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John Maxwell Geddes(1941-2017): R.I.P.


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Author Topic: John Maxwell Geddes(1941-2017): R.I.P.  (Read 158 times)
Dundonnell
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« on: September 08, 2017, 05:26:09 pm »

Within two days of each other British Music has lost another couple of symphonists: Derek Bourgeois (whose death has been noted elsewhere) and now I hear that the Scottish composer John Maxwell Geddes has died. We are fortunate that all three of his symphonies (and a few other pieces) are in our Archive on this forum. Like his somewhat older fellow Scottish symphonist David Dorward(born 1933) Geddes was not particularly well known outside Scotland but those who take the trouble to listen will find a composer of substance and of power.

The last five years have been costly in terms of British composers who have died: Sir Richard Rodney Bennett (2012), Ian Parrott (2012), Stephen Dodgson (2013), Arthur Butterworth (2014), Patric Standford (2014), Sir John Tavener (2014), John McCabe (2015), Ronald Stevenson (2015), Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (2016), Derek Bourgeois (2017), John Maxwell Geddes(2017), Malcolm Lipkin (2017).

Bennett, Parrott, Butterworth, Standford, McCabe, Maxwell Davies, Bourgeois, Maxwell Geddes and Lipkin were all symphonists of note (if one were to define that word by the criterion of having written three or more symphonies). There are not many left who spring to mind. Dorward, I have mentioned, David Ellis, Christopher Gunning, Sir James Macmillan, David Matthews, John Pickard but the list diminshes, I fear.
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relm1
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« Reply #1 on: September 09, 2017, 01:45:44 am »

I was very sad to hear of Derek Bourgeois's death. We had a very long and positive dialog since 2003.  My last email to him was literally introducing a new orchestral work to him only to find out he was an hour away from death.  I adore John Pickard (b. 1963) but I wonder, are there any "symphonists of note" as you describe born after 1963?  Sad 
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Gauk
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« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2017, 10:06:54 am »

Oh I'm very sorry to hear both of these announcements.
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #3 on: September 09, 2017, 02:54:06 pm »

I was very sad to hear of Derek Bourgeois's death. We had a very long and positive dialog since 2003.  My last email to him was literally introducing a new orchestral work to him only to find out he was an hour away from death.  I adore John Pickard (b. 1963) but I wonder, are there any "symphonists of note" as you describe born after 1963?  Sad 

I don't know is the short answer to your question. There are people like Philip Spratley who has written three (of which No.3 has been recorded by Toccata) but he was born in 1942, there is Matthew Taylor (born 1964) whose three are on Dutton, there is Oliver Knussen (who, to my regret and shame, I keep on forgetting) who has written three but he was born in 1951. There are probably many others who have never been recorded or indeed performed and who work away in total or almost total obscurity, ignored by the record labels and the all-powerful BBC.

My point is that if one had drawn up a list of British Symphonists alive in, say 1970, it would have been more substantial, I suspect!
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relm1
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« Reply #4 on: September 09, 2017, 03:10:49 pm »

I was very sad to hear of Derek Bourgeois's death. We had a very long and positive dialog since 2003.  My last email to him was literally introducing a new orchestral work to him only to find out he was an hour away from death.  I adore John Pickard (b. 1963) but I wonder, are there any "symphonists of note" as you describe born after 1963?  Sad 

I don't know is the short answer to your question. There are people like Philip Spratley who has written three (of which No.3 has been recorded by Toccata) but he was born in 1942, there is Matthew Taylor (born 1964) whose three are on Dutton, there is Oliver Knussen (who, to my regret and shame, I keep on forgetting) who has written three but he was born in 1951. There are probably many others who have never been recorded or indeed performed and who work away in total or almost total obscurity, ignored by the record labels and the all-powerful BBC.

My point is that if one had drawn up a list of British Symphonists alive in, say 1970, it would have been more substantial, I suspect!

Dundonnell, you're English, right?  Does the BBC still fill the same role now as it did in making these works known to the public say in 1970?  I expect there are symphonies of note out there that no one knows about and unfortunately, it takes a lifetime of effort to master the form the issue is by nature of looking for "symphonists of note" you'll be looking for someone who has a lot of life behind them. 
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #5 on: September 09, 2017, 03:45:41 pm »

Not English, Scottish Smiley I can also accept British since I am not a Scottish Nationalist Wink The phrase "English Music" is sometimes used (and I have used it myself on occasions!) when "British Music" would be more accurate and appropriate

