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'A CELEBRATION OF HOWARD BLAKE' BY THE ROYAL PHILHARMONIC, Howard Blake, composer/pianist/conductor with Benedict Kloeckner (cello), Nicolas D'Autricourt (violin) and Sophie Witte (soprano), The Cadogan Hall,Chelsea,London, September 7th. 2017, 7.30pm

7th September 2017

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Bold romanticism: Howard Blake's Piano Concerto and Diversions

Howard Blake and Benedict Kloeckner performing together in 2012
Howard Blake and Benedict Kloeckner performing together in 2012
Howard Blake Sleewalking, Piano Concerto, Diversions, Elegia Stravagante; Sophie Witte, Sasha Grynuk, Benedict Kloeckner, Nicolas Dautricourt, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Howard Blake; Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 7 2017 Star rating: 4.0
Howard Blake's piano concerto at the centre of an evening of his complex, and dramatic concertante works

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra opened its 2017/18 season with a programme of music by Howard Blake, conducted by the composer. The centrepiece of the programme was Blake's Piano Concerto, originally commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra to celebrate the 30th birthday of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1991. Blake himself performed the taxing piano part at the premiere, this time he conducted with Sasha Grynyuk at the piano. Cellist Benedict Kloeckner was the soloist in Blake's Diversions for cello and orchestra (a work originally written for Maurice Gendron), and Kloeckner was joined by violinist Nicolas Dautricourt to give the premiere of Blake's Elegia Stravagante (Duo Concertante) for violin, cello and orchestra. The evening opened with a new version of Blake's Sleepwalking for soprano and string orchestra, with soprano Sophie Witte.

Sasha Grynyuk
Sasha Grynyuk
Howard Blake remains best known for his music for the animated film The Snowman, with the song Walking in the air remaining inextricably linked with the composer's name. But his career has been far wider and varied than this, encompassing film music including Ridley Scott's The Duellists as well as a substantial body of concert music. But if you only know Blake from The Snowman and the film music, his concert music can be something of a surprise. Tonal and approachable in a tradition that links Blake to his original composition teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, Howard Ferguson, Blake writes large scale pieces of great depth and complexity. (Read my interview with Howard Blake). 

Sleepwalking was originally written as a companion piece to Villa Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, for the same forces soprano and eight cellos. In his programme note Blake talked about finding the idea of eight cellos conjuring up the world of dreams, and his piece posits a scenario of a young woman asleep who then goes sleepwalking through various traumas before returning to sleep. Starting from atmospheric high sustained strings with the soprano vocalise over the top (the whole piece is wordless) the piece moved through seven highly contrasting movements, finally returning to the tranquillo of the opening. We had a series of highly varied moods evoked by instrumental writing very much in the English tradition of string music, from lyrical through to darker dramatic episodes. Witte sang with a lovely even tone, and a beautiful freedom at the top. A well put-together piece which did not quite take me on the journey the composer intended, and I would be interested to hear the original version.

Howard Blake's Piano Concerto is a large-scale dramatic work. It was in some ways the most conventional work in the programme, in three movements (the others were in seven or eight) and the only one to use classical sonata form. Christopher Palmer's 1991 programme note used the term Mozartian, but the composers who came to mind were Rachmaninov and Tippett; Rachmaninov for the big boned romanticism piece, particularly the piano writing, whilst Tippett for the way the piano texture sometimes eschewed showy bravura (but not complexity) and created a continuous texture which flowed over the orchestra..
The first movement started with an understated ear-worm on the piano alone, which Blake then developed into something more dramatic with tutti. Sasha Grynyuk was tireless, and indeed the piano solo got little rest in this movement. Even the cadenza eschewed virtuosity and was rather thoughtful and, unusually, ended the movement. The second movement started with solo piano chords accompanying solo violins and viola, until the tables were turned. The melodic piano line wandered expressively, but always with an elegant simplicity, and finally the whole ensemble moved the temperature up a notch and we got something richly romantic. The final movement started with a perky piano toccata, and developed into a series of variations with hints of jazz/blues. Often highly vigorous, the jaunty melody passed round the orchestra, but always with the piano to the fore over the top. Towards the end we had a simple return to the main theme in the piano before the big finish.

Blake's Piano Concerto is a terrific work, I enjoyed his recording of it (see my review) and I enjoyed this performance immensely. Sasha Grynyuk brought out the poetry in Blake's writing, and played the part with great flair. With longer rehearsal time, there would have been chance to iron out some of the issues of balance, Grynyuk's approach concentrated on poetry and nuance rather than sheer power, but overall he and the orchestra brought it off brilliantly and I hope it makes other orchestras interested.

