English composer to première latest
Bill Linwood, conductor
Darnell Linwood, horn/John Lowry, violin/Miranda Wong, piano
Oct. 27 , 2011 Victoria, BC
By Kevin Bazzana
The Victoria Times Colonist
This month, the Aventa Ensemble, the local chamber orchestra devoted to contemporary music, performed programs of Canadian and Danish music in Regina, London, Ont., Montreal and Toronto. Though founded as recently as 2003, Aventa has now undertaken five national tours, and is recognized as the leading touring group of its kind in Canada. And there is further evidence of its ambition and burgeoning reputation: the many works it has commissioned or premièred; its appearances in New York and Europe; and its collaborations with important living composers (Canadian and otherwise) including Gavin Bryars and Michael Finnissy.
Few contemporary classical musicians have the international standing of Aventa’s latest catch, the British composer and conductor Peter Maxwell Davies, who is scheduled to participate in two events at the University of Victoria. On Monday evening, he will deliver an autobiographical lecture, Life and Work, for the university’s School of Music (he is reputedly an entertaining speaker); on Tuesday evening, he will be present at an Aventa concert that will include the première of his Stormwatch, Stormfall.
Davies first achieved prominence in the late 1960s, through such works as the opera Taverner, the monodrama Revelation and Fall, the “motet for orchestra” Worldes Blis, and Eight Songs For a Mad King, that evokes, with noisy theatricality, the insanity of George III. As Alex Ross notes in The Rest Is Noise, his history of 20th-century music, Davies had a northern English working-class background at odds with the pomp-and-circumstance tradition of British music. His musical origins lay, rather, with the postwar European avantgarde, and in the ’60s, he became one of several British composers seeking, in Ross’s words, “to thumb their noses at the conservatism of the English musical scene.”
Today, however, Davies enjoys immense prestige within the British musical establishment. He has worked for various national musical organizations and received many honours, including a knighthood in 1987. In 2004, he accepted a 10year appointment as Master of the Queen’s Music, a centuries-old position – the musical equivalent of poet laureate – that makes him a purveyor of music to the Royal Family as well as a British cultural figurehead. (Previous masters have included Boyce, Elgar and Bax.)
And yet, Davies remains, at 77, something of an enfant terrible. He is still an adventurous composer with an original voice, he is outspoken on political and social issues, and he is no stranger to controversy. This year alone he has made the news for calling many British conductors “lazy and limited,” for declaring that people whose cellphones ring during concerts should be fined, for campaigning against muzak and for calling God Save the Queen a “very boring” anthem.
For the past 40 years, Davies has lived on the Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland – and, indeed, Stormwatch, Stormfall was commissioned by Aventa with the assistance of the Scottish Arts Council. (It was Op. 308 for the prolific Davies, who in the meantime, has already completed Op.313.) Davies composed the piece at home this past winter – “a winter of storms and snows of unusual ferocity,” he writes in his program note, “all of which is reflected in the music.” Running about 20 minutes, Stormwatch, Stormfall is permeated by a “folk-like melody” that is “subjected to a sequence of dramatic transformations of extreme virtuosity, giving each player opportunity for brilliant display.”
The work is scored for horn, violin and piano – forces most famously used in Brahms’s horn trio, though used before Brahms, too, and by recent composers including Lennox Berkeley, John Harbison and György Ligeti. On Tuesday, the Davies première will be performed by violinist John Lowry, pianist Miranda Wong and hornist Darnell Linwood, who cofounded Aventa with her husband Bill Linwood, its artistic director and conductor. (The same three musicians have performed various modern horn trios in Aventa concerts; Darnell Linwood has also performed Davies’ 1982 solohorn piece Sea Eagle.)
Tuesday’s program will also include Davies’ instrumental-ensemble piece De Assumtione Beatae Mariae Virginis (2001), of which Aventa gave the Canadian première in 2004, and music by two Canadian composers: Hand I Used to Hold, by Justin Christensen; and Rodney Sharman’s recent adaptation of an instrumental prelude from his 1998 chamber opera Elsewhereless. Christensen’s piece will be receiving its première; Sharman’s had its première in Regina on Oct. 17 at the start of Aventa’s latest tour.