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April - June
2017

John Joubert at 90

Paul Conway

John Joubert

Deep-rooted and hard won, the music of South African-born composer John Joubert (b.1927) poses a tough challenge to publicists. His scores rarely require outlandish forces, nor are they studded with pyrotechnical solo instrumental or vocal passages, whilst elements of knowing irony or subversive parody are hardly ever admitted into his inherently serious and, above all, sincere musical language. Neither carving a niche in the chilly outer regions of the avant-garde, nor nestling within the suffocating, snuggly embrace of the witlessly ‘accessible’, his pieces make their point through such authentic but low-key facets as economy of gesture, idiomatic writing, firm grasp of structure and directly communicative material.

The high calibre of this composer’s writing is so inextricably linked to his individual, protean ideas that hapless commentators (the present writer included), when attempting to describe his music have fallen back on such well-worn, though not unbefitting, adjectives as ‘distinguished’, ‘finely wrought’ and ‘fluent’.

His distinguished academic career was located outside the metropolitan musical scene, in Hull (1950-1962) and Birmingham (1962-1986). This may serve to explain why he has largely escaped the attention of the London-based ‘British musical establishment’ and consequently why most of the acclaim rightly afforded to his creative achievements has tended to be localised. In any event, quietly and with formidable determination and patience, he has built an impressive, consistently fine catalogue which is nearing 200 opus numbers. To mark the composer’s significant birthday, this short article offers a quick tour of that considerable output, pausing to consider selected examples along the way.

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Changing Stations

Daniel Liam Glyn

Changing Stations

The composer outlines the background to his new work, based on the eleven main lines of the London Underground, composed usinf Synaesthesia.

For as long as I can remember I have visualised numbers, letters and words in my mind in colour. Days of the week would not only have a specific colour in my mind but they would be mapped out as an imaginary calendar that moved as the week went by. I envisaged months of the year as a celestial map of space. The planets acting as months, each month had a designated colour, spaced out in an uneven circle which then leads into a new year. Every time I needed to remember something from a past event, my mind would take me to the map in space. The way in which I ‘see’ numbers are also coloured and mapped out in space, gradually ascending from the bottom left of my vision up to the very top right. Letters are coloured too, however these start at the top left and descend in both size and position right down to the bottom right of the ‘page’. The way of visualising enabled me to possess an impressive long-term memory, and up until my teenage years I assumed this is how everyone’s mind worked. I soon identified myself as someone who had both Grapheme Colour and Spatial Sequence Synaesthesia; a neurological condition where a person perceives words, letters, shapes, and numbers in colour and sometimes in taste and smell.

However, I have never been able to ‘hear’ colour. My symptoms of this neurological phenomenon are purely ‘visual’. As a musician this had been rather frustrating over the years, especially after reading articles surrounding other musicians who also have Synaesthesia. Their form enables them to hear notes, chords and work out key signatures by ear through the colour of the sounds. Instead on dwelling on this fact, I decided to begin work on a project that subconsciously conditioned me to begin hearing these colours by channelling my Synaesthesia within a composition.

 

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Toscanini and Brahms’s Eine Deutsches Requiem – New York 1935

Robert Matthew-Walker

Toscanini

Of the great conductors of the last century-and-a-half, the gramophone has preserved more performances of those under Arturo Toscanini than of almost any other. This greatly significant legacy is the result of the foresight of a few senior executives of the National Broadcasting Company, who, in 1937 managed to persuade Toscanini to return to New York to take charge of a symphony orchestra that was to be newly-formed and which NBC was to finance and place at Toscanini’s disposal. Orchestra and conductor were to give weekly concerts broadcast nationally, the content of the programmes being chosen by Toscanini.

The advantage for NBC was their tie-up with RCA-Victor, a company formed in 1928 when the Radio Corporation of America acquired the Victor Recording Company from its founder, Eldridge Johnson, who had run the company for almost thirty years. Now part of the burgeoning National Broadcasting Corporation, the attraction of issuing broadcast performances on commercial gramophone records by some of the greatest artists in the world who had appeared in New York was considerable – a meeting of commerce in the service of art.

 

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A Trip to Prague in 1989

Monica McCabe

Monica McCabe

The author recalls a visit to the as was Czechoslovak capital, then behind the Iron Curtain, with her husband John and the BBC Philharmonic.

In May 1989 it was arranged for the Manchester-based BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Edward Downes, to play two concerts in Prague, at the time still firmly, and apparently irrevocably, immured behind the Iron Curtain. The setting-up of this trip was very ‘official’, with probably the British Embassy or the British Council, or both, involved. At this distance in time I cannot recall whether we flew with the orchestra, as they presumably would have set off from Manchester and we from Heathrow. However, we met up at the airport on arrival in Prague, and travelled in by coach together.