After the interval the German cellist Benedict Kloeckner played Blake's Diversions. Originally written for Maurice Gendron (who encouraged Blake to add a cadenza and generally make the piece more virtuosic), the premiere was given by Steven Isserlis in 1989. But then it slept somewhat until Kloeckner played the version for cello and piano in the semi-finals of the European Broadcasting Union Awards in Bratislava (and went on to win the competition). Subsequently Kloeckner had played the work a number of times with Blake accompanying on the piano. But for this concert we heard the original orchestral version. It is based on an instrumental dance suite, with eight movements encompassing scherzo, march, waltz, aria serenade and sarabande, though in each Blake develops things in interesting ways. We started with Kloeckner's cello singing over an intense rather dark orchestral accompaniment. The scherzo was full of character, and toccata-lie, whilst the march developed into a really big romantic solo for the cello (and Kloeckner really made the piece sing here). The waltz was wistful and rather sly, with the cello line weaving in and out of the orchestra, and the serenade had the solo duetting with the oboe before moving into the perky sarabande which developed into a cadenza which had orchestral comments (including not quite raspberries from the bassoons). The finale was fast and furious, and completely joyous. Kloeckner clearly loves this work, and the virtuosity of the piece seems to suit him, he made everything magically engaging.

The final work in the programme was a new piece, Elegia Stravagante (Duo Concertante) for violin (Nicolas Dautricourt) and cello (Benedict Kloeckner). In seven movements, it started with violin and cello alone playing a melodic motif that sounded suspiciously like noodling, but in fact proved a fertile source for the musical inspiration of the piece. For much of the piece, the two soloists play together (in unison in some movements), and the effect was more like the structure of a baroque concerto rather than the large-scale battle of a full blown Romantic concerto.

During the work's seven movements, Blake brings back the original motif repeated in vastly different guises, creating some intense and full blown romantic moments, interspersed with episodes using different material such as a 'jazz fugue'. The two soloists often soared in unison (at one point at a 16th) over the orchestra, and the was a notably intense solo moment for Benedict Kloeckner, whilst a rather threatening orchestral passage rather evoked Walton. For the ending, there was a sense of the piece gradually unwinding, a moment for violin solo turned into a duet with the cello and the piece ended with just the two of them returning to the original motif.

This was a long and substantial concert, full of dramatic and complex music. It was a great pleasure to finally hear Blake's Piano Concerto live, as well as to experience the full orchestral colours in Diversions. Throughout Blake was supported by the sterling players of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, playing nearly two hours of complex and unfamiliar music, whilst the soloists encompassed the taxing demands of the solo parts in brilliant fashion.

Of course, no  Howard Blake concert would be complete without The Snowman and as an encore Dautricourt and Kloeckner joined Blake and the orchestra for a version of Walking in the Air specially created for the occasion

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HOWARD BLAKE CONDUCTS AN EVENING OF HIS MUSIC

with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and soloists

at The Cadogan Hall

September 7th 2017 at 7.30pm

 

SLEEPWALKING  opus 505  for soprano vocalise and full string orchestra

Solo soprano: Sophie Witte. 

Tranquillo - Allegretto - Maestoso- Vivace – Adagio – Allegro  Furioso – Tranquillo

 

CONCERTO  FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA opus 412

Solo piano: Sasha Grynyuk

Tranquillo, Allegro con brio - Andante espressivo - Vivace

 

INTERVAL

 

DIVERSIONS  FOR  CELLO AND ORCHESTRA,  opus 337

Solo cello; Benedict Kloeckner    23 minutes

Prelude;  Scherzo;  March;  Waltz;  Aria;  Serenade;  Sarabande & Cadenza;  Finale  

 

ELEGIA STRAVAGANTE (DUO CONCERTANTE), for violin, cello and orchestra premiere performance  16 minutes

Solo Violin: Nicolas Dautricourt ,  Solo Cello: Benedict  Kloeckner

Orchestration: 1 Flute, 1 Oboe, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 1 percussion (cymbals and tam-tam) and strings

Andante (rapsodico) - Scherzo malizioso - Tragico  - Grave, molto espressivo –Allegro furioso -  Giojoso, estatico - Andante, come prima

-------------------------------------------

encore:  'WALKING IN THE AIR'

in a new arrangement  for violin, cello and string orchestra

-------------------------------------------------------------

 


A Conversation with Howard Blake

News Wednesday 2 August 2017

Hannah Nepil talks to Snowman composer Howard Blake

Let’s get one thing clear. Howard Blake has written plenty besides the music to the The Snowman. The septuagenarian British composer reminds me of this himself in no uncertain terms when we speak; not that I need it: the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is doing a good job of that already, having scheduled a concert this September devoted to Blake’s orchestral output.

Still, it is undoubtedly The Snowman for which Blake is best known. So I’m relieved when, after much stalling, and protestations of ‘I don’t want to do this over the phone’, Blake finally agrees to talk about the inspiration behind the 1982 Christmas TV classic. ‘I’d had this theory back when I was a student that you could write a film with music and without any words, and sustain the story that way,’ he explains. It was several years later though - in the early 1970s - that Blake dreamt up the tune for Walking in the Air, while living in a beach hut in Cornwall for two months to get away from it all. ‘I was walking along a long beach when this tune came into my head. So I wrote it down thinking it would be the start of a symphony,’ Instead the tune sat around for eleven years, until, by coincidence, Blake was shown a demo tape for a children’s film called The Snowman. ‘I looked at it and realised that my song would fit fantastically with this visual. That sparked the whole thing off... But I said I would only compose the music on condition that there was no dialogue.’

