The Alvarez Chamber Orchestra
Launch of the 2008 season
Address at the Polish Embassy,
by the Artistic Director of the Alvarez Chamber Orchestra
Maestro Geoffrey Alvarez
Mr Pawel Potoroczyn, Director of the Polish Cultural Institute, Mr David Buckingham, Agent-General for Victoria, Australia; My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to welcome you to the musical presentation of the Launch of the 2008 Season of the Alvarez Chamber Orchestra.
This season is devoted to the music of
I will begin with a message from our honorary president, Sir
Colin Davis. Sir Colin says he is sorry that he will not be able to come as he
has to be in
Sir Colin has supported the Alvarez Chamber Orchestra from
its inception in 1977,
attending concerts whenever he was free and once playing the Mozart Clarinet
concerto with us in between rehearsals at
Whilst I was conducting this orchestra, I was also a member
of the National Youth Orchestra. Just a few weeks ago, a lady called me saying
‘do you remember the orchestra and Boulez?’ I had to think hard, then I asked her if she was Miss Ivey Dickson, OBE, a former
distinguished director of the NYO. This lady had invited me as a composer to
play in the percussion section of the orchestra, during the time Boulez was
conducting some 35 years ago. It was indeed Miss
Dickson herself. She had just been granted honorary membership from the
Incorporated Society of Musicians and had read an article I had written about tonight
Following our concerts in St Giles, we played in
Leaving the Royal Academy of Music, where I had been
studying under Professor Paul Patterson, I went to
A meeting in the dining room of the Grand Hotel in Łódź, the second largest city in
Having heard much of Tansman’s music during that week – from his music to the Film Flesh and Fantasy, to his post-Bartokian, pre- Bernard Hermannesque string piece Tryptych played by the dynamic Sinfonia Varsovia, I suggested to them that I perform some of his other, less well known music with my orchestra, an idea which they entertained with great enthusiasm, and two months later, we had an invitation to visit their home in Paris to check the orchestration of some of Tansman’s works, to meet his publisher and Chair of the Tansman Association Gerald Hugon, and to play Tansman’s last work, the Alla Polacca on Tansman’s piano.
It is this work which forms the basis of the second String work to be heard this evening – Tansman’s work is for viola and piano, but a cursory glance at the score strongly suggests that he had a string quartet at least in mind for the work, as, for instance, the lower notes of the piano part are the two lowest open strings of the cello.
It is quite a responsibility to extend or develop the work of another composer, but having done it with Mozart’s Bastien and Bastienne - according to the newspaper The European, successfully - I decided to try my hand at extended the work of a modern master – if you find my reochestration for String orchestra convincing, and you can’t hear where Tansman ends, and Alvarez begins, I will have succeeded.
Mireille and Marianna, Tansman’s daughters, wrote the following to me last January: We listened yesterday to your Fantasia on Tansman’s Last Theme: Alla Polacca. It sounds wonderful and we like your work very much. It should have much success. You made a real work from a small piece.
Tansman stands at the heart of the 2008 season – he was a musician who’s love of many different cultures reflects the multicultural inclusivity of The Alvarez Chamber Orchestra. His Le tour du monde en miniature is 15 miniature portraits of the countries he visited on a world tour of 1932-33 – on this journey, he was introduced to people as divers as Ghandi, and Hirohito. His musical descriptions of the various countries displays a facility, similar to Bartok’s, for absorbing folk material, and making it very much his own. His collaborators range from Schoenberg and Stravinsky who combined forces to compose the Genesis Suite in 1945, to Galton and Simpson, the script-writers of the British film The Bargee, staring Harry H Corbett for whom he wrote the film score in 1964.
The Tansman competition jury Chairman was the distinguished Polish Composer Professor Zygmunt Krauze.
Back at another table in the Grand Hotel in Łódź during the competion, I was having breakfast with Professor Krauze. We both had smoked mackerel and Maestro Krauze pointed to his hard boiled egg in mayonnaise, and said ‘These go very well together’ at which point, I lifted up my mackerel and showed him a hardboiled egg underneath.
Weeks later, when we asked him if he could suggest some of his own works that would be suitable for chamber orchestra, he not only did that, but also offered to play in the orchestra himself in the November Concerts, and accepted our invitation to become Honorary Vice President of the Alvarez Chamber Orchestra.
There were also compelling musical reasons for the association: when listening to his Piano Quintet in a concert the adjudicators gave in Łódź after the competition, I was struck by the similarity of certain passages between that work and my concertino for piano and orchestra, both of us treating the piano like a cimbalom, with pedal resonance and almost identical harmonies at one point.
