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January - March
2017

The English Symphony Orchestra’s 21st C. Symphony Project

Nine symphonies, nine composers, one orchestra.

Kenneth Woods

On 28 February, 2017, the English Symphony Orchestra will premiere the Third Symphony by Philip Sawyers, the first work in a cycle of nine new symphonies to be commissioned by the orchestra. Conductor Kenneth Woods explains.

Birth of an Idea

"Composers don’t tend to write symphonies these days, they are mostly shorter orchestral pieces with titles.” said BBC Music Magazine editor Oliver Condy in a recent Guardian article on his magazine’s survey of the top 20 symphonies of all time.

As an orchestral conductor, the overwhelming majority of the concerts I conduct include at least one symphony. For me, the symphony is the most important and influential musical form of the last 225 years, and I’ve always felt that for symphony orchestras to have a future, the symphony must have a future. So it was that nearly two years before Oliver Condy made that statement, my colleagues in the English Symphony Orchestra and I had decided to do something to encourage composers to write symphonies.

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Peter Feuchtwanger - The Gentle Authority

Achim Clemens

Peter_Feuchtwanger

Enfant terrible, guru, pope, Zen master of the piano. These are but a few of the tributes that attempted to describe the art of Peter Feuchtwanger, whose remarkable musical knowledge has earned him the reputation of being one of the most successful all-round musicians, composers, pedagogues, writers and piano teachers of his time.

Born in Munich, the son of a banker who was a cousin of the much-lauded writer Lion Feuchtwanger, he spent his teens in Haifa. From his mother’s account, Peter’s childhood in Germany was an extremely happy one. She said, as a child his interest in everything knew no bounds, inquisitive and curious the whole day long. Days were spent in reading and writing fairy tales, drawing, looking after pigeons saved from the butcher with Peter’s savings, and what is remarkable, already he revealed beyond his years a keen interest in the history of art. Amalia and Theodore doted on their precocious infant.

 

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Toscanini and Respighi’s Roman Trilogy

Robert Matthew-Walker

Toscanini

To mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Arturo Toscanini, the Editor outlines aspects of the great conductor’s work, in the first of a series of appreciations of the Italian maestro.

The late Hans Keller once wrote that: ‘All great artists, by virtue of what they do, are also great teachers.’ It is through the present-day revelations of the qualities of Toscanini’s performances of a surprisingly wide range of music that we, as interested listeners, become students of great art, and indeed of great interpretative art, and thereby learn from such examples of the conductor’s genius.

The life and career of Arturo Toscanini demonstrates, as clearly as may be, the absurdity of the claims of those who suggest that to interpret a piece of music fully, the performing musician should be of the same nationality or ethnicity as the composer. For example, it is sometimes suggested that only British-born conductors can fully interpret British music – but when one considers, for example, Toscanini’s recordings of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, or those international violinists - from Kreisler, Menuhin and Heifetz to modern virtuosos - who have added Elgar’s ‘quintessentially English’ Violin Concerto to their repertoire, the proposition is rendered absurd.

 

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The Winter Journey Of Wilhelm Müller

By Victoria Edge

Wilhelm Müller

Johann Ludwig Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827) made clear by his use of the definite article that there was only one ‘Winter Journey’. Towards the end of an almost contemporaneous life the composer Franz Schubert (1797- 1828) wove his own genius into the text and the spaces around it, occasionally altering it to fit his own ideas and, dropping the definite article from the title, he transformed the twenty four poems into the famous psychological music drama that it has become.

Schubert’s great song cycle Winterreise Op. 89, D911 does not follow the final order published by the poet in 1824 in the second volume of his rather prolix and suggestively entitled, Gedichte aus den hinterlassenen Papieren eines reisenden Waldhornisten. Lieder des Lebens und der Liebe. (Poems from the Posthumous Papers of a Travelling French Horn Player. Songs of Life and of Love). Although the reasons for this are widely known and it will suffice to say that it was ultimately Schubert’s decision to retain his own order in preference to Müller’s, it is worth considering the effect of this reordering. Müller’s order portrays the protagonist starting his journey from what appears to be a domestic situation in a town, which could be Dessau. As he progresses into the countryside he later passes through a village, and then eventually finds a deserted charcoal-burner’s hut. The desolation he gradually encounters is reflected in his mood and demeanour and there is no incongruous interruption of the post coach to disturb the mood because Müller places this event while he is still among civilization.

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