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Whilst we wait to come together with audiences at our Barbican home next week, we are pleased that our regular programme of online content and streamed broadcasts continues, making music available for everyone to enjoy digitally.
It is a pleasure to invite you to watch and listen today online to this special concert which celebrates one of the 20th century's most enigmatic musicians: Percy Aldridge Grainger. This fascinating composer, and his music, will be brought to life in a programme devised by Sir Simon Rattle and Gerard McBurney, for which we were delighted to work with Roger Allam and Amelia Kosminsky. We were incredibly grateful to Lee Reynolds, who worked closely with Sir Simon Rattle on the orchestration of tonight's music, for stepping in to conduct at short notice. We extend thanks also to our broadcast partner Marquee TV for streaming this concert.
I hope you enjoy the performance, and look forward to welcoming you back in person when we are able to re-open our doors. Our return concerts at the Barbican in May and June are now on sale; visit our website for full details.
Thursday 13 May 2021
The Individual Heart
Percy Aldridge Grainger Lads of Wamphray – March
Ballade No 17 (after Machaut)
Blithe Bells (after JS Bach)
The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart
The Immovable Do
'The Gum-Suckers' March
Lee Reynolds conductor
Roger Allam narrator
Amelia Kosminsky visual artist
London Symphony Orchestra
Programme devised by Sir Simon Rattle and Gerard McBurney.
This performance is broadcast on Marquee TV. Available to watch for free for seven days from 13 May, then on demand with a subscription.
Recorded at LSO St Luke's on Wednesday 28 April in COVID-19 secure conditions.
An Introduction to the Programme
To listen with open ear and spirit to Grainger’s music is often to find ourselves surprised and shocked by its strangeness (and also, it should be said, by his strangeness, the strangeness of the human ghost behind the music, watching with those famously piercing eyes). At the same time and equally often, we find ourselves jolted and dislocated by the weird familiarity of Grainger's music and, sometimes, even exasperated by its downright ordinariness.
It’s so odd! How can music be ordinary and extraordinary at the same time? It makes no sense.
Of course, Grainger seems familiar when he starts from things we already know: well-known folk-tunes, bits of Bach and all sorts of other composers. But he seems familiar too, and even impertinent, in the many different and demotic sound-worlds he evokes: the racket of amateur ensembles, school orchestras, outdoor wind bands, village dance bands, film and circus and military collectives.
But in his cumulative effects, which differ so strikingly from piece to piece, he sounds nearly always disturbingly and beguilingly unfamiliar. He mixes instrumental colours like no other composer does (his unisons and octaves!), but writing them down so marvellously and practically in the form of scores capable of endless alteration and adaptation by anyone who wants to perform them. So often he stumbles forward, repeating himself in unexpected and annoying ways, or on the contrary lurching with deliberate awkwardness from one unrelated idea to another. All in all there is in Grainger an absolute and cussed refusal to fit in with most people’s conventional ideas of musical coherence, elegance, seriousness and sense of purpose.
Right near its centre, Grainger’s music has a childlike quality, almost Edenic (though not without shadows of tremendous evil). But there’s more to it than that. For we quickly find that as we listen to it (or play it), we too begin to feel like children, discovering the power of music as though for the first time in our lives.
Introduction by Gerard McBurney
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The Lads of Wamphray – March
✒️1905 | ⏰9 minutes
He contained multitudes, many of them (self-) contradictory but all feeding into the musical encyclopaedia that went by the name of George Percy Grainger. A contemporary standpoint that looks with anger rather than amused bewilderment on his obsession with ‘blue-eyed English’, and the attendant quest for a dictionary purged of words derived from Latin and Greek, might choose to ignore the fact, for instance, that a progressive New York programme he curated in 1925 included handing over the baton to black Canadian composer Nathaniel Dett for a performance of his Negro Folk Song Derivatives alongside works by Hindemith, Schreker and ethnomusicologist-composer Natalie Davis (Memories of New Mexico).