To answer your main question,my impression-and I don't listen to as much on the radio as I once did-is that the BBC does not broadcast as many British symphonies as in the past. But there are many reasons for this. In past decades there was a group of British conductors who dedicated themselves to promoting British "symphonic music" and who were in a position to do so because they were either in charge of BBC regional orchestras (conductors like Sir Alexander Gibson, Bryden Thomson,Sir Edward Downes, to name but three) or were established and regular conductors of such orchestras (Vernon Handley, Norman Del Mar, Maurice Handford etc etc). They were supported by the BBC producers of the time. Even a conductor like Jerzy Maksymiuk-a Pole- would happily undertake a William Wordsworth symphony with the BBC Scottish SO if he wad asked to (probably because in Communist Poland one did as one was told to a greater extent Wink). These orchestras today are conducted by people who do not, understandably, carry the same torch. There are younger conductors who will perform such music IF they are asked to do so and are given the opportunity (Martyn Brabbins is the most obvious example but there are several others) and, to be fair, BBC Wales will give Daniel Jones and Grace Williams the odd continuing airing. And we had the Arnold Cooke Symphony No.6 for the first time not so long ago. But asking the BBC Philharmonic to do a retrospective of all the Arthur Butterworth symphonies? It's not going to happen....and why? "Box-office poison" would be the response; or, more likely, with a BBC orchestra, the producer would say "Arthur Butterworth? Never heard of him!".

Sorry, I am rambling again  (And, for those who find my obsession with the symphony tedious and tiresome: well, I am sorry but I can only write meaningfully about subjects which interest me and which I know something at least about Wink).
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #6 on: September 09, 2017, 04:02:30 pm »

Before I am-quite properly- corrected!- Sir Alexander Gibson was not in charge of a BBC regional orchestra. He was the conductor of what is now the Royal Scottish National Orchestra-which is NOT a BBC orchestra!!
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« Reply #7 on: September 09, 2017, 04:13:23 pm »

It would be worth perusing this list of British (and commonwealth) symphonies and see how many are post 1963 (or whatever arbitrary cut off) to see how rare Pickard is or how common and crowded the field is.

http://www.musicweb-international.com/Ntl_discogs/British_symphonies/British_symphonies.htm
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #8 on: September 09, 2017, 04:44:25 pm »

It would be worth perusing this list of British (and commonwealth) symphonies and see how many are post 1963 (or whatever arbitrary cut off) to see how rare Pickard is or how common and crowded the field is.

http://www.musicweb-international.com/Ntl_discogs/British_symphonies/British_symphonies.htm

Three British composers are listed post-John Pickard and Matthew Taylor: Julian Anderson with one symphony and Thomas Ades and Richard Causton each with a Chamber Symphony.

....But of course the neglect of what one might call "symphonic music" in its broadest sense composed by a number of distinguished living British composer on disc is shocking. Look at the case of Robin Holloway, for example! Not a "symphonist" but certainly a very, very fine composer of music in traditional format.
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #9 on: September 09, 2017, 07:07:51 pm »

To give a mere flavour of the British symphonists alive and active in 1970:

William Alwyn, Richard Arnell, Sir Malcolm Arnold, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, Sir Lennox Berkeley, Havergal Brian, Alan Bush, Arthur Butterworth, Arnold Cooke, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, David Ellis, Benjamin Frankel, Peter Racine Fricker, John Gardner, Ruthy Gipps, Richard Hall, Iain Hamilton, Alun Hoddinott, Daniel Jones, Kenneth Leighton, Malcolm Lipkin, George Lloyd, William Mathias, John McCabe, Anthony Milner, Robin Orr, Ian Parrott, Alan Rawsthorne, Edmund Rubbra, Humphrey Searle, Robert Simpson, Robert Still, Sir Michael Tippett, John Veale, Graham Whettam, Thomas Wilson, William Wordsworth.....etc etc etc.

Now...it is true that many of these composers had to wait until the advent of the cd for their symphonies to be commercially available BUT most of them had their symphonies performed on the BBC.

It is a list of considerable distinction!! And, of course, there were several others of the highest eminence who were not primarily symphonists (by my criterion): Bliss, Britten, Howells, Walton etc etc. but who wrote one or two symphonies and much music which was "symphonic".

I am tempted to draw further conclusions but I would upset some folk Wink Wink Wink
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calyptorhynchus
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« Reply #10 on: September 09, 2017, 10:40:28 pm »

But asking the BBC Philharmonic to do a retrospective of all the Arthur Butterworth symphonies? It's not going to happen....and why? "Box-office poison" would be the response; or, more likely, with a BBC orchestra, the producer would say "Arthur Butterworth? Never heard of him!".



I have had a long and unsuccessful campaign of trying to persuade the ABC Classics FM station to play better music, ie not the Romantic schmalz in snippets that they specialise in, and this what what they always reply "The audience wouldn't like it". To which I reply "If you never play the sort of music I am suggesting how do you know people won't like it?"

