Music for the monarch
By Geoffrey Norris
From Telegraph.co.uk - 20/07/2006
The Queen's presence at last night's Prom signalled a celebration for her 80th birthday that began with a new pièce d'occasion by the Master of the Queen's Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.
Modestly entitled A Little Birthday Music, it steered a prudent course away from the knotty arguments that Davies has pursued in some of his other music and from the local colour of a piece such as Orkney Wedding with Sunrise.
But it was by no means bland, and it did what it set out to do. For all that it ended on an affirmative tonic chord, the music sounded appreciably modern while being relatively easy on the ear.
Shaped like a miniature, single-movement choral symphony, it had its dissonances and its rhythmic puzzles, but there was some compensatory harmonic mellowness.
The principal theme, given out in muscular form by the trumpet at the start, turned out to be susceptible to all sorts of metamorphoses, economically supplying material for the equivalent of a first movement, scherzo, slow movement and finale. It was the closing section that deployed the chorus, singing a text by the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, that ticked all the right politically correct boxes - coastal erosion, the ozone layer, corruption of language - while celebrating the constancy that the Queen represents.
With the BBC Symphony Orchestra boosted by the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Scots Guards and by 250 children's voices from various Chapels Royal, schools and youth choirs, the ending was aptly rousing.
Since the Queen's Medal for Music was Davies's brainchild, it was a nice touch that this year's winner, Bryn Terfel, should have been presented with it at this concert, singing My Little Welsh Home as a thank you.
The remainder of the evening comprised a fluent performance of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto by Julian Bliss, and a fresh, well-reasoned account of Dvorák's New World Symphony conducted by Jirí Belohlávek.
As for A Little Birthday Music, it is probably a one-off and will now be stored in a drawer, but at least the Master of the Queen's Music will have earned his butt of sack for writing it.
By George Hall
From the Guardian - Friday July 21, 2006
It has been a while since a British monarch was serenaded with a full-scale birthday ode. Purcell wrote some for Queen Mary in the late 17th century, but the practice died out under the Prince Regent. So it's a sign of the reinvigoration of the post of master of the Queen's music under its present incumbent, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, that a major new example has been unveiled at the Proms. Purcell's collaborators on such pieces included the poets laureate Thomas Shadwell and Nahum Tate, while Davies's is their successor in the post, Andrew Motion.
Davies first set Motion's poem The Golden Rule as an anthem, performed in April, a couple of days after the Queen's 80th birthday. The new setting, entitled A Little Birthday Music, is much bigger. Scored for full symphony orchestra, the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Scots Guards Band and massed children's voices, the result is a sizeable occasional piece.
Motion's text celebrates the Queen's constancy in uncertain times, with a few nods to contemporary eco-problems. Davies's unison setting of the poem comes near the end of his piece, giving it a late lift. But much of what precedes it is grey and meandering, with a few trumpet volleys enlivening some amorphous string writing and anonymous thematic material. Uncertainty has rarely sounded so dull.
The Queen came up on stage at the beginning of the second half, to present this year's Queen's medal for music to Bryn Terfel, who responded cordially by singing My Little Welsh Home. Elsewhere, Julian Bliss was the fluent soloist in Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, and conductor Jiri Belohlavek showed further evidence of his rapport with the BBC Symphony in a characterful account of Dvorak's New World, notable for some super-refined string tone.
By Martin Hoyle
From the Herald - July 21, 2006
"The sun unwinds its heat through threadbare sky," writes the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, in his words for A Little Birthday Music. The sentiment was apt to Wednesday's Prom celebrating the Queen's 80th birthday. Audience – and, doubtless, the Scots Guards Fanfare Trumpeters in their bearskins – sweltered; but Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's setting kept things emotionally cool.The Master of the Queen's Music illuminates the poetry all too clearly. Motion's tactful verses describe constancy in a world of change; moral ("the black-and-white of certainty dissolves"), cultural ("the language bursts its bound and breaks new ground") and ecological ("the shrinking woods fall backwards"). Max's music is spiky, more thistle than rose, from its ominous beginning – a monster (modern times?) stirring – to duelling brass as jaggedly thrusting as gunfire. This is less birthday jollity than a survey of 80 extraordinary, and sometimes devastating, years in the planet's history. At best sombre, the music is lightened by straightforward writing for children's voices, delivered with purity by 250 singers. Solemn, at first hearing foreboding, it's dour historical resumé rather than Hallmark greeting.After the interval, HM presented Bryn Terfel, pictured below, with the Queen's Medal for Music. The Welsh baritone responded with a song about his home valleys, villages and loving folks, sung in impeccably RP English. The programme ended with Jiri Belohlavek, the BBC SO's new Chief Conductor, blossoming with his compatriot Dvorak's "New World" Symphony: buoyant Czech rhythms, plaintively clear textures. And Mozart's Clarinet Concerto played by 17-year-old Julian Bliss evoked another young master – a stocky figure, down-to-earth squarish face, undeniable technical mastery and even unexpected poetry – the Wayne Rooney of the clarinet, only better-tempered.