Revisiting two of David Matthews’s symphonies

Revisiting two of David Matthews’s symphonies

What better way to celebrate a birthday than with old friends. David Matthews, who celebrates his 70th birthday this year, has been doing just that; 2013 has been filled with memorable performances by groups with whom Matthews has had long-standing associations. This October his symphonies take centre stage with both the English Chamber Orchestra and BBC Philharmonic revisiting symphonies that Matthews wrote for them.

On 9 October the English Chamber Orchestra will perform Matthews’s Symphony No. 4, a piece which at its 1991 ECO premiere was described as ‘beautifully fresh and dramatically intriguing’ (The Financial Times). Of all Matthews’ symphonies it’s perhaps the one that’s closest to traditional symphonic form, but with some more unusual elements as Matthews explains: ‘In my first three symphonies I explored different ways of fusing the traditional movements of the classical sonata into one. My Fourth Symphony is in some ways closer to the classical archetype: it is divided into movements, and scored for a small orchestra of flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, and strings – one that Haydn often used. There are, however, five movements, not four, and two of them at least are somewhat unusual.’

The ECO performance will be conducted by the young composer/conductor Alissa Firsova and will take place at the Cadogan Hall, London.

Just over a week later the BBC Philharmonic will revisit Matthews’s 2010 Symphony No 7 which Matthews dedicated to the orchestra ‘in gratitude for the many fine performances they have given of my music over many years.’ The work takes inspiration from two other seventh symphonies by Sibelius and Mahler, and like its models, it approaches tonality head on: ‘What makes Matthews’s music lovable is the way it embraces straightforwardly tonal means, with no tricksy post-modern irony or agonised breast-beating’ (The Telegraph).

HK Gruber will conduct the performance which takes place at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester on 18 October. This date also sees the release of a new Dutton CD featuring this very symphony.