Contrary to what many might think, Blake wrote the whole score without once meeting Raymond Briggs, the creator of the original children’s picture book on which the film is based. And the two continue to hold different attitudes to the Snowman phenomenon. Briggs, who hates Christmas, allegedly refers to it as ‘the ’S’ word’, and wants little to do with it. Blake, meanwhile, is obviously proud of it. He seems disappointed at not being asked to write the music to the sequel The Snowman and Snowdog, of which he is no fan (‘I think ‘Dog’ is the operative word. It’s a terrible film’ he chortles) and emphasises that The Snowman is something of a ‘household work.’ Still, he says, ‘whenever I’m introduced anywhere, people say: ‘This is Howard Blake, who wrote The Snowman, as though that’s the only thing I’ve ever written.’

He compares this predicament to that of Beethoven, who, in his lifetime ‘was known for a long time for having written Für Elise,’ and Rachmaninov, ‘who was celebrated for his C Sharp Minor Prelude.’ Admittedly, Blake’s career path was not as clear-cut as theirs: he spent a while working as a film projectionist at the National Film Theatre. But his musical credentials are unassailable: he played the piano and sang from childhood, then, at the age of 18, won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music.

And, with an output of more than 650 works, he is nothing if not prolific. ‘Everything I write is melodic; i believe that the essential ingredient of all great music is melody.’Not a fan of Boulez then? ‘I’m an extreme enemy of Boulez,’ says Blake, ‘I’ve never met anyone in my life who actually listens to his music but I have read incessant articles about him being the world’s greatest composer. I’d like to say ‘prove it.’ He continues, ‘But the last laugh is with me at the moment. There are far more people who know Walking in the Air, than know a piece by Boulez.’

This helps to explain why, in 1994, Blake received an OBE for his services to music. And why he was commissioned to write a Piano Concerto celebrating Princess Diana’s 30th birthday in 1991. ‘It was a great honour for me. I set about writing a tune which summed up Princess Diana, that was cheerful and innocent like she was.’ Evidently the results went down well: after the performance, Blake was invited up to the royal box to drink champagne with the princess. ‘She said she loved it. And actually, it was never known that her grandmother was a concert pianist, and Diana herself was quite a good pianist; in fact she could play a chunk of Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto.’ He continues, ‘so when she said she enjoyed my Piano Concerto, that wasn’t some bimbo who went to discos. That was someone who played Rachmaninov.’

The Piano Concerto is one of the works that will feature in the RPO’s concert this September, marking 20 years since Diana’s death. There is one work, however, that Blake is itching to have performed in the UK: namely The Station, his 1991 chamber opera for five singers and two tea ladies. ‘It’s about waiting for trains that never come in, and it’s a super, very funny little opera. But I’ve never managed to get to know anybody in the opera world ever, so it’s rarely performed.’ Let’s hope that this upcoming RPO concert will convince music lovers that, when it comes to Blake’s compositions, a revival of interest is overdue.

Written by Hannah Nepil

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 'TIME OUT' STOP-PRESS SEPTEMBER 7TH 2017

Just missed it!
Don’t miss out on half-price tickets to this musical celebration of the life of Princess Diana



    • You might not know Howard Blake by name, but you’ll know his music. Blake is best known for his soundtrack to the classic kids’ film ‘The Snowman’ – music that has sent shivers downs the spines of millions. At this concert, the 78-year-old composer will be conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a series of music he wrote around the life and death of Princess Diana. Collectively, it’s a bittersweet body of work: ‘Piano Concerto’ was written to celebrate the princess’s thirtieth birthday, while ‘Sleepwalking’ was a response to her tragic death in 1997 and a brand-new piece, ‘Elegia Stravagante’, commemorates its twentieth anniversary. Our offer brings ticket prices down from £40 to £20. Don’t miss the chance to witness an immensely talented musician conduct his own material.

     

     


    Benedict Kloeckner Performs with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for the Howard Blake Concert in Cadogan Hall on Thursday 7th September

    Sep 06, 2017

     

     

    'SONGS OF TRUTH & GLORY' AT KING'S COLLEGE, LONDON, Dr.Joseph Fort conducts the King's College Choir at the 5.30pm Evensong in the chapel

    27th February 2018

    'THE LAND OF COUNTERPANE' AT WINDSOR CASTLE, Orpheus Sinfonia and massed youth choirs of Taplow Choirs led by Gillian Dibden as part of the Windsor Spring Festival, St, George's Chapel, Windsor Castle 7.30pm

