On 20 March Donald Runnicles and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra performed four of Colin Matthews’ orchestrations of Debussy’s Préludes at Sydney Opera House, giving their Australian premieres: MinstrelsLa Puerta del Vino, Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir and ''Général Lavine'' – eccentric.

La Puerta del Vino, a vigorous Habanera, is inspired by the ‘wine gate’ of the Alhambra in Granada; Matthews’ 3-minute orchestration heightens the Spanish flavour with castanets and tambourine. ''Général Lavine'' – eccentric, is a 3-minute cakewalk portraying the American clown Edward Lavine, bursting into life with trumpet and xylophone. Minstrels, at 2 ½ minutes long, begins with a humorous spotlight on the bassoons; Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir takes its sensuous title from Baudelaire, and takes the form of a gentle waltz, with Matthews capturing the delicate twilight atmosphere from the outset with muted strings and brass.

The Hallé and Mark Elder, who commissioned the orchestrations during Matthews’ nine-year stint as Composer-in-Association, recorded them in 2010; he describes his approach to orchestrating Debussy in an interview here.

Matthews has also created orchestral versions of the Debussy’s Images for piano, recorded by the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg and Gustavo Gimeno, as well as Elder and the Hallé.  Matthews’ extensive catalogue of orchestrations also includes the surviving movement from Debussy’s early Symphony in B minor, two pieces from Ravel’s Miroirs, and Mahler’s Piano Quartet movement ‘Nicht zu Schnell’. He has also created orchestrations of songs by Gabriel Fauré for soprano and small orchestra, and a 12-minute collection of songs from across Sibelius’ career for Hannu Lintu and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Another orchestration by Matthews is currently in rep at Theater Lüneburg, choreographed by Olaf Schmidt. An excerpt from his realisation of Britten’s Temporal Variations features as part of Das Innerste des Schweigens, a dance piece inspired by Virginia Woolf’s use of stream-of-consciousness in her novels – see the trailer here. Matthews’ orchestration of the 15-minute work was created for Nicholas Daniel, realising Britten’s hint in 1935 that he was gestating a “large and elaborate suite for oboe and strings”.

Several of Matthews’ own acclaimed and inventive orchestral works await Australian premieres. Matthews’ most recent orchestral work is Mosaics, a 24-minute set of eleven studies for large orchestra, premiered in May 2023 by the London Symphony Orchestra and François-Xavier Roth – read more about the work here.

His 2009 Violin Concerto, premiered by Leila Josefowicz and Oliver Knussen, draws its unearthly inspiration from Szymanowski, and sees and ethereal, high-lying solo line float above an orchestral haze made of constantly shifting textures and shapes; critics called the 20-minute work “strangely evocative” and “rewardingly complex”. Memorial (1993) was commissioned by Mstislav Rostropovich for the London Symphony Orchestra – a concentrated, intense 18-minute processional that recalls Lutyens’ vast Thiepval Memorial, which commemorates those killed at the Battle of the Somme.