At this time, the orchestra as it stood, had no constitution or formal basis. I decided that, with artists of such international recognition as Maestro Krauze on board, the first step was to formalise the organisation. Whilst getting together a team of trustees, and gaining charitable status in only about three weeks, we obtained offers of help from Pawel Potoroczyn, the director of the Polish Cultural Institute, ranging from the use of the Embassy for tonight's Launch, to publicity and a pledge of financial assistance. Thanks to Pawel we are all here tonight. This offer was made on the proviso there was a date and a good venue, which we obtained – booking St John’s Smith Square for November 15th and 16th 2008, and we promised him, as we do all our sponsors and friends, full acknowledgment on all literature and websites relating to the project.
If some of you have seen our website, you might have noticed
my association with the poet Robert Graves. Tonight I am delighted that so many
colleagues of that inspiring man are here – When I was commissioned by the
garden venture of the royal opera house to write a chamber opera for their 1993
season, I asked for a librettist with an economy of means necessary to give the
music room to breath,
yet imbued with an intensity of imagery, they suggested Ruth Fainlight, who, along with her husband Alan Sillitoe. I had had a copy of
I delivered this paper, my attempt at a Grammar of musical
myth, at the
White Goddess conference at
Although we have five corporeal trustees on the board, other unseen forces, maybe an incorporeal muse or two, seem to be at work shaping the future of the orchestra – it would seem I have no need to plan: composers have been choosing me rather than me choosing composers – Tansman, Schaeffer and now Ernst Bloch: I recently found myself sitting on the organising committee for the 2009 Bloch Centenary Festival organised by the Jewish Music Institute which is based at SOAS, the School for Oriental and African Studies. Bloch had written a setting of the 22nd Psalm, which has been arranged for chamber orchestra and was briefly discussed at the meeting. Encouraged by the various enthusiastic advocates of Ernst Bloch who were present, I am considering making this work the focus of an international composition competition setting Psalms in Hebrew and seeing what this brings to light…
Sitting next to me on the Bloch Committee was Malcolm
A reason for my presence on the Bloch committee was my association with the Director of the Jewish Music Institute, Geraldine Auerbach MBE, also here tonight, who kindly managed to secure a room for us in SOAS for our rehearsal yesterday and to whom we extend our thanks. We are currently looking for a permanent home, so would welcome suggestions any of you might have.
Other future plans include the music of Sir Andrzej Panufnik. Camilla Panufnik, FRSP, his widow, extends her apologies for not being able to join us tonight, but she was keen to attend the rehearsal earlier today and we were delighted and honoured that she was able to spare the time and she even took the trouble to make a very valuable suggestion regarding the position of the harp on the stage, enabling us all to admire the virtuosity of our harpist and International Liason Officer Elżbieta Baklarz when her hands were no longer hidden by the music.
Elżbieta’s previous association with the distinguished Polish Composer Bogusław Schaeffer meant he was more than happy to write a piece for her and violinist Maciej Lulek especially for this launch. He has also offered to compose a harp concerto for Elżbieta and the Alvarez Chamber Orchestra which is a really great honour, and an unexpected midwinter present for us.
He wrote to me on 22.12.2007:
Dear Maestro Dr.Geoffrey Alvarez!
I’d really like to write a concerto for harp and chamber orchestra - the best would be to take 12 various instruments like flute, oboe, etc down to double bass.
Please answer me to my
The music you will hear tonight is a little amuse bouche to the main course served in November, whose music ranges from the post serial – quasi tonal spectral adventures of Maestro Krauze, to the dramatic, well crafted and fauvist canvases of Diana Burrell, the intense expressionistic excesses of my Third Symphony and the neoclassical poise, formal subtlety and elegance of Tansman later works. Tonight, we are playing three short, complete pieces, but by way of an aperitif, Rehana Browne is going to tease you by playing just the cadenza from Diana’s Flute Concerto – you will have to wait until November to hear us play the complete work.
The first work we are playing tonight, my Stary Cmentarz Żydowsky w Łódźi – the Old Jewish Cemetary of Łódź may surprise those of you who are familiar with my customary serial, or atonal expressionistic works with its simplicity and directness of expression. After the competition in Łódź, we were escorted round this cemetery by the Israeli composer Menachem Zur. I was moved by the simplicity of the mortuary, with it’s dark wood biers, and plain white walls. This lack of ostentation, knowing the appalling history of the location, seemed to impregnate the place with a heavy, oppressive sadness – and this dictated the musical language.
Finally, Tansman’s daughters have given me permission to quote part of a paragraph from Yves Hucher’s interview with Tansman in 1949, translated by Mireille Tansman.
Don't say modern, say 'contemporary music'. There is an
aesthetic confusion between the two which absolutely must be avoided.
Incidentally, this is also the view of Hindemith, with whom I spent a week in