Colin Matthews, who turned 70 in February, needs little introduction. The creator of an abundant and eclectic body of work, which often combines the exuberantly free with the mechanically driven, this master orchestrator now enjoys a prominent position at the very heart of British New Music.
Underpinning his output’s rich stylistic diversity is an unparalleled sense of musical architecture, combining a forensic attention to detail with a lucid sense of overall dramatic form. From works which grapple with the legacy of Minimalism (Hidden Variables, 1989) to others which incorporate fragments by Matthews’s musical heroes, Sibelius and Mahler (Traces Remain, 2013), his fascinating work evidence of a composer aware of the complexity of his creative make-up, and unafraid to boldly engage with the past.
‘Wishing you the happiest of birthdays and thank you for such a suspenseful and atmospheric concerto.... My polyrhythmic skills are all the stronger thanks to you!’
‘The immediate impact Colin’s music has had on me is the fantastic sense of drama he has, and this enormous energy that the music contains, and his way of using instruments, orchestrating, thick but always so audible and so clear…’
‘Happy Birthday Colin! I felt so privileged to be part of your wonderful and moving No Man’s Land. More power to your elbow!‘
‘Happy Birthday Colin. What a milestone! You’re every conductor’s dream to work with, and I’m so thrilled to have worked with you on so many of your pieces. Thank you for all your wonderful music, and your support and humanity. Best wishes, for the next decade.’
Manchester Portrait Concerts
In June Manchester will host a fascinating exploration of Matthews’s output by the Royal Northern College of Music in partnership with the BBC Philharmonic. Two student concerts will survey the entire breadth of the composer’s work, from the pugnacious ensemble works Contraflow (1992) and Hidden Variables to more private statements like his recent critically-acclaimed String Quartet No. 5 (2015).
The two-day focus begins with a concert from the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Clark Rundell which pairs the iridescent Violin Concerto from 2009 (with Daniel Pioro as soloist) with the craggy orchestral scherzo Broken Symmetry (1993), a driving 20-minute score that Matthews still classes amongst his more successful works.
‘That Colin has succeeded in creating a very substantial – in every sense – body of music in tandem with his manifold “outside” activities as editor, orchestrator, record executive, mentor to countless young composers, exemplary musical citizen and activist would beggar belief had I not witnessed the phenomenon for myself at close quarters. The fact that he is turning seventy makes some kind of temporal sense of the scope of his achievement, even if it seems surreal to those of us who are lucky enough to be close to Colin and Belinda. We have been comrades-in-musical arms for forty years now – a relationship that began with me impulse-buying a score of his Fourth Sonata from Foyles because it looked like something I wished I’d written myself. That I was eventually able, some 15 years later, to record it together with Suns Dance and Broken Symmetry – whose premieres were milestones in my own “outside” life as a conductor – is something I’m still quietly as proud of as anything I’ve done in that capacity. It gives me real pleasure to send my dear colleague, friend and family-member the warmest possible wishes for a very Happy Birthday.’
‘What has always attracted me to Colin’s music is he has that feistiness that you can find in the more recent British composers but also there’s a wonderful knowledge of the French repertoire. His music is very British but at the same time it has a luminosity, a delicacy and a sense of inner cohesion that you get with the great French masters.’
Colin Matthews has a long association with Aldeburgh, going back to his time working as assistant to Benjamin Britten and Britten-Pears Composition Course. This summer’s festival, including the screening of a new film by Barrie Gavin. Taking its title from a Eugenio Montale poem that Matthews set in his lush and kaleidoscopic Continuum (2000), ‘Who knows, you can do it’ will feature an extended interview with the composer as well as contributions from many of his closest musical friends and collaborators.
Oliver Knussen conducts the Britten Sinfonia in a performance of Matthews’s evocative and sombre Night Music (1977), whilst the Britten-Pears Contemporary Ensemble and Jonathan Berman present Flourish with Fireflies (2002) alongside the brilliantly imagined Two Tributes (1999).
Another Festival highlight is sure to be a performance of Reflected Images (2003) by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Ryan Wigglesworth. The 13-minute work was commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas and its four parts (which play without a break) are inter-related. Matthews suggests that they ‘might be thought of as four different ways of looking at the same thing, although all are in some way elusive, almost as if what is being looked at is seen out of the corner of the eye’. The influence of Matthews’s masterful orchestrations of the Debussy Préludes is palpable, and each section has a title, although they, as in Debussy, are not revealed until the end.