    17th March 2018

    'THE BEAR' IN CHINA FOR CHILDREN'S DAY, Orchestra: Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra 7.30pm, Shenzhen Concert Hall (Address: 2016 Fuzhong 1st Rd, FuTian CBD, Futian Qu, Shenzhen Shi, Guangdong Sheng, China, 518000) Shenzhen Concert Hall (Address: 2016 Fuzhong 1st Rd, FuTian CBD, Futian Qu, Shenzhen Shi, Guangdong Sheng, China, 518000) (manager: Song Ching Ling)

    2nd June 2018




    JULIAN TREVELYAN PERFORMS 'SNOWMAN RHAPSODY' IN MUNICH, Gasteig Munich 8.00 pm

    7th July 2018
    Beethoven sonata op.27 no. 1   (15 mins)
    Beethoven sonata op.27 no. 2 Moonlight   (15 mins)
    Chopin - Etudes op.25 nos. 1, 2 and 3   (6 mins)
    Blake  Prelude for Vova  (3 mins)

    - interval -

    Schubert Adagio in E major D612    (5 mins)
    Blake Snowman Rhapsody    (43 mins)

     

    THE SNOWMAN RHAPSODY FOR SOLO PIANO op.663 (August 2014)

    A concert arrangement of material from the animated film and the stage show
    Published by: Chester Music/Highbridge Music - to rent or buy music contact Chester Music or anna@annamenzies.com
    Instrumentation: Solo piano

    [Key to Abbreviations]
    Duration: 43 mins
    First Performance: St James's Piccadilly, Talent Unlimited, Julian Trevelyan, November 17th 2016

    Sheet Music Available
    Instrumental / piano score for sale
    Instrumental / piano score for hire

    All sheet music for "The Snowman" and "Walking In The Air" since 2010 is published and available from Chester Music Ltd, part of The Music Sales Group, www.chesternovello.com It can be purchased online from MusicRoom.com, or from music retailers.

    "Walking In The Air" is also available in a concert piano-only version arranged by the composer direct from Highbridge Music as part of the collection of piano pieces called "Lifecycle", available form Amazon or from Highbridge Music; enquiries to anna@annamenzies.com

    Howard Blake describes 25 years of The Snowman animated film and 10 years of The Snowman Stage Show at Sadler's Wells Peacock Theatre in London's West End and plays "Walking in the Air". View the recording here.

    The classic original Columbia album conducted by Howard Blake with treble soloist Peter Auty and narration by Bernard Cribbins is available from Sony Music Entertainment CDX71116CD, Amazon and retailers.

    The 2010 DVD film of The Snowman Live Stage Show narrated by Joanna Lumley is available from Sony Music Entertainment, CDR 81267; also from Amazon and retailers.

    Movements

    • 1: WAKING TO A WORLD OF SNOW
    • 2: FOOTPRINTS IN THE SNOW
    • 3: BUILDING THE SNOWMAN
    • 4: BEDTIME FROLICS
    • 5: THE SNOWMAN COMES TO LIFE
    • 6: THE CAT
    • 7: THE CHRISTMAS TREE
    • 8: THE KITCHEN
    • 9: THE LIGHTSWITCH
    • 10: TROPICAL FRUIT CAYPSO
    • 11: THE MUSIC BOX
    • 12: THE MOTOR BIKE
    • 13: THE RABBIT AND THE FOX
    • 14: THE BADGER
    • 15: THE SQUIRREL
    • 16: THE SNOWMAN IS DRIPPING
    • 17: THE SNOWMAN RECOVERS
    • 18: DREAMS OF FLYING
    • 19: WALKING IN THE AIR
    • 20: THE FROZEN NORTH
    • 21: FATHER CHRISTMAS
    • 22: THE DANCE OF THE SNOWMEN
    • 23: THE ICE-PRINCESS AND THE SNOWMAN (PAS DE DEUX)
    • 24: JACK FROST'S STORM DANCE
    • 25: FAREWELLS
    • 26: FLYING HOME
    • 27: BOY SLEEPING
    • 28: NEXT MORNING
    • 29: THE SNOWMAN IS NOWHERE TO BE SEEN

    Notes

    Programme-note for 'Snowman Rhapsody'

    In 2006 Robert Matthew Walker, music critic and editor of Musical Opinion attended a performance of the 2-act stage show 'The Snowman' at The Peacock Theatre and wrote: 'Howard Blake's ballet "The Snowman" is now such a part of the Christmas Season in London that it deserves to be produced again and again well into the 22nd century. It is one of those rare theatrical pieces that appeals and impresses theatregoers of all ages. Musically, the score is a masterpiece. I do not use the word lightly. Howard Blake's world famous song 'Walking in the Air', with which Aled Jones had such a success, is used as a basis for a virtually continuous set of symphonic variations; a subtle and fully-wrought score which entrances the ears of all who are brought into the magical world it conjures up'. Both the original animated film and the later-created ballet were of course originally scored for orchestra, but the composer is also a pianist and over the years has often played excerpts on piano, the most notable being that of the song 'Walking in the Air' which in 2013 was recorded by no less a colleague than Vladimir Ashkenazy. The success of this prompted Blake to pursue the concept further, assembling all those sections of the Snowman music which he felt might lend themselves to piano transcription and gradually creating an immense concert work for solo piano lasting about 43 minutes. Although continuous the work contains many different sections the names of which are printed in the programme. It is thought that perhaps an addition to the work's entertainment may well be derived from the guesswork of trying to identify the sections by the different styles and emotions conveyed by their music.

