ANDREW DOWNES MEMORIAL CONCERT

                  By Christopher Morley

 

Despite a life beset with horrendous health problems, Andrew Downes composed a vast output of works in all kinds of genres, and had the satisfaction of knowing his music brought pleasure to listeners and performers alike all over the world.

 

After his death a year ago the Hagley-based composer’s enormous army of admirers begged his family to promote a “Year of Andrew”, resulting in a continuous string of performances of his compositions all over the country, with enquiries from as far afield as Japan, China, the USA and Canada.

 

On January 28 the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, where Andrew had a long and distinguished career as Head of Composition and Creative Studies, hosts a memorial concert featuring some of his most popular works, as well as the first public performance of “In a Modern City”, a composition from Andrew’s much younger days which had long been forgotten.

 

Andrew’s younger daughter, Paula, tells me how she rediscovered the piece.

 

I was transferring a recording of my Dad's Sonata for 13 Brass from cassette tape to mp3. When the piece finished, the cassette switched to a recording that had been recorded over. It was very fuzzy sounding, but I was convinced it sounded very similar to Dad’s music.

 

“ I couldn't work out what it could be, though, since the instrumentation didn't match any of his other works. I started to get worried because the music sounded so like Andrew's and I worried he might have copied his unique style from someone else!

 

“I gingerly asked my parents what it was, and they were both amazed that this recording had survived. It was a recording of a rehearsal in which Andrew's ‘In a Modern City’ was being tried out by the orchestra at the Birmingham School of Music under the direction of the CBSO Assistant Conductor, Harold Gray.

 

“Frank Downes, Andrew’s father, and Head of Orchestral Studies at the BSM, thought the string parts needed to be more complicated (Harold Gray, on the other hand, kept his score) and it led to Andrew deciding it wasn't very good and putting it in a chest for the next 45 years. I disagreed about the strings and encouraged Dad to get it typeset, so I asked my cousin-in-law, Paul Trippett to do so, and Mum did the job of proof-reading, which is how Central England Ensemble, led by my sister Anna, and conducted by Anthony Bradbury, is able to premiere the work for the memorial concert.”

 

There is hope that other “lost” compositions might be rediscovered, too.

 

“We think there may be some other works in the same big metal chest from when Andrew was a teenager and in his early twenties (his opus numbers start from his time at the Royal College of Music studying with Herbert Howells). We also recently rescued his beautiful Ave Maria for unaccompanied AATTBB. I created a multitrack recording of this work with myself and my husband David Trippett singing, and we hope to produce a proper recording with choir in the future.”

 

Anna Downes explains the reasons for the continued popularity of her father’s music.

 

“Dad’s music is unmistakeable and original. It has a transparent quality to it which reminds one of the human voice, and which means that the music is often more difficult and revealing than it looks! Dad loves to throw in rhythmically tricky moments which give the old grey matter a workout! There is a human quality to his music which is immensely moving.”

 

“The music has a sense of space and tranquillity, which is vital for well-being in this crazy fast-paced world,” Paula adds.

 

“It allows you to sit still, move away from a screen and really sit in the music. There are also uplifting moments of fantastic rhythmic vitality, influenced by multi-rhythms of African drumming and Samba music. The use of modes from Church music and Indian Raga gives a unique flavour to his works. The perfect form of them, in terms of structure, melody and harmony sends the listener on a journey of emotions and discoveries. The influences in his music are recognisable, but the genius is in the creation of something absolutely unique.”

 

*The Andrew Downes Memorial concert will be held in the Bradshaw Hall at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire on January 28 (7pm). Booking details on https://www.bcu.ac.uk/conservatoire/events-calendar/book.

 

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