Hello and welcome!
Just 10 days ago, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank, TSO were awarded the ‘Inspiration Award’ by the Royal Philharmonic Society. This recognition from a society that commissioned Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in 1823 was simply the biggest honour that we could ever imagine receiving. Thank you to all those who voted for us. We won this award not only for our commitment to education, our performances of contemporary music and our ongoing support for living composers, especially local ones – but also for our focus on community.
Community was a thread that ran through the whole evening – starting with RPS chairman John Gilhooly’s inspiring speech (read it here: https://royalphilharmonicsociety.org.uk/awards/rps_music_awards/john-gilhoolys-2023-rps-awards-speech) and then in almost all of the acceptance speeches that followed.
The importance of music education and the need for proper support were also themes that came up time and again. But – the real inspiration came from a string of young, astoundingly talented and innovative artists, performers and composers who showcased a vibrant and exciting Classical musical environment. Today’s youngsters are the stars of tomorrow, but only if we give them the ladder to climb on.
Tonight, with the premiere of Totnes-based Sam Richards’ ‘Planetarium’ and a performance of Stravinsky’s Petrushka in front of a local audience, we continue to fulfil the promise of our strapline – classical – contemporary – community.
If you would like to support us – become a friend or a sponsor or just spread the word!
PLANETARIUM – a TSO Commission and World Premiere
Outer space is a source of tremendous fascination. Astronomy presents us with facts and figures that take us to the limit (and far beyond) of what we can really imagine. A very simple example: the Sun is 93 million miles from Earth. But what does that mean? I can’t conceive of 1 million miles, never mind 93, and this is a small number in astronomical terms. The dimensions of time and space out there expand our minds. We are awe-struck. We begin to appreciate how unusual we are as humans, and maybe how precious and remarkable the universe is. Hopefully this also leads us to a deepening respect for our life and all existence.
I wanted to get some of this astonishment into Planetarium. To do so I needed to stretch time (at least a little) beyond what is usual for the concert hall. The violins, for example, play one chord for the first few minutes – just gently moving, taking its time. Time goes slowly in this music.
The form of the piece is an impossible fantasy – a journey from the Sun to the edge of the Solar System. On the way we pass Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto (which I include despite the prevailing view that it is not a planet) and a few of the minor planets too.
In reality, each planet is entirely distinct in terms of atmosphere, geology, colours, whether or not they have moons and so on. Similarly, I decided to make each planet have its own sound world. Just as Mars could not be mistaken for Saturn, so my sonic planets too had to be utterly different from one another. This led me to some less-than-conventional orchestrations and including sounds that are not generally heard in symphony orchestras – whistling tubes, water bowls bubbling, a wobble board…
As with many of my compositions the score provides a form, a determined and notated moment-by-moment progression. Performers, however, are given some flexibility in how they play their parts. For example, they may be given a maze of notes which they must play (and no others) but they have some choices as to what order they come in. Thus there is determinacy and indeterminacy. I like that. It is, it seems to me, how our Solar System works. It basically has a determined structure – distances of one body from another, orbits and so on. The details, however, can change. The Earth’s weather and climate can change – as we know. Determined indeterminacy. That’s life…
PETRUSHKA (1947 Version)
Petrushka was the second of the three great ballets the young Stravinsky composed for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes just before the First World War. Unlike The Firebird, the Petrushka scenario was the composer's own idea. Already contracted to compose the Rite of Spring, he shelved that project to write the new ballet. The first production, which opened on 13 June 1911, with Pierre Monteux conducting and Nijinsky in the title rôle, was an overwhelming success.
Petrushka is a universal tragic-comic puppet character – the English Punch, the French Guignol, the German Kasperle; as Stravinsky put it: "the immortal and unhappy hero of every fair in all countries". Petrushka is in love with the Ballerina who will have none of him and he is jealous of the Moor who seduces her. At the height of the fair the Moor strikes Petrushka down with his sword, but the puppet's ghost returns to mock his showman master.
The ballet is in four tableaux. The first depicts the Shrove-tide fair in St. Petersburg and features tipsy merry-makers and an organ grinder. A loud on-stage drum roll introduces the Magician, an old showman (this same drum roll also links the four tableaux). After a 'magic trick' and a flute cadenza he brings to life his three puppets, Petrushka, the Ballerina and the Moor who perform a rousing Russian Dance. The second tableau is set in Petrushka's prison-like room where the puppet gives vent to despair and rage. The third is in the Moor's luxurious room. The Ballerina enters and dances a waltz. The jealous Petrushka appears but is chased away. The final tableau is once again at the fair, and after introductory bustle features a Dance of the Wet-nurses (announced by the oboe), Peasant with a Bear, Dance of the Gypsy Girls and the Rake Vendor, Dance of the Coachman, and Masqueraders.