The music featured tonight touches on Grainger’s native Australia, Scotland, Norway, America, Nepal, France and Germany. The melodies are both those of others’ – from folk to Bach – and Grainger’s own, often as catchy as the ones he dressed up in unlikely clothing.
A lively starting-point, syncopations and all, is the wind band version of The Lads of Wamphray. The title is Walter Scott’s, a piece of unfinished juvenilia from the 1802 collection Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border about the ‘noted feud’ between the Johnstone and Maxwell families. Grainger’s original setting was for double men’s chorus and orchestra; there has been a lively attempt at a performing version by reconstructing it with full choir and soloists by Chalon L Ragsdale. The March was played for the first time in 1905 by the Band of the Coldstream Guards, and fellow composer Edvard Grieg enthused over it when Grainger played it through to him at his home in Troldhaugen, not long before Grieg's death in 1907. Nearly three decades later, Grainger made another version of it for the annual Grand Concert and Convention of the American Band Masters’ Association in Milwaukee, writing out all the band parts himself.
Why the Scottish subject, though? Possibly because of a three-day walking trip the 18-year-old Grainger took in West Argyllshire on a holiday from the rigours of Frankfurt’s Hoch Conservatorium (Grainger was a precociously brilliant pianist who went on to become one of the world’s best – his Melbourne recital two days before his 13th birthday funded the travel and the study). Certainly he described the discovery of Scottish landscape, people and bagpipes as the most important single experience of his life – though this may have been typical hyperbole – and raised his impressions to the highest form of musical art in his two Hill Songs (where he was careful to bring in the influence of Himalayan ‘hill-men’ too). The format of The Lads of Wamphray – March reflects the changing moods of the ballad and is typical for Grainger, a mix of rondo form with contrasting episodes and variations, ever more harmonically adventurous, on the main theme.
Ballade No 17 (after Machaut)
✒️1939 | ⏰2 minutes
Blithe Bells (after JS Bach)
✒️1930–31| ⏰4 minutes
The next two miniatures are among the treasury of what Grainger tended to call 'free rambles' on the inspirations of others. The eclectic choices included two piano fantasias (one on Richard Strauss’ opera Der Rosenkavalier, the other on Gershwin’s ‘The Man I Love’) and a very wide range in what he called Chosen Gems for Winds, from the anonymous ‘Angelus ad Virginem' to Liszt, Fauré and Eugene Goossens. The original Ballade No 1 by Guillaume de Machaut (ca 1300–77) has a quirkiness which must have been attractive to Grainger: each of the three voices has a different text to deliver – from the male perspective in voices one and three, from the female in voice two. So the full title is a long one, no doubt to Grainger’s taste: ‘Sans cuer m'en vois, dolens et esplourez / Amis, dolens, maz et desconfortez / Dame, par vous me sens reconfortez’. What’s left are the canonic and harmonic originality of the setting; there’s little ramble-interference here.
Likewise with Blithe Bells, despite the liberality indicated in its heading: ‘Free ramble on J S Bach’s aria ‘Sheep May Graze in Safety When a Goodly Shepherd Watches Over Them’ from the Secular Cantata ‘Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd’’ . The scoring, like that of so many of Grainger's works, is described as ‘elastic’, in that much of it is optional; but an immovable fixture is the pair of flutes at the beginning. It is not to be confused with Bell Piece, a much later, and exquisite, arrangement of Dowland’s ‘Now, O now I needs must part’.
The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart
✒️1918, completed 1943 | ⏰12 minutes
The Immovable Do
✒️1939 | ⏰5 minutes
At the core of the programme are two of Grainger’s most original works. The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart is his longest movement for wind and brass. Ideas for it took their first shape in 1918, at the end of World War One, during part of which, as John Bird puts it in his Grainger biography, ‘the world-famous piano virtuoso was … a Bandsman 2nd Class in the 15th Band, Coast Artillery Corps’ (a citizen of New York since 1915, he was discharged from the US army in 1919). The title ill expresses the motivation behind the piece, which Grainger explains better, if at length, in writing about it:
‘[In wartime,] men who hate killing each other are forced to become soldiers. And other men, though not unwilling to be soldiers, are horrified to find themselves called upon to fight in the ranks of their enemies. The sight of young recruits doing bayonet practice, in the First World War, gave the first impulse to this composition, which, however, is not in any sense programme music and does not not portray the drama of actual events. It is merely the unfolding of musical feelings that were started by thoughts of the eternal agony of the Individual Soul [originally the early Christian] in conflict with The-Powers-That-Be [originally Imperial Rome].’