    [Howard Blake)

     

    'THE CHAMBER MUSIC OF HOWARD BLAKE' AT COBLENZ INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL, Solo pianist for performance of 'Speech after long silence' Florian Koltun ; Players for duo , piano trio and piano quartet - Wolfgang Schroeder (violin), Karolina Herrera(viola), Benedict Kloeckner (cello), Xin Wang(piano), Der Alten Kirche, Spay (nr. Coblenz) 17.00 pm 5th International Music Festival, Coblenz, September 9th 2018

    9th September 2018

    COBLENZ INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL PRESENT A PROGRAMME OF MUSIC BY HOWARD BLAKE TO CELEBRATE HIS 80th YEAR. Der Alten Kirche, Spay, Coblenz, September 9th., 2018 at 17.00 pm

    1. SPEECH AFTER LONG SILENCE for solo piano, a piece commissioned by Vladimir Ashkenazy for the Hong Kong International Piano Competition 2011 (Opus 610) solo piano: Florian Koltun

    'Unlike most new works, whose fate is to be played on multiple occasions ad nauseam at a competition and then shelved for eternity thereafter, this one promises to be heard rather often. Blake’s partiality for tonality and emotional connection (unsurprising for the composer of the children’s favourite The Snowman) makes this a most accessible work. At about 8 minutes, its Romantic gestures replete with lush harmonies and crashing chords resemble an updated and extended version of one of Rachmaninov’s Etudes-tableaux'  Chang Tou Lang,     

    2. ‘DIVERSIONS FOR CELLO AND PIANO’, the work that in 2010 won Benedict Kloeckner the European Broadcasting Union first prize (Opus 337A) Piano Howard Blake, Cello Benedict Kloeckner

    1: Prelude (moderato)  2: Scherzo (vivace)  3: March (tempo di marcia) 4: Waltz (vivo)  5: Aria (andante espressivo)  6: Serenade (allegretto)  7: Sarabande (lento non troppo) 8: Finale (vivo)  minutes 27 seconds

    ‘Diversions’ was originally conceived as a suite for cello and piano as far back as 1973. In 1984 the great French cellist Maurice Gendron encouraged the composer to rework the piece for cello and orchestra, and he himself edited the cello part. The first performance of the work in this orchestral form was given by Steven Isserlis and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Charles Groves at The Fairfield Halls Croydon on 29th March 1989. This transcription for cello and piano was made by the composer at about the same time

     The work pays mischievous homage to instrumental suites of the past. The Scherzo is not quite a scherzo, the March more than a march. The Waltz has a wrong-stepping jazz tinge to it, the Aria a sudden profundity. The Serenade bursts into arrogant display, the guitar-like Sarabande becomes an eloquent cadenza. We are led back to the theme of the Prelude via a Finale of such bristling virtuosic energy that its simple melodic line assumes a far more complex character – having been well and truly ‘diverted’.Diversions' is also the name of an album of music by Howard Blake for cello and piano played by Benedict Kloeckner and the composer, released in 2015 by the Leipzig label Genuin. ’Benedict Kloeckner plays the cello music of Howard Blake, with the composer himself accompanying - unfailingly attractive and often tremendous fun for both performers and lsiteners., THE STRAD, 2/2018


    3. PIANO TRIO NO. 3 ‘ELEGIA STRAVAGANTE’ (Opus 654) a trio in 7 linked movements, first performed at the Coblenz International Music Festival 2013 Violin Wolfgang Schroeder, Cello Benedict Kloeckner, Piano Howard Blake


    Movements

    • 1: Andante (rapsodico) (October 2013)

    Composer's notes: On the afternoon of my birthday I went to sleep for a short while and dreamed up a septuplet 'trill-flourish' motif in C major and an ensuing 'upward-sweeping' melodic fragment of a minor 2nd and major 7th, both of which I immediately wrote down. This was to be the material on which the trio was based.

    • 2: Scherzo malizioso

    I was searching for a 6/8 allegro idea and worked at several until I suddenly remembered the 'jazz fugue' from 'Movement for orchestra' which I'd written way back in about 1963. It seemed to fit perfectly and work most effectively for piano trio, forming a perfect link between the Andante (rapsodico) and the next section Tragico.

    • 3: Tragico

    Tragico begins with the upward-sweeping motif, but now very slow and sad. This forms a bridge and modulation to E-minor where the cello enunciates the theme 'Parting', a fragment I had dreamt up whilst preparing the repertoire for Vladimir Ashkenazy's album of my piano works in June 2013. Here the 'Parting' theme develops greatly, leading quite rapidly and unexpectedly to a colossal climax, then falling down to a paused low chord of C major which begins section 4.

