On Thursday 9 March the BBC Philharmonic celebrate David Matthews’ 80th birthday with a special studio concert conducted by John Storgårds. The concert, which marks a fruitful partnership with the composer that has lasted over 40 years, will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.
The concert includes the first UK performance of Matthews’ Nachtgesang, written for the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra in 2015. The 5-minute encore for orchestra is inspired by Goethe’s well-known poem of the same title; the poem’s refrain is reflected in the piece with the return of different solo strings, until a surprise at the work’s conclusion. The orchestration summons the nocturnal landscape of German Romanticism, with horn calls, evocations of the natural world, and the sounds of nightingale and owl.
The orchestra will also perform Matthews’ Chaconne, premiered by the BBC Philharmonic in 1988. The 21-minute work is divided into eight continuous sections, with the chaconne based on two themes in counterpoint; its meditative development is interrupted by scherzo-like episodes as the piece unfolds; one is inspired by Geoffrey Hill’s poetry.
Chaconne was the first of many commissions from the orchestra for Matthews, who have been longstanding champions of his music. Premieres have included his first Violin Concerto (1982), tone poems A Vision and a Journey and A Vision of the Sea (1996 and 2013), and Symphonies 3, 7, 8, and 10 – the latter, subtitled Regeneration, receiving its world premiere in May last year. The BBC Philharmonic have recorded his music extensively under the direction of Jac van Steen and Rumon Gamba on Signum and Chandos respectively, including the 30-minute tone poem The Music of Dawn (1990) and Concerto in Azzurro for cello and orchestra (2002).
The programme opens with a more recent work: the 2018-19 Concerto for Orchestra. The 25-minute piece is cast in three movements: two extended dances with a central nocturnal song. The latter takes in a panoply of British birdsong through various woodwind solos and duets, evoking a dawn chorus. (The concerto is dedicated, in this vein, to the English landscape painter William Tillyer, whose work Matthews admires for its invigorating approach to tradition.) The final movement explores various dance forms, including a sarabande, and Matthews’ own version of an English folksong. The first movement draws on material from Matthews’ Eighth Symphony, also premiered by the BBC Philharmonic.