Ambiguity drives the work’s unusual structure. It begins with weird, rootless chromatics from a ‘pipe or electric organ’; Grainger asks for a vibrato that should be ‘theatrical’ and ‘non-churchy’. Ensembles then lurch between the themes of ‘The Lonely Man’ and ‘The Power of Rome’, though the contrasts are not as extreme as the labels might suggest – the second theme is vintage Grainger, verging on the banal but too free and rhythmically varied to be so. Rhapsodic interchanges are accompanied by the typical English-language injunctions Grainger preferred (though not exclusively) to Italian musical terminology (‘slow off’ is a favourite substitute for ‘rallentando’). Later the music becomes almost Strauss-ian, ‘very feelingly’, before the organ returns to lead to an open ending. Grainger made the definitive version of the work in a commission from the League of Composers for composer and conductor Edwin Franko Goldman’s 70th birthday.
The Immovable Do, dedicated ‘to my merry wife Ella’, is much simpler and does what it says on the tin (taking ‘Do’ to be the tonic in the ‘Do-Re-Mi’ sequence). Sitting at his harmonium in 1933, Grainger found the mechanics of its high C broken, causing it to come through whatever he played (hence the alternative title, ‘The Ciphering C’). The rolling riffs around it, though, are more or less settled in the key of F; accents and dynamics must be carefully observed. The composer was typically ‘elastic’ in his thoughts about scoring – in his preface, he tells us:
‘I conceived the number for any or all of the following mediums, singly or combined: for organ (or reed organ), for mixed chorus, for wind band or wind groups, for full or small orchestra, for string orchestra or eight single strings. It seemed natural for me to plan it simultaneously for the different mediums, seeing that such music hinges upon intervallic appeal rather than upon effects of tone colour.’
It is the wind band version we hear in this concert.
✒️1918 | ⏰4 minutes
✒️1937 | ⏰16 minutes
Grainger’s original approach to folk music informs the next seven miniatures. Country Gardens has often been attributed to him, though its tune is one given to him by the pioneer of song-collecting Cecil Sharp, one of his Morris Dance Tunes – a Handkerchief Dance. The piano version came to plague Grainger, though the royalties can’t have been too annoying (Sharp had been offered half, and must have regretted turning Grainger down). He was clearly tickled by the challenge to make a new version of the piece by Leopold Stokowski (with whom as soloist he performed Grieg's Piano Concerto, among other works). Requesting the chance to record seven of Grainger’s most popular numbers in January 1947, Stokowski asked ‘would you be willing to orchestrate them yourself? … My thought was that each time a theme is repeated, fresh instruments would play’. This version of Country Gardens enters wryly mid-tune, as it were; Grainger included a discreet role for himself as pianist, and appears on the recordings, though he only got an orchestral fee.
Country gardens are evoked in the title of Grainger’s most original folksong collection, Lincolnshire Posy; he was perhaps recalling the garden he cultivated of weeds as a youth in Melbourne. He dedicated this ‘bunch of wildflowers’ to ‘the singers who sang so sweetly to me’ around Lincolnshire in 1905 to 1906, and in a long introductory note to the score which amounts to an essay, he lavished attention on the ‘acquaintances pictured within’ (for each number, he wrote, is a kind of portrait). As character studies or simple folksong variations, these are surprisingly complex pieces, several of them beyond the abilities of the players at that same 1937 American Band Convention for which he tailored The Lads of Wamphray; they were, Grainger wryly noted, ‘keener on their beer than on their music’.