    • 4: Grave, molto espressivo

    Grave molto espressivo is a deeply-felt cadenza for violin and cello which then starts to accelerate (piu mosso) towards section 5

    • 5: Allegro furioso

    Cello and violin play in unison at the 16th against a constantly turning piano phrase using the ever-present 'trill-flourish' motif. Martial and tragic hints and twists are now overcome by massive upward scalic movements seeking a major key and suddenly triumphantly asserting that of E major.

    • 6: Giojoso, estatico

    Giojoso, ecstatico transforms and inverts the minor 'upward-sweeping' theme into a major 'hymn of triumph' punctuated with huge piano chords. The energy of this is so great however that it must inevitably sink down to regain stability and a hardly-moving harmonic 'thirds duplet' grows gradually quieter and slower until it sinks away to nothing without resolution.

    • 7: Andante, come prima (January 2014)

    The music of the opening returns but this time in the key to which the piece has ascended - E major, the final bar picking up the 'trill-flourish' motif and giving the whole work a resolution with a very short coda on violin and cello sounding alone - yet perhaps finally together. The piano is wise enough not to interfere

     

    4. PIANO QUARTET (Opus 179) Xin Wang (piano), Wolfgang Schroeder (violin), Karolina Herrera (viola), Benedict Kloeckner (cello)

    • 1: Allegro con anima 7 minutes 15 seconds

    A dramatic theme A (and in A minor) is presented by unison violin and viola over a pounding rhythm that would be equally at home in rock. A second theme B is equally rhythmic on contrapuntal strings over hammering piano semiquavers but subsides into a lyrical C minor piano version of A against legato strings. This subsides further again into a Theme C (and in C major) announced by the cello. It is spread across the three strings against piano chords gradually dying down to a held F sharp unison. This kicks off the development by taking us back to the first tempo but this time featuring theme B with running semiquavers which build and build until a pedal pulls us back into a full-bodied return of our home theme A on full strings and rocking piano chords.

    • 2: Presto 5 minutes 23 seconds
      Scherzo

    A very fast tempo allows all instruments to fly through a Scherzo of heavily-syncopated rhythms and riotous escapades. It follows the scherzo form with a trio featuring predominantly piano against pizzicato cello, but they yield to questioning phrases on violin and viola before recapping to the scherzo and a noisy coda.

    • 3: Lento espressivo 7 minutes 39 seconds

    3. Lento espressivo
    The deeply reflective E major slow movement of the Piano Quartet has always been particularly dear to me. I wrote it one beautiful Spring afternoon in 1974 at Highbridge Mill, with sun streaming through the window and total silence. It begins with a major third repeated on the piano acting as a bell-like accompaniment to three statements of a four-note rising phrase, firstly started by violin, secondly by viola and thirdly by cello. The piano weaves intricate patterns around them until the four notes echo again in a diminuendo of violin, viola and cello to a close.

    • 4: Allegro robusto 6 minutes 50 seconds

    4.Allegro robusto

    The fourth movement is pure sixties. A jig-like rhythmic theme A is presented in 3-part string canon in several transpositions against vibrant 'rock 'n roll' chording. A second theme B on the dominant is presented on the viola against rising minims. Theme A returns in a piano solo doubling at the 16th but stops abruptly to reveal very quiet slow piano chords. Against them is placed a mysterious theme C which builds to a surprisingly large climax. It does this again in a different key but at the height of the climax this time hurls us back into theme B. Cello begins a strict fugue which is joined by viola, violin and piano building into a powerful stretto which bursts straight back into the 3-part contrapuntal jig of the beginning and a unison accelerando coda.

    Notes

    The opening of the first movement is used as a signature theme by KUSC, the audience-supported classical music radio station of the University of Southern California. Its composer is delighted and honoured by this

     

    RIDLEY SCOTT'S 'THE DUELLISTS' ON SKY GREATS, Film directed by Sir Ridley Scott, produced by Lord David Puttnam, music composed and conducted by Howard Blake OBE, Showings on Sky Television

    27th September 2018
    - 1st October 2018

    A brilliant film thought by many to be Ridley Scott's masterpiece. In early 1977 I got a call from him saying: 'I've made a feature film with David Puttnam and we'd like you to do the score.' I saw the opening scenes of the film and thought it was the most beautiful film I'd ever seen. David said: 'We want to give you a virtually free hand to write a great classical score. We want the end credits to be magnificent, something like a new 'Liebestod'. No composer on earth could have resisted such an offer!

    'The Duellists' starred Harvey Keitel as Ferraud and Keith Carradine as D'Hubert with cameo parts by Albert Finney, Edward Fox, Tom Conti, Robert Stephens, John McEnery and many others. It was a great success at the Cannes Festival and won the Special Jury Prize. I scored it for single woodwind, horns , piano, harp, percussion and the marvellous string section of The National Philharmonic Orchestra which I conducted, I also improvised one or two piano solos  An A-minor theme runs though the film and appears in many guises, the duels moving it into extreme dissonance, but moving away from dissonance with the gradual return from Napoleoic mayhem, back towards gentility.

