Conductors, guitars, violins and the ASMF

(showing his flexibility here is ASMF soloist Morgan Szymanski playing Astor Piazzola’s Fuga y Misterio at the Purcell Rooms, London with Machacalive)

A FEW THOUGHTS IN ADVANCE OF THE VISIT OF ASMF

concert details and booking info here

I knew it was there somewhere – and after five or so minutes I found my slightly battered, worn (£1.99 from Oxfam) copy of Vivaldi’s Guitar Concerto RV93 squeezed inbetween Laurence Olivier and Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album. Despite its battered look its in remarkably good condition and its familiar sound (though its been ages since I last listened to it properly) is wonderfully comforting. Here is John Williams performing it in Seville:-

My love affair with the guitar started with my failed music education back home in Leeds. As a child I was fascinated by conductors (still am if the truth be told). I’d stand behind the armchair and,waving my arms furiously, I would happily conduct the hymns of Songs of Praise every Sunday night. Wishing to encourage this prodigious arm waving my parents hustled me off to violin lessons at the local music centre.

I was dreadful, truly dreadful. Even rising to the dizzy heights of leader of the third violins in the junior orchestra was a step too far for me.

Fast forward a couple of years I’m still waving my arms around (the imagination is a wonderful thing) and I’m still dreadful on the four stringed wooden thing that I’ve come to loath. So much so I invent a wheeze to free me from the tyranny of the violin. I tell my parents I’m learning violin at school (so get out of music centre) whilst I tell school I’m learning violin at music centre. I even go as far as carrying my violin case into school religiously (well it was a Catholic school) every Tuesday only to leave it on top of the lockers to be retrieved at the end of the day.

Of course this couldn’t last and my deceit was quickly discovered at the first parents day. I remember clearly waiting for the parents to return – fearing what might be said and done – but cant remember what did happen that night. The upshot though was that I was rushed into guitar lessons so I didn’t become another drop out from Mr Mountford’s music GCSE.

I wasn’t much good at that either – but at least I could make the instrument sound vaguely tunefull. By the end of two years I could just about rustle up a halting Cavatina, a convincing Snowman, a variable speed Classical Gas and various other bits and pieces. Enough to get my GCSE anyway!

And it started a love of the instrument (in all its forms actually) which has stayed with me till this day. So no surprise then that I’m looking forward to the visit of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields to Dartington on October 3 with a guitar led programme:-

Villa Lobos Bachianas Brasilieras, No. 9
Vivaldi Guitar Concerto RV93 in D major (see programme notes below for more info)
Grieg Holberg Suite Op.40 (see programme notes below for more info)
Roth Concerto for Guitar and String Orchestra
Suk Serenade in E flat Op.6 (see programme notes below for more info)
(soloist Morgan Szymanski)

Alongside some old favouites theres a new work by composer Alec Roth – and theres an opportunity to hear Roth talk about his concerto in a free performance talk before the concert.

And no doubt it will sound stunning in the surroundings of Dartington’s Great Hall ( see my previous post about the visit of the LMP). It promises to be a very special afternoon!

Orchestral concerts at Dartington are made possible by the support of Orchestras Live
The Alec Roth commission has been supported by the PRS Foundation, Fidelio Charitable Trust and the RWV trust.

The following extracts are edited from the programme notes for the concert by Anthony Burton and are
Anthony Burton © 2010

In its original form the Guitar Concerto in D major, after the Lute Concerto RV 93 by Vivaldi is a chamber concerto for lute with two violins and continuo, written apparently in the early 1730s not for the Pietà but for a Bohemian nobleman, Count von Wrtby The piece falls into the usual fast–slow–fast pattern of Vivaldi’s concertos, but each movement is in two repeated halves, something more common in Vivaldi’s chamber-scale works than in his full-scale concertos. Particularly notable is the slow movement, in which the solo instrument projects its melodic line against a backdrop of sustained string chords.

Grieg composed From Holberg’s Time, usually known as the Holberg Suite, for the celebrations in Bergen in December 1884 of the bicentenary of the birth of the dramatist Ludvig Holberg – who, although he wrote in Danish, was like Grieg a native of the Norwegian port. The work was originally written for piano, but early in 1885 Grieg made an alternative, and equally idiomatic, version for string orchestra. The piece belongs to a distinct genre of lightly archaic recreations of past musical manners but, for all the use the piece makes of old dance forms and Baroque clichés, it is still, in its string colouring, its expressive melodic writing, and above all its harmonies, unmistakably a work of its own time – and indeed unmistakably by Grieg.

Josef Suk composed his Serenade for String Orchestra in E flat major in 1892, at the age of eighteen, shortly after graduating from the Prague Conservatoire. Its instrumental writing displays the expertise Suk had gained as a violin student at the Conservatoire. In style and manner as well as scoring, the Serenade recalls the string Serenade of 1875 by Dvořák, who had been Suk’s principal composition teacher at the Conservatoire. And it may also have another connection with the Dvořák family. In the summer of 1892, Suk had met Dvořák’s fourteen-year-old daughter Otylka, and the two teenagers had felt the beginnings of an attraction which six years later was to lead to marriage. It has been suggested that the four movements of the Serenade were intended as a composite portrait of Otylka’s obviously lovable personality. The first is a gentle introductory Andante, with a more urgent middle section, and a blazing fortissimo climax placed just before the quiet coda. The second is a graceful waltz, with a slightly slower trio section of increasingly strong contrasts. The slow movement is an intense Adagio, with a slightly faster middle section, and a coda in which the violins (soloists in Suk’s later alternative version) rise like a pair of larks. The energetic finale is the most fully developed of the four movements, but it avoids a clear-cut recapitulation of its first theme, clinching the musical argument instead with an impassioned reprise of the opening idea of the whole work.

Edited from the official programme notes by Anthony Burton
Anthony Burton © 2010

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