I was very struck by the sadly run-down and shabby state of this famously beautiful and musical city. The country’s poverty was brought home to me even within the airport as, needing to visit the Ladies cloakroom, I was greeted at the entrance by a nodding and smiling old concierge, who handed me two small squares of hard toilet paper, for my comfort and hygiene. The houses, as we travelled in from the airport, were unpainted and drab, but we were staying at a newly-built and well-appointed multi-storey hotel, with a wide sweep of a Reception desk, and well-groomed, uniformed receptionists, who spoke impeccable English.

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The Fourth Symphony of George Enescu – Historical Footnote or Major Rediscovery?

Richard Whitehouse

George Enescu

The UK premiere of Enescu’s Fourth Symphony is given by the Oberon Symphony Orchestra and Samuel Draper on Saturday April 29 at St. James’s Church, Sussex Gardens, London. Details at www.oberonsymphonyorchestra.co.uk and www.samueldraper.com

Although his chamber and piano output is increasingly recognized in the context of twentieth -century music, the orchestral works of George Enescu (1881-1955) have yet to enjoy wider exposure outside of his native Romania; in particular, his stature as a symphonist has become evident only during the past quarter-century, but this is less to do with a lack of performances than for the fact that the full extent of his contribution to this genre was not clear owing to the composer’s propensity in later years to leave major works in varying states of incompletion.

Symphonic writing none the less occupied Enescu for almost six decades, from the blithe yet precocious amalgam of Brahms and Dvorák of his Symphony in D minor from 1895 (given a public airing by the composer in 1934) to the acute pathos of his Chamber Symphony from 1954. A potent amalgam of Franck’s thematic ingenuity and Saint-Saëns’s formal rigour, his Symphony in E flat of 1898 is an astounding achievement for one still only 16 (comparable in all respects to those first symphonies of Glazunov and Shostakovich), but despite the acclaim of his teachers at the Paris Conservatoire it went unheard until 1970.

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New Ventures for Garsington Opera

Douglas Boyd

Brian Hick in conversation with Douglas Boyd, Artistic Director of Garsington Opera

Since Garsington Opera moved to its new home on the Getty Estate at Wormsley it seems to have taken on a completely new lease of life and the 2017 season will bring yet more innovations. When we spoke in early February, Douglas Boyd was exceptionally busy and equally excited about the prospects for this summer and plans for the near future.

‘There is so much to do each year as things develop that it is difficult to realise that I am still technically part-time, and still have commitments in Paris! However the success of everything that has been undertaken and planned for Garsington Opera has encouraged everyone to broaden their horizons. This summer we will, for the first time, be presenting four operas as well as a new community opera. As part of this expansion we are delighted to have the Philharmonia orchestra with us for Pelleas et Melisande.’

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The Conquest Hospital's Live Music Programme

Robert Weatherburn

The Conquest Hospital

The distinguished Australian pianist and composer outlines the classical concert programme series for patients and invites other hospitals to adopt the scheme.

Most first-time visitors walking into The Conquest Hospital in Hastings and St Leonard's-on-Sea in East Sussex are surprised to be greeted by the sound of live music from the Mezzanine floor in the Reception area of the building. There, in a space much like a Musicians' Gallery of old, instrumentalists and singers do their stuff from late morning, and through mid-day to early afternoon, on most days of the week. Yes, it is unusual to find the sounds of such a wealth of live music in one of our modern hospitals, even though 'Sound' – as a medium for healing the sick – was used in mankind's most ancient cultures.

The Australian Aborigines were the first people we know to have used sound for healing, and their instrument to create the Healing Sound – perhaps to conjure the Healing Spirit – was the 'Yidaki', - a long hollowed piece of wood – a bough of a tree – through which the healer blew and alternated the pitch and timbre of sounds he was creating. Today we know that extraordinary instrument as a Didgeridoo, and just recently, as I was standing on the dizzying edge of a precipice of the Grose Valley in New Wales in Australia, – with the warming touch of old Helios himself on my back – Ra, as he was known to the Ancient Egyptians, – and as the light his golden orb reflected from the fabulous sandstone cliffs of the great defile, – I heard the distant summons of a Didgeridoo. Suddenly, it was if I had been connected to the energy of the wilderness – to the essence of Nature itself, – and my body tingled with the energizing power that surrounded and engulfed me.

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