    Further info:  howardblake.com/biography/autobiography/1977 

    'LE JAZZ HOT' AT THE LONDON PALLADIUM, Bonnie Langford (voc.), Ian Townsend (cond.), 'Future Dreams' at The London Palladium

    30th September 2018
    A charity concert. gala performance at the London Palladium in aid of the breast cancer charity Future Dreams (www.futuredreams.org), the gala is to mark its 10th anniversary with a live onstage band and line-up of performers including Paloma Faith, Chicago the Musical, Melanie C, Paul Zerdin, La Voix, Helen George, La Voix, and Bonnie Langford. 
     
    Bonnie Langford is to perform 'Le Jazz Hot' from the film 'Victor/Victoria' (1981). The song was composed by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse sung by Julie Andrews. Composer Howard Blake was asked by Henry Mancini to take over in his absence as orchestrator at that time. In May 2018 at the request of musical director Ian Townsend, Howard kindly agreed to return to it and restore his original score for this special occasion.

    'A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY' ON LONDON LIVE, Kenneth Branagh and Colin Firth. Euston Films, director Pat O'Connor, London Live TV

    6th October 2018
    Score for string orchestra only composed and conducted by Howard Blake

    'NOCTURNE' IN BIRMINGHAM, David Quiglay piano recital, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham 1.10pm

    12th October 2018

    'CHRIST CHURCH MASS' IN KING'S COLLEGE CHAPEL, Dr. Joseph Fort conducts the Chapel Choir, King's College Chapel, London University, Somerset House , Strand, 1.10pm

    24th October 2018
    This work was commissioned by Howard's local church, Christchurch Kensington, to celebrate its 140th anniversary in 1991. It was given its first performance there on July 21st of that year.

    'THE BEAR' ON LONDON LIVE TV

    27th October 2018

    An animated film made by TVC/Channel 4 1997/98 with many of the same team who made 'The Snowman' (1982) it is similarly based on a wordless picture-book by Raymond Briggs and called 'The Bear' (published by Julia Macrae Books), but was directed and scripted by Hilary Audus in conjunction with Joanna Harrison. Music and lyrics are by Howard Blake who also conducted The Philharmonia Orchestra and the singers: Charlotte Church (girl soprano), Martyn Hill (tenor) and Peter Knapp (bass).

    Howard Blake writes: All the sung parts in the film originally had lyrics but sadly producer John Coates decided they were better sung to 'la, la,la' which was a great pity, particularly for Charlotte Church who was the discovery of the film and soon after soared to stardom.  I wrote music and lyrics of 'Somewhere a star shines for everyone' especially for her as 'she' skates down the frozen Thames. In the version shown on TV today however these lyrics are only heard in the very end sequence. If heard with all the lyrics 'The Bear' starts to become like a little animated opera. It was brilliantly performed live in this way in Christmas 2017 at the Forum Arts Centre, Bath.  Jason Thornton conducted brilliant performances with The Bath Philharmonia and singers.

    Soon after The Bear's release it appears that the producers sold some or all of the rights to Harvey Weinstein, who evidently loved the music I had written. He rang me and said: 'The score for The Bear is not just good, it's brilliant. You are my man!' However I never heard from him again and for a while the film appeared in USA with a desperately inappropriate narration which drowned out all the music. . This seems to have been corrected at least in the UK, and it was good to watch with just the music as originally intended. Well done London Live! Perhaps eventually the lyrics will also return?

    Film, score, orchestral parts and vocal parts with lyrics available for performance by contacting Highbridge Music: anna@annamenzies.com 07711 617718

    SUPERB PERFORMANCE OF 'BENEDICTUS' AT ST. GORAN'S, STOCKHOLM, Richard Edgard Wilson, tenor, Eivind Ringstad, solo viola, Olov Risberg conductor: Stockholm Gosskor. Capella Sine Nomine. Performance of 'Benedictus' by English composer Howard Blake in celebration of his 80th birthday, St Gorans Church Stockholm, Sweden, Tickets 100kr.

    18th November 2018

    A capacity house included the presence of the Swedish Catholic Cardinal Arbelius. The composer had flown over for the occasion with English tenor soloist Richard Edgar Wilson. The work was superbly performed by all concerned and the audience greeted it with great enthusiasm.

    THE SNOWMAN STAGE SHOW 21ST LONDON SEASON, 25TH YEAR IN BIRMINGHAM, Sadler's Wells/Birmingham Rep, Peacock Theatre

    23rd November 2018
    - 16th January 2019

    PERFORMANCES OF 'THE SNOWMAN' LIVERPOOL PHILHARMONIC, Liverpool Philharmonic Music Room lunchtime concert with Q and A 2.00pm

    15th December 2018
    - 17th December 2018

    BATH PHILHARMONIA DOUBLE-BILL - 'THE SNOWMAN' AND 'THE BEAR', Jason Thornton conducts the Bath Philharmonia, The Forum, 3.00pm

    22nd December 2018

    Blake – The Bear

    Blake – The Snowman

    Set course for our annual trip to the North Pole just in time to see the Northern Lights, meet Father Christmas and have a dance with a snowman or two. The Snowman has become an unparalleled Christmas tradition, and The Bear is a perfect counterpart telling the story of Tilly’s attempts to help an escaped polar bear return home. This magical double bill is the perfect Christmas treat for all the family with Bath Philharmonia playing Howard Blake’s scores live to Raymond Briggs’ amazing animations.

