Summer news

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 May 2008 in The Clarinet Journal, the official publication of the ICA.

Readers will be sad to hear of the death of Georgina Dobrée. I had a couple of lessons with Georgina when I was at the Academy; she helped me with some French music – one of her speciality areas – and I well remember her useful practical advice. Like my own teacher, she was a pupil of George Anderson, though she originally entered the RAM as a first study pianist. After studies in London she went to Paris and had lessons with the legendary Gaston Hamelin, which gave her weighty insights into the Debussy Rhapsodie and other French music. (Indeed, her parents had French Huguenot origins which strongly affected her empathy with French music.)

Georgina was a real enthusiast and each of her enthusiasms were strongly cultivated. She championed the basset horn, uncovering and commissioning much new repertoire for it; she championed rarer repertoire and through her various connections in the publishing world, saw to it that these works were published (and remained so); she championed early clarinet music – her recordings of the Molter Concertos, for example, were the first available; and she commissioned much new music from contemporary composers. Her particular interest in Czech music and composers resulted in many new works: Pokorny, Rybar, Benes, Janovicky, to name but a few. And many composers wrote music for her, among them Gordon Jacob, Elizabeth Lutyens, Maurice Pert and Paul Drayton. 

Of all Georgina’s passions my own favourite is her ‘rediscovery’ and subsequent first recording of the terrific Coleridge-Taylor Quintet. It was recorded on her own label, Chantry Records, and boasts a wonderful reproduction of one of her artist mother’s collages on the front of the sleeve. Though a difficult work, the Quintet is now beginning to receive the attention it so richly deserves. 
She was also a bit of a nomad – often moving house, and from one part of the country to another. She loved to have input into their design (clearly a strong link with her mother). I recall particularly a house she had for a while in north London with a most imaginative shape and interior plan. Doors everywhere but no corridors and passage ways (she felt these wasted space!). She would often have parties – I attended one or two – to which she would invite musicians and people from various areas of academia; she knew many fascinating people. The clarinet world will miss her.

Moving on, I’d like to bring two new CDs to your attention. Semplice – From beautiful beginnings is the title of a charming and highly imaginative new CD from Victoria Soames and Clarinet Classics. It explores music both written and arranged for beginner players. Among the many arrangements featured, there is music by Schumann, Debussy and Ravel, Kabalevsy and Bartok, and among the many original works there is music by Howard Ferguson, Dorothy Pilling (who was on the staff of the Royal Northern College of Music for many years and wrote delightful music) and Christopher Gunning (composer of the theme tune to the TV series Poirot). There are some of my own pieces too. I’ve always hugely enjoyed writing for young players. The restrictions set intriguing challenges, and the joy of helping emerging players to connect with their developing musical imaginations is enormous. 

Also new to the Clarinet Classics label is a disc of the excellent David Campbell playing three concertos. The CD includes two concertos by British composers and one by an American who has lived over this side of the Atlantic for the past forty years. Agnostic by Graham Fitkin represents a work of great power and depth. Written in an accessible tonal style it is an important addition to the repertoire. Each movement of the Concerto by Carl Davis, subtitled Hungarica, paints a picture of some aspect of Hungarian life, and the recording is completed by the wonderful Finzi Concerto. 

Recently, I had the great pleasure of spending the afternoon with the celebrated couple John Dankworth and Cleo Laine. Though both now in their eighties, they are full of unbounded energy and tremendous zest! John told a wonderful story. He had given a performance of the Copland Concerto with the Morley College Orchestra conducted by Lawrence Leonard. Unbeknown to him, Malcolm Arnold was in the audience. Many years later, John put Malcolm up for a Wavendon Award. On receiving the award from John himself, Malcolm turned to the audience and said, ‘I remember John screwing up the Copland Concerto with the Morley College Orchestra in 1967’. Malcolm at his most disarming! John told the story with relish.

And finally, talking of Malcolm Arnold, I’ve just put the finishing touches to the programme for the third Arnold Festival, to take place in Northampton in October. The enigmatic but highly engaging Divertimento for two Clarinets (published by Queen’s Temple Publications) is among much of Sir Malcolm’s music to be heard this year. In the meantime, enjoy the remainder of the summer!