Important birthdays

In the Summer of 2000 I had the great pleasure of meeting James Gillespie, editor of The Clarinet Journal, during the International Clarinet Association (ICA) convention in Oklahoma. James asked me if I would like to contribute a regular column – an invitation that I found both humbling and daunting! The following ‘Letter from the UK’ was first published in March 2006 in The Clarinet Journal, the official publication of the ICA.

You can hardly have missed the fact that this year is Mozart’s 250th birthday. The UK radio station Classic FM held a vote for the nation’s favourite Mozart work, with over a hundred thousand people taking part, and the clear winner was the Clarinet Concerto. As I write, I’m listening to Jack Brymer’s splendid recording with the LSO under Colin Davis. His warm and resonant ten-ten sound and his deep understanding of this music still make it a wonderful performance from which we can learn so much. Listening to this also reminds me of the last time I saw Jack. I was teaching young Julian Bliss and we went to see the grand old man in his home in Surrey. Julian (who must have been about eight at the time) gave a stunning performance of the Rossini Variations, and Jack was delighted! John Davies, a great friend of Jack’s, came too. The two of them reminisced happily. In the late 30s, John had his own jazz band (which played for afternoon tea dances) and he often employed Jack on alto saxophone. (Jack was teaching physical education at Willowfield School in Eastbourne at the time, well before his meteoric rise to fame!) Eight or so years on and Julian has now got many exciting engagements for the Mozart Concerto over the next few months. 
As mentioned in my previous letter, another important birthday this year is of course Malcolm Arnold’s eighty-fifth. I am organising a festival of his music at the Royal and Derngate in Northampton on October 21st and 22nd (Malcolm’s birthday weekend). It all begins with a wind chamber music recital which will include the Wind Quintet and all the solo Fantasies. The first day will end with The Malcolm Arnold Concerto Prize, featuring six of his wind concertos (including both for clarinet). The soloists are all from the six major conservatoires and these should prove to be outstanding performances. The judges will include Julian Lloyd Webber, Emma Johnson and David Mellor (a former politician and now regular broadcaster on Classic FM.) The second day ends with a gala concert given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (and we’re hoping that one of the Royal family will be attending!). It will include Arnold’s Grand Grand Overture which he wrote for the very first Hoffnung Concert (also celebrating its own 50th birthday!). In the afternoon, Gerard’s widow Annetta Hoffnung will be speaking about the very special musical relationship that Malcolm and Gerard enjoyed. I do hope that some of you will come over for this wonderful event. 

Readers who know the name of Angela Fussell will be saddened to hear that she died a few days ago. Angela was a much respected chairman of the Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain for a good number of years, and a very thoughtful and highly regarded teacher. She taught at the Junior Department of the Royal College of Music, Colchester Institute and at the famous Eton College. I knew Angela well – we often worked together, most recently in the depths of North Yorkshire at a gathering of the Association of Woodwind Teachers, of which she was chairman. She will be much missed.