On 20 November Pavel Ralev premiered David Matthews’ Kingsdown Suite at Wigmore Hall, a five-movement piece for solo guitar commissioned by the Julian Bream Trust. The commission came from the Trust’s chairman John Williams, for whom Matthews wrote A Kentish Song in 2021 to mark the guitarist’s 80th birthday. Matthews' association with John Williams goes back many years. They met when Matthews collaborated with Peter Sculthorpe on Cantares (1979), a piece for several guitars - electric and acoustic - and string quartet that follows the pattern of the Latin Mass. Matthews would also host John Williams at the Deal Festival when he served as Artistic Director, where he gave a celebrated concert.
A Kentish Song would become the lyrical last movement of Kingsdown Suite, which is named for the village in Kent near Deal whose landscape, weather, and flora shape the individual movements of the 12-minute piece. Matthews writes,
I live much of my life now in the village of Kingsdown, near Deal in Kent, at the start of the famous White Cliffs. Because the sea faces east, I often see the full moon rising out of the sea, a wondrous moment. Near the village is a National Trust wood, which in spring is full of wood anemones and bluebells, which helped inspire the second movement. It contains a brief reference to Elgar’s ‘Windflower’ theme (another name for anemone) from his Violin Concerto. At night the sky is clear enough to see many stars, the inspiration for the brief third movement. From the cliffs, France is often visible, and in ‘The Cliffs in Winter’ I have quoted a fragment of Debussy’s ‘Rondes de printemps’ from Images.
Matthews’ work has maintained a strong connection to Deal and the Kent coast for many years. The Deal Festival marked his 80th birthday this year with a composer focus. 2013’s symphonic poem A Vision of the Sea¸ recorded in 2021 by Jac van Steen and the BBC Philharmonic, is inspired by the sights and sounds of the English Channel.
On 9 December Matthews’ music returns to Wigmore Hall with longstanding collaborators the Nash Ensemble, who perform his Six Songs (2005) with Roderick Williams. Matthews’ arrangements of Brahms for baritone and ensemble of flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violins, viola, cello and bass were premiered by Nash Ensemble at the same venue in 2006 with Wolfgang Holzmair. On 18 November Nash Ensemble also performed Love Songs at Wigmore Hall - a 2009 arrangement of Dvořák for mezzo-soprano, string quartet and double bass; the 18-minute set was sung by Renata Pokupic.