There are six movements to Lincolnshire Posy. ‘Lisbon’ (originally ‘Dublin Bay’) was sung for him by Mr Deane of the workhouse in Brigg, who broke down at first but was encouraged to continue when Grainger returned with recordings of other versions. Starting brightly in triads, it neatly counterpoints in one of the variations another Grainger work, The Duke of Marlborough’s Fanfare. ‘Horkstow Grange’, originally delivered by Mr George Gouldsthorpe of Goxhill, starts nobly with horn tones but becomes increasingly more dissonant and elegiac, reflecting the ballad which was originally subtitled ‘The Miser and his Man – a local Tragedy’. Most original in terms of sonorities is ‘Rufford Park Poachers’, perhaps to reflect the singular character of Joseph Taylor, who was celebrated for the rendition of another Grainger work, Brigg Fair, which inspired not only Grainger but also composers George Butterworth and Frederick Delius. ‘The Brisk Young Sailor’ is more straightforward until its surprise conclusion; one Mrs Thompson originally sang to Grainger in Barrow-on-Humber.
Rhythmically the most complex, harking back to the constant metre-changes of the Hill Songs – composed some years before Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, which Grainger claimed not to have heard live until a Bernstein concert in 1958 – is ‘Lord Melbourne’; it starts in free time (ie no bar lines) and then reverts to changing bar-signatures. Grainger was grateful for venturing into a Brigg pub, ‘a smelly, evil place’ to hear Mr George Wray sing it on 28 July 1906. A regular lilting waltz for buoyant conclusion is ‘The Lost Lady Found’. Though he recorded Mr Fred Atkinson of Redbourne singing it in 1905. Grainger preferred to dedicate it to Lucy E Broadwood. The editor at one point of the Folk Song Society Journal, which published a selection of Grainger’s 77-strong folksong collection, Ms Broadwood remembered her Lincolnshire nurse singing it to her.
'The Gum-Suckers' March
✒️1914 | ⏰4 minutes
The last tune of the concert, ‘The Gum-Suckers’ March is all Grainger’s own invention. He made an elaborate arrangement of it for his Suite In a Nutshell, the orchestral equal of Lincolnshire Posy, before making it the only candidate from the Suite for wind band arrangement in 1942. Again Grainger gives the best explanation:
‘Gum-sucker’ is an Australian nickname for Australians born in Victoria (the home state of the composer). The eucalyptus trees that about in Victoria are called ‘gums’, and the young shoots at the bottom of the trunk are called ‘suckers’, so ‘gum-sucker’ came to mean a young native son of Victoria. In my march I have made use of my Australian Up-Country Song melody, written to typify Australia.'
Most tender in its piano-miniature version, the anthemic melody was sung at the ceremony for Grainger’s wedding to Ella on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl. No doubt about it, though, the main, typically syncopated march melody is the one that should earworm you after the concert is over.
Notes by David Nice
Lee Reynolds is a British-born conductor with a reputation for bringing intensity and exceptional detail to his performances. He is the Associate Conductor of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.
Current and recent highlights include his house debut conducting Kurt Weill Street Scene at the Opéra de Monte Carlo, broadcast concerts and recordings with the London Symphony Orchestra, Ravel L'enfant et les sortilèges with VOPERA and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, performances with the NYO, and a recording of British Horn Concertos with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Ben Goldscheider. Other highlights include a recording with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; a world premiere at Glyndebourne, performances with the Southbank Sinfonia, the Dublin Concert Orchestra, the Opera North Academy, the Beethoven Academy Orchestra in Kraków, the London Concert Orchestra, and conducting a new production of Eugene Onegin with Nederlandse Reisopera.
Previous engagements include Britten and Wagner in the new Linbury Theatre at the Royal Opera House, Saint-Saëns with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Verdi Requiem at the Dartington International Festival, Stravinsky and Britten with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, and conducting the soundtracks for film and video game releases.