In 1947 Stravinsky revised the score deploying a less extravagant orchestra and simplifying some of the notation (but not the music!).
SYMPHONY NO. 5 IN E MINOR, OP. 64
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovky
Andante - allegro con anima / Andante cantabile, con alcune licenza
Valse, allegro moderato / Finale, andante maestoso - allegro vivace
Tchaikovsky himself would have been astonished at the present popularity of his music. He was a relentlessly self-critical composer, who suffered constant doubt about his own ability and the value of his music. He craved the admiration of academic musicians and was willing to put up with considerable hostility from them for occasional scant praise. Even at the end of his life, when his public popularity was enormous (as distinct from his reputation in academic circles), he could not acknowledge the mastery of his final works, constantly believing himself to be written out.
The key turning point in Tchaikovsky’s life occurred in 1877, eleven years before the Fifth Symphony was written. That year, Tchaikovsky was briefly, and disastrously, married, and the wealthy patroness Nadezhda von Meck made contact with him, initiating a relationship based on voluminous correspondence with the curious condition that they should never meet. Mme von Meck granted Tchaikovsky a considerable annual pension, which enabled him to resign from his teaching post in 1878 and concentrate his efforts on composition. The next thirteen years were as comfortable as any for the composer; the Fourth Symphony and the opera Eugene Onegin served to distil the emotional turmoil of 1877, orchestral suites and ceremonial overtures provided a less strenuous outlet for new ideas. Manfred (a symphony based on poems of Byron) and the Fifth Symphony marked the composer's return to full emotional commitment in his music. However, in 1891 Mme von Meck's apparently abrupt withdrawal left Tchaikovsky devastated. His final years were marked by increasing personal despair, contrasted with increasing public acclaim. His final work, the Sixth Symphony, reflects much of his complex, introverted nature with its conflicting emotions; within ten days of conducting the first performance, on 28 October 1893, Tchaikovsky was dead.
In 1885 Tchaikovsky felt sufficiently settled, after the upheavals of his recent life, to buy his own home for the first time. He purchased an estate at Maidanovo, sufficiently far outside Moscow to be relatively peaceful, yet still accessible. He seems to have enjoyed life there, and his pattern of restless travelling began to diminish, replaced by more concentrated foreign tours as he at last felt sufficiently secure to be a competent conductor of his own works. The first music composed at Maidanovo was the Manfred Symphony. The relative security of his new home seems to have allowed the composer to put more of himself into this work than any of the recent past. Manfred is more a collection of symphonic poems than a truly symphonic structure, and Tchaikovsky may have felt after it was complete that he was now ready to face the challenge of writing a fully symphonic work.
He began making sketches for this new piece in 1888. Many of his old doubts resurfaced. He wrote to Mme von Meck “Have I written myself out? No ideas, no inclination ... ". Despite all this he was able to work relatively steadily and the piece was completed within the year. After it was finished, he took a despairing view of the piece, writing, again to Mme von Meck " ... what has been written with passion, must now be looked on critically and condensed to fit the needs of form ... I have always suffered from a lack of skill in the management of form. ... ". It can't have helped his self-confidence to have been told by the chairman of the Berlin Philharmonic Society, after a conducting engagement the previous year, that he was a fine composer, but that he must leave Russia immediately and put himself in the hands of German musicians to save himself from committing the faults of form and orchestration which flawed all Russian composers. After hearing two performances of the Fifth Symphony his view of it actually worsened "… I have come to the conclusion that it is a failure. " One wonders what must have gone through his mind to imagine such things of this music.
The Fifth Symphony is unified by a motto theme, sometimes given the name Fate, which is heard at the outset in the lowest register of a solo clarinet, over a string accompaniment. The Allegro con anima introduces the main subject of the first movement which is developed gradually to a climax; during this development Tchaikovsky skillfully varies the tempo to maintain the tension. After this first peak has subsided, the strings introduce a new theme which is used to generate tremendous passion and excitement, before winding itself gradually down to silence.
The slow movement opens with the famous melody for horn, joined in dialogue by an oboe and followed by solos for clarinet and bassoon. Amid the sudden changes of tempo and mood here, the motto temporarily intrudes before it is banished. The third movement waltz is charming, elegant and superbly orchestrated, a reminder of Tchaikovsky's close links with ballet. The motto is heard briefly - as if in the distance - on woodwind instruments towards the end.
