque), Mountains (the Sandias), Desert (the Chihuahuan), Sky City (the Pueblo Indian Village which we visited) and Rio Grande (the major river flowing through the Albuquerque area). Jim Lowe and his wife Margaret had driven us to visit these amazing sites during our stay.
Jan had said to Andrew that it would be wonderful if he could incorporate a solo Native American flute in his new work. While we were in Albuquerque, we were introduced to a Pueblo Indian, whose Anglicised name is Andrew Thomas, and who made Native American flutes. We bought one from him. He remembered us, and said if Andrew wrote a solo Native American flute part in Symphony No 4, he would be delighted to perform it with the Wind Band. Accordingly, movement 3 features the Native American flute. The Native American flutist plays solo, conjuring up a lone New Mexican flutist, playing in the Sandia mountains.
ISM Journal article:
Correspondence from Janice Lee Sperling MD about the commission, and extracts from her letters:
October 24th 1995
"I suppose you remember my friend Andrew Thomas, the Navajo man at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Centre, and who makes and plays wood flutes (he remembers you very well) ... I told him about the symphony. Happily he said that if you were to write a solo part, he would be delighted to perform it with us ... I think that the wooden flute would make a wonderful New Mexican sound, don't you? ... "
November 18th 1995
" ... I will get Andrew Thomas to come over, so I can jot down some flute ranges for you ... "
October 2nd 1996
"Gosh!! How can I ever thank you for such a WONDERFUL piece of music as the WIND BAND SYMPHONY?!? Jim brought it round today ... we had the tape on during brunch ... The cedar wood flute theme is lovely.
"Jim will probably tell you that we only need one copy per part, as we can do the copying here. We'll also need a letter from you giving permission to make the copies, as it's a copyrighted work, of course ...
"I wish I could find some words to convey the depth of feeling when I actually held the score in my hand ... it feels as though I've a part ... in someone else's creation. But no words can express that feeling, so I'll just say THANK YOU."
"Just a quick note to tell you that the parts arrived via Jim Lowe courier service + the letter was just what the copy shop needed."
May 18th 1997
"You'll be pleased to know that the symphony is being rehearsed in earnest ... it's actually beginning to sound like music!!"
Jan was very
excited to introduce the Symphony to the Wind Band and they worked hard
on it. Unfortunately the conductor did not feel they could do it justice
in a public performance, so they only played it in rehearsal.
Consequently, the premiere of the Symphony was given on 9th December 1997 in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham, with Guy Woolfenden conducting the Birmingham Conservatoire Concert Wind Band. The Native American flute part was played by flute student Rebecca Massey, who learnt the Native American flute especially for the performance, and also for Andrew’s Native American Flute concerto, which Andrew composed in 1998.
Card from Guy Woolfenden:
Birmingham Conservatoire Newsletter:
News from St John's College Cambridge Alumni Journal:
Every year in March, the British Association of Symphonic Bands and Wind Ensembles (BASWE) holds a National Concert Wind Band Convention at the Royal Northern College of Music. In March 1999 we went to the event, because the Yorkshire Wind Orchestra was performing Andrew’s Symphony No 4. I had made and sent them a set of scores and parts and we loaned them our Native American flute. Their performance was absolutely superb. We were thrilled.
Correspondence from Yorkshire Wind Orchestra to organise the collection of the Native American Flute:
In May of the same year the Symphony got another airing, organised by flutist Kenneth Bell, who had played and conducted a lot of Andrew’s flute music, and was also principal flute in the RAF Central Band. I sent scores and parts to Ken and he organised a private performance for us at RAF Uxbridge, conducted by Rob Wiffin. We were surprised by the high security at the base, but we were extremely kindly received by the RAF personnel, particularly the band, who played brilliantly. This was a very special occasion for Andrew, because his father, Frank Downes, had played horn in the RAF Central Band during World War II.
Parking permit for RAF Uxbridge:
Further correspondence from Jan Sperling:
The following year the Bucks Symphonic Wind Ensemble performed Movement 2 of the Symphony at the BASWE Festival at RNCM in Manchester.
Information and advertising:
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 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 daghter 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 International Critic, Rob Barnett:
Read the MusicWeb International article here.
Public reactions to Andrew's 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
Of course, we sent a copy of the CPO recordings to Jan Sperling. She replied straight away:-
"Thanks so much for the wonderful CD set. Can it have been so long ago (1996)? Time really does fly! ...
"I hope you are well, and that you, Andrew, are still composing gorgeous music! I shall think of you often whilst listening to the 1st-4th symphonies!"
In August 2020, movement 5 from the CD recording of this Symphony was used by Paula Downes for her online video about traffic issues in Cambridge, UK.
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