At Glyndebourne, Lee has conducted four world premieres in studio productions, on the mainstage and on the Glyndebourne Tour. With the LSO, Lee has conducted performances at the Barbican, the Berlin Philharmonie and LSO St Luke’s, and his 2015 recording of Chopin Piano Concerto No 2 with Adolfo Barabino has been lauded in the international press. His recording with Joshua Bell of Theodora, a new work by American composer Joshua Ralph, has recently been released.
Roger Allam is a three time Olivier award winner and well known as Fred Thursday in the ITV series Endeavour. He has a wide and extensive range of work in film, TV, theatre and radio. He has appeared in such films as The Queen, Tamara Drewe, The Lady In The Van, V for Vendetta, Speed Racer and The Hippopotamus.
On stage he has played Macbeth and Javert in Les Miserables for the RSC. He played Prospero and Falstaff for Shakespeare's Globe, and was in many productions for the National Theatre including Democracy and most recently Rutherford and Son. He starred in Aladdin at the Old Vic, the musicals City of Angels and La Cages Aux Folles, as well as Art, Boeing Boeing, Privates on Parade, and The Moderate Soprano in the West End.
His television credits include Parades End, The Missing and The Thick Of It for the BBC and many roles for radio including Cabin Pressure, The Government Inspector, How Does That Make You Feel? and Conversations From a Long Marriage.
Amelia Kosminsky is a visual artist focusing in video design, light sculpture and photography. She studied photography at London College of Communications and Video Design for Live Performance at Guildhall School.
Prior to Guildhall, Amelia worked on Lumiere Durham, Lumiere London and One & Other for Anthony Gormley. Whilst at Guildhall, she worked on Waddesdon Imaginarium as the assistant designer, collaboratively on Light Odyssey for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra for Lightpool and as a solo designer on Hungariana for Gerard McBurney and the Barbican. Subsequently, Amelia has been the video designer for a concert for Esa-Pekka Salonen, Gerard McBurney and the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in September 2019 and has a light sculpture that premiered at Lumiere Durham 2019. This piece ‘Celestial Brainstorm’ was shortlisted for the Unlimited Commission for the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate in 2018.
Since then, Amelia has worked for Bloomsbury Festival for their Creative Development lab and with Duncan McClean for Jamie Lloyd. She has also taught at both Guildhall School and Italia Conti. She was featured in Mainspring Arts’s Two Metres ApART digital museum showcasing amazing work by neurodivergent artists.
In 2021 Amelia was awarded an Arts Council ‘Develop Your Creative Practice’ Grant. She was also long listed for the Aesthetica Art Prize 2021 with her work for Hungariana. The pieces will be published in Aesthetica Art Prize Anthology: Future Now with the book described as showcasing ‘the work of 125 of the most exciting artists from around the world and is a dynamic guide to international contemporary art’.
Gerard McBurney is a British composer, writer and deviser, working in theatre, radio, television and concert hall. Upcoming work includes new projects with the Aix Festival, the Beethoven Orchestra in Bonn, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Bremen, and continuing work with the San Diego Symphony.
Past projects have included a previous collaboration with Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, with Esa-Pekka Salonen for both the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and, for Kirill Karabits and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, the premiere of a previously lost melodrama by Liszt.
Gerard has also worked regularly with Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé, the Southbank and Barbican Centres, Lincoln Center, the festivals in Lucerne and Aix-en-Provence, and with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra. In May 2017 he was Creative Partner for the Cincinnati May Festival, directing productions of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius. In January 2018, with his regular collaborator Mike Tutaj he made a staging of The Genesis Suite for the Barbican Centre, Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO, and in August 2018 for the BBC Proms a tribute to Leonard Bernstein, The Sound of an Orchestra, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Joshua Weilerstein
Between 2006 and 2016 he was Artistic Programming Advisor at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Creative Director of Beyond the Score®. More recently he joined the San Diego Symphony as Artistic Consultant.
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© Mark Allen
© Mark Allen