    Please note: Babes in arms may sit on their parent/carer’s lap however anyone aged 2 or above must have their own ticket and reserved seat.

    © Snowman Enterprises Limited “The Snowman” by Raymond Briggs is published by Puffin, image © Snowman Enterprises Ltd,   www.thesnowman.com

    THE SNOWMAN AT SNAPE MALTINGS ALDEBURGH, Ben Parry, childen's choir and orchestra

    23rd December 2018

    BIRTHDAY CONCERTS IN CATALUNYA, The Liverpool String Quartet with Jaume Comas as narrator of The Snowman. Concert produced by Ars Aurea Sonora (director Jordi Borras) with the support of 'Generalitat de Catalunya - Departament de Cultura tbc

    3rd January 2019
    - 10th January 2019
    Performances of a new song 'Le Meva Terra', music by Howard Blake and lyrics by Jaume Comas, for soprano and ensemble will be given by Ana Puche soprano with The Liverpool String Quartet and Nelia Sanxis (flute) who will also play the solo part in performances of the Flute Quintet.

    ROBERT NORTH 'COLOURS OF THE WORLD' - BLAKE, STRAWINSKY AT KREFELD AND MONNCHENGLADBACH OPERAS, Ballet evening by Robert North. Musical direction: Andreas Fellner , choreography: Robert North , choreographed assistant: Sheri Cook , stage and costumes: Andrew Storer, MonnchenGladbach Opera/Krefeld Opera

    4th May 2019
    - 4th August 2019

    THREE BALLETS DIRECTED AND CHOREOGRAPHED BY ROBERT NORTH

    From paintings of the Renaissance and the classical modernity Robert North draws the ideas for this opulent ballet evening, to which the Niederrheinische Sinfoniker give musical splendor.

    Henri Matisse caused a sensation in the 1940s with a series of paper cutouts, including many circus motifs. He was no stranger to the circles of the European avant-garde when this cycle appeared under the title Jazz - an allusion to the principle of improvisation. Robert North approaches Matisse with the eye and the imagination of the choreographer and gains exciting impulses for the dance from the colorfulness, ornamentation and clarity of the images in combination with music by Stravinsky.

    A popular subject in Florentine painting of the 15th century, which also Sandro Botticelli took up, is the Annunciation to Mary. Botticelli made this biblical scene so theatrically expressive that Robert North felt inspired by the painting and, in collaboration with the composer Howard Blake, freely interpreted The Annunciation as ballet.

    Last but not least, we are curious to see how Robert North creates his own choreography for Menotti's ballet music Sebastian, inspired by the idiosyncratic art of Giorgio de Chirico that anticipates surrealism. The associative, symbolic imagery of this master of the Pittura metafisica offers the dance a lot of room for interpretation.

    ORCHESTRAL SUITE FROM THE FILM 'AGATHA' - HARROGATE PROMS, Harrogate Symphony Orchestra ('Agatha Suite' to be conducted by Howard Blake), Royal Hall Harrogate, Yorkshire

    22nd June 2019
    A Very British Proms
    Royal Hall June 22nd 2019
    English Folk Song Suite (11) Vaughan-Williams
    Elizabethan Serenade (3.40) and Binge
    The Watermill (3.50) (oboe soloist)
    Jupiter (from The Planets) (7.30) Holst
    The Lark Ascending (15) Vaughan-Williams
    By the Sleepy Lagoon (4) Coates
    March from the Little Suite (4) Trevor Duncan
    4 Scottish Dances (10) Malcolm Arnold
    Proms:
    Crown Imperial (7) Walton
    Chanson de Matin (4) Elgar
    Agatha (12) Howard Blake
    Nimrod (Enigma Variations) (3) Elgar
    Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1 or 4 (5) Elgar
    Fantasia on British Sea Songs (18) Wood/Sergeant
    and Rule Britannia
    Jerusalem (3) Parry
    Timings:
    1st half: 62
    2nd half: 52 mins

    FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE OF 'BENEDICTUS' AT ST. ALBANS CATHEDRAL tbc, Peter Auty (solo tenor), Rosalind Ventris (solo viola), St. Albans Bach Choir, 'Songs of Truth and Glory' conducted by Andrew Lucas, King's College London Chamber Choir and combined choirs and orchestra Thomas Trotter (solo organ).Orchestra of The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, conducted by Dr. Joseph Fort.

    13th July 2019
    A concert celebrating the 80th year of English composer Howard Blake obe fram

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