The finale opens with the motto theme transformed into its major key and in the manner of a march. This is succeeded by the dance-like Allegro vivace which gradually builds up speed and tension before the final maestoso statement of the motto, presto and jubilant coda.
Sam Richards – Composer
Sam Richards studied composition and piano with Alfred Nieman at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He also participated in experimental music events with Cornelius Cardew, electronics pioneer Hugh Davis and later improvised with Lou Gare (of AMM) and David Stanley as Synchronicity. He was also a student and later a part-time lecturer at Dartington College of Arts as well as teaching composition, music history and musicianship at Plymouth University. His "Fish Music" for strings and improvisers in which fish swimming in a tank become musical notes has been played twice at the National Marine Aquarium, at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff and an extract on BBC Radio 3. His "About Time - Voices" was performed by the Cornelius Cardew Choir in San Francisco Library Theatre, and a number of his compositions - notably "Kropotkin" for large forces - were programmed in the Plymouth University annual new music festival. Large group pieces "The Uncontained Garden" and "Hearing Things" were premiered at Dartington College of Arts directed by Frank Denyer. The Torbay Symphony Orchestra has previously played four of his orchestral works.
He also spent much time field researching vernacular song and music in the Westcountry and elsewhere, including two trips to Newfoundland. His collection of audio recordings is now housed in the British Library. With his wife Lona Kozik he runs the Totnes School of Piano. He teaches piano, improvisation and composition. His major concerns include the social nature of music making, different relationships between composer and performers, improvisation, musical time and a paring down of resources whilst exploring long stretches of time. He is known for his explorations of many kinds of musical notation. His scores have been exhibited in galleries.
He was awarded a Paul Hamlyn Foundation grant for composition in 2020. In recent years he has devoted much time to writing piano music. He played his "Echoes and Traces" over four one-hour-long concerts, one per week, at Ashburton Arts Centre in 2022, and will premiere his "Listen Silent" based on the 81 chapters of the Tao Te Ching, an all day performance at the same Ashburton venue in August 2023. He has recently joined the Occasional Quartet, a group of free improvisers - Steve Day, Ric White and Roger Hall - whose first outing will be on 3rd April at the Ashburton Arts Centre.
Sam has written books on music: on musical democracy, John Cage, engaged music, a set of essays and a history and account of the sad end of Dartington College of Arts. Awaiting publication are books on spontaneous practices and folksong. He has also broadcast talks on BBC Radios 2 and 3.
Richard Gonski – Conductor
Richard Gonski was born in South Africa. At the age of 14 he went to live in Israel, graduating from the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem in 1982 where he studied flute with Chanoch Tel Oren, conducting with Mendi Rodan and theory, harmony and counterpoint with Yitzhak Sadai.
After attending conducting courses in Nice and Munich (with Sergiu Celibidace) he moved to London where he continued his flute studies with Gareth Morris, was Music Director of the Electric Symphony Orchestra and lecturer in Electronic Music at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (1989 - 1996).
In 1996 he came to Devon; he has been Music Director of the Torbay Symphony Orchestra since 2000, was the conductor of the Exeter University Symphony Orchestra (2003 - 2015) and works with various chamber groups and ensembles both as performer and director. A committed and ardent advocate of contemporary music, Richard has been responsible for commissioning numerous works from living composers as well as the performance of repertoire from the 20th century to the current day. He has a special love for electroacoustic music and has composed many works for that medium.
Richard is passionate about providing music education for the younger generation and is currently director of SaMM, the Saturday Morning Music School in Totnes. He is a director of Thinking Arts (www.thinkingarts.com) which provides online courses in Music Appreciation for adults as well as online music education resources and coaching for all age groups. He is also a mentor for SWMS (South West Music School) and has an active music teaching practice.
Chris Eastman – Leader
Chris’ musical career has gone almost full circle, since he gained his earliest orchestral experiences with the South Devon and then the Devon Youth Orchestras whilst at school at Torquay Boys’ Grammar School. This gave him the opportunity to take part in international tours and high-profile concerts at the Royal Festival Hall and Royal Albert Hall.
He studied music at Manchester University where he developed a keen interest in contemporary music whilst playing in the University Symphony and Chamber Orchestras. In 2012, Chris re-trained as a music teacher, a career which makes more demands on his skill as a pianist and rock guitarist than as a violinist! Chris is a musical director of Denbury village choir and has been leader of the Torbay Symphony Orchestra since 2011. He plays his great grandmother’s 1898 John Marshall violin.