The Premiere Performances of Andrew Downes' Arrangements of Christmas Carols: Veni Emmanuel and Coventry Carol

December 15th, 1979, 7.30pm, Hereford Cathedral

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                      Hereford Cathedral

More info on these works

An account by his wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on March 22nd, 2018

Veni Emmanuel and Coventry Carol

In 1979 Andrew felt honoured to be asked by Roy Massey, organist and choirmaster at Hereford Cathedral, to arrange these 2 carols for the choir, and in the case of Veni Emmanuel, (O come, O come Emmanuel), also for organ and brass, for a Christmas concert in Hereford Cathedral. 

Andrew created some beautiful medieval sounding harmonies for the Coventry Carol and a stunning arrangement for Veni Emmanuel.

Letters between Ron Massey and Andrew Downes


The first performances took place on December 15th 1979.
That was also the expected birth date of our second daughter, Paula.  In fact, Paula was born on December 13th. That morning I felt mild contractions, so decided to go around with Andrew, in case he might suddenly have to take me to hospital.
We took our toddler, Anna, to my mother's house and then I went with Andrew into Birmingham Conservatoire for a brass rehearsal of Andrew's Veni Emmanuel.

Just before the rehearsal my contractions became extremely strong.  Andrew started to get very anxious.  A colleague came up to him at that point and asked Andrew to check a cadenza which the colleague had written.  The sheet of music positively shook in Andrew's trembling hands! 

I still felt the birth wasn't imminent and so I told Andrew to do the rehearsal.

The brass players started to play and sounded incredibly loud in Lecture Room 2 of Birmingham Conservatoire.  It was as if Paula thought: "I'm not going out to this!"  And she was quiet for the 2 hour rehearsal!

As soon it was over, the contractions got violent for our quick drive to the Croft nursing home in Kidderminster, where I was told off by the midwives for leaving it rather late to get there!  Paula was born at 10.25 pm that night.

2 days later was the Christmas concert.  Andrew recorded his 2 premieres in Hereford Cathedral for me.

The following day Andrew came with our toddler, Anna, to pick me and baby Paula up from the Croft nursing home.  I sat in the front seat of the car and the midwife handed the baby to me.  That's how we drove home. No seat belts in those days...

On the way home Andrew played the recordings to us. I cried in the car, holding the baby, overcome by emotion at the beauty of these 2 gorgeous arrangements and the lovely performances!
Anna remembers this well.  It was probably one of her first memories.  I wondered if baby Paula recognised the brass in Veni Emmanuel from her experience 2 days before!

Baby Paula Downes, born December 1979,
with older sister Anna Downes (bottom photo)

Programme for the premiere performances in Hereford Cathedral.

Veni Emmanuel was included in the Birmingham Festival Choral Society's 'Towards the Millennium' concert series, for their concert on 4th April 1998, featuring music of the 1970s.  In this performance the BFCS were accompanied by Gemini Brass and Carleton Etherington (organ), and conducted by Anthony Bradbury.

In December 2018 it was performed at the Meridian Singers' Christmas Concert in St Mary's Church Bluntisham, Cambridgeshire, with Hextura Brass, Olga Elbourn on the organ, and conducted by our daughter, Paula, 39 years after her birth!

Also in December 2018, inspired by Paula's concert in Bluntisham, I created an instrumental arrangement of Veni Emmanuel for Hagley Community Orchestra, with Rev Richard Newton (organ) and Andrew himself on keyboard, for performance at the Christmas Carol Service in St Saviour's Church, Hagley, Worcestershire, on 23rd December of that year.  Andrew filled in all the brass parts on the keyboard.  His playing was stunning.  The performance can be viewed on YouTube.

During Andrew's 70th birthday year, Paula, with her husband, David Trippett, created a multitrack video recording of the work, which Paula posted YouTube on December 11th 2020. 

The Coventry Carol was performed by the Clent Hills Singers, conducted by Andrew himself in St John's Church, Hagley, Worcestershire, in December 1989 and was then recorded by the Clent Hills Singers, conducted by Andrew, for the cassette, "Christmas in the Forest" (© 1989 Forest Music).  I sang in the choir for these performances, and have very happy memories of them.

As with Veni Emmanuel, I also created an instrumental arrangement of The Coventry Carol for Hagley Community Orchestra, which we performed  in St Saviour's Church, Hagley, Worcestershire, in December 2017.

In December 2018 Paula conducted the work at her Meridian Singers' Christmas Concert in St Mary's Church, Bluntisham, Cambridgeshire, with Hextura Brass and Olga Elbourn, organ.

During Andrew Downes' 70th birthday year, Paula, with her husband David Trippett, created a multitrack video recording of the work, which Paula posted on YouTube on December 18th 2020.  


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