Concerto for Piano and Symphony Orchestra
1st March 2009
Birmingham Town Hall
Birmingham Town Hall, where Andrew Downes' Concerto for Piano and Symphony Orchestra was premiered (photo By R J Higginson)
An account by his wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on October 27th, 2018
Birmingham Town Hall reopened in 2007 after a long period of refurbishment. Lots of local groups gave concerts there in the early days of the newly renovated hall, and I felt Andrew should have a work premiered there. So Andrew composed his Concerto for Piano and Symphony Orchestra for Duncan Honeybourne and the Central England Ensemble, founded and led by our daughter, Anna, and directed by Anthony Bradbury.
I thought it appropriate for the concert, to choose, to go with Andrew's Piano Concerto, works by Sibelius (Finlandia) and Dvorak (The New World Symphony), 2 composers who had also had works premiered at the Town Hall. I thought the title for the concert could be 'Town Hall Connections' and that the posters should feature photos of the 3 composers.
Anthony Bradbury's father, James, who had recently organised a concert of the Birmingham Festival Choral Society in the Town Hall, gave a lot of advice and put us on to a superb poster designer, who created this:-
We had to work hard to publicise the concert. Andrew and I drove all over the Midlands taking flyers to libraries, churches, halls, music shops and tourist centres. We enjoyed ourselves visiting all the towns of our area and we managed to virtually fill the hall (over 1000 people).
Email from the pianist, Duncan Honeybourne:
The premiere took place on 1st March 2009.
Rehearsal before the performance. Anthony Bradbury Conductor, Duncan Honeybourne Piano, Anna Downes Leader, Cynthia Downes Leader of the Violas, Central England Ensemble. (Photos by Jenni Bradbury):
Andrew Downes bowing after his piano concerto, Cynthia Downes to the right, Leader of the violas, Anna Downes Leader, Duncan Honeybourne, Piano, Central England Ensemble, Anthony Bradbury Conductor. (Photo by Jenni Bradbury):
Andrew Downes, Duncan Honeybourne, Anthony Bradbury (Photo by Jenni Bradbury)
I felt extremely privileged to lead the violas for this performance. Here is a passage from the second Movement, where the violas are prominent:
Duncan's playing was brilliant throughout. Here is a snippet from the opening of movement 3:
Andrew arranged for the premiere to be recorded for CD by Matthew O'Malley, Senior Technician and Recording Engineer at Birmingham Conservatoire. Many copies were ordered and the recording has been broadcast many times on Musicians Page Radio, Los Angeles, USA!
The audience reaction to the premiere of the concerto was tremendous, and Andrew received many messages and letters after the event:
'Andrew's composition, Concerto for Piano and Symphony Orchestra, was wonderful. I felt so uplifted after the performance.'
'We thought the second movement particularly wonderful.'
'So many people said wonderful things about the evening - we thought the music was superb - you really are a great composer Andrew ... Have you begun the next one Andrew, because you now have a captive audience?'
'Congratulations on a wonderful composition. Keep them coming!' 'The piano concerto was a real success!'
'We loved the Piano Concerto - I'd love to hear it again!'
'It was a great privilege to be present at the premiere of your piano concerto. It was an unforgettable experience. Several people around us said it should be in the general repertoire. It is such an exciting work that it deserves many more performances. You seem to go from strength to strength! Do continue to excite and entertain your friends and supporters with your music.'
'Wow, what can I say?! We all thoroughly enjoyed the concert last night, especially the piano concerto.'
'The piano concerto was fantastic ---- hearing the concerto at the first performance is something that I will remember for a long time.'
Thank you card from the players:
Emails between Andrew Downes and Anthony Bradbury:
Between the first and second performances of the Piano Concerto, Andrew had a devastating accident. At 5am on October 9th 2010 Andrew's left hip gave way when he had just got up. I heard a crash in our music room where Andrew composed. He had fallen to the floor and I think our heavy sellotape dispenser had dropped on his head.
I rushed in to the music room and found him unconscious on the floor. I knew his brittle back (caused by his ankylosing spondylitis) could be fractured, but the ambulance drivers were only trained in falls from a height. They did not immobilise him and made him get up and walk down the stairs. Not knowing him, they did not realise that he never normally cried out in pain and they just tried to reassure him and me. The doctors at A&E had no experience with ankylosing spondylitis either and diagnosed a urine infection. When Andrew eventually got to Xray (after 12 hours), the radiographers said that because he couldn't lie flat, they couldn't photograph his spine. On my suggestion, they eventually administered morphine so he could lie on the Xray bed. The doctors in the Emergency Assessment Unit could not decipher the images, so we were told he would have to wait for an MRI scan next morning... We (Paula, David and I) were not allowed to visit next day until 2 pm and so went to visit Anna, who was also in hospital, recovering from a hysterectomy. In Anna's ward I got a phone call summoning me to Andrew's hospital. Andrew had broken his back. The diagnosis was too late and Andrew had not been immobilized. He was paralysed from the waist down. A brilliant surgeon at the Royal Orthopaedic hospital in Birmingham put Andrew's back together, but warned us our lives were going to change forever. Andrew spent 9 months in the Spinal Injury Unit of Stoke Mandeville Hospital.
Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where Andrew Downes spent 9 months recovering from a spinal injury. (Photo by sijon)
During those 9 months, I hired a room in a nurses' hostel, and spent half of each week there and half back at home, dealing with Lynwood Music orders. For the last 8 weeks a building firm moved in to adapt the house (door widening, ramps etc). They did a very smart job, but it was all a nightmare. They shut off the water and continued to use the toilet. I got lots of orders to deal with in our music room (not far from the toilet!) during those 8 weeks...
We were very grateful for all the prayers that were said for Andrew during this time. Here is an article which I wrote for Hagley Contact Magazine:
Andrew left Stoke Mandeville on June 23rd 2010, just 3 days before the second performance of his Piano Concerto, which was to take place in Coventry Cathedral, with the same performers as the first one in Birmingham Town Hall.
Coventry Cathedral, where the second performance of Andrew Downes' Piano Concerto took place. (Photo by DeFacto)
When I wasn't with Andrew in the hospital, I took flyers around the Coventry area and we were hoping for a good audience. Everyone was very excited about Andrew's return from hospital, but Andrew and I were extremely nervous about his re-entry into the big wide world. We had a lot of help from the wonderful physiotherapists at the hospital to prepare us: how to transfer into the car from the wheelchair etc, but I wondered if we would be ok getting home from Coventry late at night. So I booked us into the Britannia Hotel 'next to' the Cathedral. The Britannia claimed to have disabled facilities. When we got to the hotel, 2 workmen were repairing the disabled entrance. They told us to go round the other side of the building, not easy with all the equipment Andrew needed. At the other side, there was a very high step into the building. Andrew had to use his newly acquired wheelchair skills to flip up into the entrance, with help from me to get his heavy chair in. In the room I had to rearrange the furniture so Andrew could get through the door. In the bathroom there was a wall between the toilet and the shower, so Andrew had to leap backwards on to the loo. Then we had a massively steep hill up to the Cathedral, where the disabled toilet was in the basement, with a lift which didn't work if someone left the lift door ajar on another floor. Our son-in-law, David, had to keep going up and down stairs to properly shut the doors!
That was a baptism of fire, but we thoroughly enjoyed the concert. I played viola, Paula 1st violin, and Anna led again. Andrew had the rest of our family to keep him company and help him. We sold more CDs of the premiere performance too!
Andrew Downes following his spinal injury
On January 2nd 2023, Andrew very tragically died. The outpouring of grief and tributes from family, friends, students and colleagues was overwhelming. After his funeral in a packed St John's Church, Hagley, our daughters Anna and Paula set up a "Year of Remembrance", during which many performances of Andrew's music took place. On January 28th 2024, Anna organised with her Central England Ensemble "The Andrew Downes Memorial Concert" in the Bradshaw Hall of the new Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Under the direction of Anthony Bradbury, we gave the first performance of Andrew's Festival Fanfare: In a Modern City (composed in 1976 and rediscovered by Paula in 2022); Celtic Rhapsody (with Paula as Soprano Soloist): the 3rd performance of Andrew's Piano Concerto with soloist Duncan Honeybourne and Centenary Firedances. The concert was an amazing success. The audience and performers alike loved it.
Anna wrote to all the players on social media: "Dad, I think we did you proud tonight. Central England Ensemble, Paula Downes and Duncan Honeybourne played out of their socks, directed so expertly by my gorgeous Partner in crime Anthony Bradbury - we had such a fabulous time playing your amazing music. You are so missed, but your music lives on."
Paula wrote: "I loved singing in Andrew Downes' Celtic Rhapsody with Central England Ensemble for my Dad's Memorial Concert last night. Thank you so much to Anna Downes for organising such a wonderful event. My Dad was definitely there and I am missing him a lot today."
I wrote to the performers: "Andrew would have been overwhelmed by your wonderful performances of his music last night! I'm sure he was there. Every one involved gave your all and performed absolutely brilliantly. I can't thank you all enough. You are all stars"
Here are just a few of the messages we received on social media:
"Bravo... hugely emotional evening. Your fabulous Dad was and still is a 'legend' in my world."
"It was brilliant."
"I loved playing every second. He's incredibly missed, but we could feel him beaming with pride tonight."
"What a day/evening... Feeling a bit emotional after a beautiful concert. Was tearing up, because of the feeling of unity and the gorgeous sounds emanating from all corners of the orchestra within Andrew's music."
"Fantastic concert, Anna. A privilege to have heard it."
"What an evening! Thank you so much."
"It was a wonderful concert, all beautiful pieces. Congratulations everyone!"
"Fantastic! Andrew would be so thrilled. Well done everyone!"
"It was such an honour to play Andrew's music last night. Thank you Anna and Anthony."
"Bravo Andrew! Your incredible musical soul lives on in all our lives."
"You did do him proud Anna. It was lovely to hear so much of Andrew's music."
"A brilliant occasion - enjoyed by all of the Aldridge Grammar School contingent."
"Super concert of wonderful music. Thank you to everyone involved."
"It is always a huge privilege and pleasure to play in CEE, and even more so to play an entire concert dedicated to Andrew and his music which was just fantastic. Anna, Paula and Cynthia, I am full of admiration for you all on what must have been a very emotional occasion."
"I had an absolute ball!"
"It was fabulous... it's such a spectacular repertoire! You did Andrew proud!"
"It was so wonderful to play. I felt very honoured to be playing Andrew's music for an entire concert. My 14 year old daughter has not stopped raving about it!"
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