Toccata for Small Orchestra

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Burg Güssing, Burgenland, where Andrew Downes' Toccata for Small Orchestra was premiered.


11th July 1982
Burg Güssing, Burgenland
Vienna Youth & Music Festival
Academy of St Philip's Orchestra
Leader and Director Margaret Faultless

More information and sheet music

An account by his wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on April 22nd, 2022


2 oboes, 2 horns, strings

In the early 1980s, the excellent Midland Youth Orchestra formed an offshoot Chamber Ensemble, made up of the MYO’s best players and calling themselves 'The Academy of St Philip’s' (after Birmingham Cathedral, where they rehearsed and gave most of their concerts).  In 1981 Andrew was delighted to be commissioned to write a short 4-5 minute piece for this phenomenally talented group, mainly on the recommendation of James Lowe, who had already been responsible for commissioning Andrew’s Sonata for 4 Horns shortly before.  James was a physicist, but also a fanatical horn player and musician.  He had been taught by Andrew’s father, professional horn player Frank Downes.  Jim was himself a former player in the Midland Youth Orchestra and kept up his links with the MYO as a committee member.

Andrew wrote a stunning work.  I am always sorry when the the piece is over!  The Academy of St Philip’s had asked for 4-5 minutes for their upcoming trip to Vienna, to play in the Vienna Youth and Music Festival.  Andrew’s miniature went down very well in Vienna, with people asking for recordings of it!  The orchestra actually won their class in the Festival with their concert and also the City of Vienna prize!  Their prize was 3 further concerts: in Vienna, Salzburg and on Austrian Radio.
So Andrew’s new work received 4 Viennese performances by the Academy of St Philip's Orchestra, Leader and Director Margaret Faultless.  They first performed the work on 11th July 1982 at Burg Güssing, Burgenland, at the Vienna Youth & Music Festival, as part of their first-prize winning programme, and gave 3 subsequent performances, in Vienna, Salzburg and on Austrian Radio.

The orchestra gave the British premiere shortly afterwards in St Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham, on September 3rd 1982.  We went to this concert.  The brilliance of the music and the performance were unforgettable. 

After that, the orchestra gave performances in Great Witley Church, Worcestershire (July 1983) and the Holywell Music Room, Oxford (July 1983).

The Toccata has proved popular with everyone who hears it, and numerous performances have taken place:

The Birmingham School of Music (now Royal Birmingham Conservatoire) Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Anthony Miller, played the work in 1983: in the Recital Hall of the Birmingham School of Music (February 1983), in Ludlow Town Hall (February 1983) and at Beechwood Park Public School, Luton (April 1983).

The work was subsequently performed by the BSM Chamber Orchestra on the Anglo-French orchestral course in Viviers, Ardèche, France (3 performances, directed by Mark Foster, in Viviers, Valence and Annonay in July 1985):

The Manchester University Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Ruth Jacobs, played the piece at the University in March 1987:

A further performance took place at the Aberystwyth International Summer School.  The Summer School Orchestra was conducted by Franz Anton Krager, at Aberystwyth Arts Centre in July 1996.  Andrew was Director of Composition studies on this course.  Paula and I took the train to attend the concert.  The railway passes through the magnificent Welsh countryside, which we loved, and we thoroughly enjoyed the concert.

The Birmingham Festival Choral Society Orchestra, conducted by Anthony Bradbury, included Andrew’s Toccata as part of the Birmingham Festival Choral Society's 'Towards the Millennium' Series in their concert in St Paul's Church, Hockley, Birmingham, in March 1999:

The Portsmouth New Music Orchestra, conducted by John Webber played the work in October 1999:

John Webber very kindly typeset the score and parts for us, and we have used his copies ever since.

In April and June 2005, I directed the fledgling Haybridge Community Orchestra, Hagley, Worcestershire, in two more performances of this wonderful work.  I had been asked by the Headmaster of Haybridge High School to form a new Community Orchestra with the Head of Music, Ian Estell, inviting students and amateur players from Hagley village and surrounding areas.  We were surprised by the high standard of the players who joined and so I adapted Andrew’s Toccata for the forces we had and we performed it in our first two concerts.  Andrew himself played keyboard in the orchestra!  It went very well and was the first of many performances of Andrew’s music which we have given and still give over the years.

On May 23rd 2021, Toccata for Small Orchestra was performed in an online concert, pre-recorded (socially distanced) in the Countess of Huntingdon Hall, Worcester, by Central England Camerata, Leader Anna Downes, conducted by Anthony Bradbury. Paula Downes created a film to go with it so it could be shared on youtube.

Watch the film here:

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