The high point of my campaign was printing out the Gramophone's reviews of the Hyperion Robert Simpson symphonies and mailing them to them. 
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #11 on: September 09, 2017, 11:32:56 pm »

You are absolutely correct! The ideal venue for this is at the Proms in London where one has an almost assured audience and where programming unfamiliar repertoire can have huge success. Vaughan Williams is hardly "neglected" but the idea of a single concert featuring the 4th, 5th and 6th symphonies might have seemed like madness. In fact for Andrew Manze and the BBC Scottish SO it was a triumph!
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relm1
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« Reply #12 on: September 10, 2017, 12:31:27 am »

I consider Robin Holloway's Concerti for Orchestra to be symphonies.  Just look at the reviews: https://www.boosey.com/cr/news/Holloway-reviews-of-Fourth-Concerto-in-San-Francisco/11438

"A virtuoso showpiece... his command of the orchestra is astonishing... Holloway writes as though all the harmonic fluidity and orchestral virtuosity of Strauss, Mahler, Debussy and Rimsky-Korsakov were at his fingertips – as no doubt they are – and he uses those resources to craft a narrative journey that is endlessly compelling and always accessible... That journey is based on the medieval English epic Piers Plowman, but the plot is no more necessary for a listener’s enjoyment than it is in the case of Strauss’s literary tone poems... Holloway’s dramatic skill and extravagant inventiveness are all that matters. The concerto grabs the listener right from the opening pages – a gloriously evocative ‘once upon a time’ with muted horn calls rising through the string-laden mists – and never lets go...” San Francisco Chronicle

 “...the Fourth Concerto for Orchestra may be the British composer’s most ambitious, intricately structured work to date... Holloway, it seems, is less interested in painterly effects than sonic possibilities. Using clusters of instruments within each section – shimmering woodwinds, rumbling brass, crisp pizzicato strings – he evokes a marvellous sound world. Tilson Thomas conducted a dynamic, enveloping first performance.” Contra Costa Times

The work was so “huge and splendiferous” (San Francisco Chronicle) that the orchestra had to, reluctantly, drop a movement to fit the work into the planned programme. As the reviewer wrote, “the Fourth Concerto is obviously a major addition to the orchestral repertoire, and one can only hope that the Symphony brings it back again soon, in full this time.”


I wish someone would record the full version with the movement SFSO dropped. 

This is a complex problem.  I don't think the root cause is the BBC reluctance to record/produce rare rep.  There are many noteworthy conductors who are programming rare repertoire.  The problem isn't box office poison either because studies have shown audiences are not afraid of unknown rep as long as the program makes sense.  For example one concert program I thought was very innovative was the orchestra performed four new works but asked the composer to choose a classical pairing that inspired them creatively in that new work.  So you had the Firebird Suite next to something new the context being the composer was inspired to write something new in part from something old and the audience responded very favorably with many first time concert attendees (young people).  I think it is important to include popular music somewhere in a season.  Don't kick me out for saying this but the San Diego Symphony Orchestra had a 16% growth in audience attendance this year compared to last year and the reason was two of their highest selling programs included "Raiders of the Lost Ark live to picture" and a video games live concert.  It is my opinion that music like this introduces an audience to classical music for the first time and I personally know some people who are now life long fans of classical music because their introduction came from a pops concert like that.  One could argue I am in that category since I am a professional musician and my earliest musical memory was seeing Star Wars in the theaters when I was five years old and it had a profound impact on me BECAUSE of the music.  I am curious about how record companies choose there projects.  Surely Robin Holloway's Concerto No. 4 would do as well as Bax's Symphony in F, no?  I am glad I had the opportunity to hear that Bax work but will never want to hear it again.  The only reason I wanted to hear it is because I loved the composer and was already well acquainted with him based on his music being so easily available.  Holloway has had many commercial releases of his works and is frequently championed by orchestras (SFSO/MTT commissions him every few years - probably more than they've done with their home town kid, John Adams who is extremely bankable).  I believe he's been in the Proms as well so why doesn't that translate to more CD releases?  or is it possible that he has fared better than we perceive because we are completists who want the work we can't hear?
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #13 on: September 11, 2017, 05:13:55 pm »

I share your admiration for Robin Holloway Smiley Holloway has written a huge Symphony (1999) but I agree that the Concertos for Orchestra are clearly symphonic. The Fifth Concerto for Orchestra (2009) can be heard and downloaded from You Tube and the Second and Third are on NMC discs but the massive Fourth Concerto (2007) is still unrecorded.
Michael tilson thomas obviously got to know and like Holloway's music when he was with the London Symphony Orchestra and he has the power and influence to get the San Francisco Orchestra to play the music.

I also agree that orchestra managements could take more of a risk in programming. I know that for young conductors appearing as guests with orchestras the calling-card too often requested is a Mahler symphony. I have also told the story before of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's first appearance in Prague, being asked to play a Dvorak symphony and the orchestra's management, quite correctly, saying "Dvorak? In Prague? No! What we will do is a Martinu symphony though."

As for getting young people to concerts Huh Huh I don't have time to write much about this important topic. What i can say is that at concerts in provincial cities the vast bulk of the audience does appear to be aged 60+ and this has obvious and very serious implications for the future of live classical music. It is better in London but I certainly noticed the same aged profile in, for example, the Hague.
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #14 on: September 11, 2017, 08:25:37 pm »

It might also be worth pointing out that the three cds of Holloways's most significant orchestral compositions-the two I referred to above and the disc containing the Vilin and Horn Concertos-came out between 1993 and 1996. That means that Holloway's music has now been virtually ignored for over 20 years Sad
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