More than 30 concerts and 1200 educational activities will take place in Portugal in 2017, under the umbrella of a Year of British Music. The British Council has, in partnership with Casa da Música, organised a packed programme of events across the first weekend to celebrate the opening of the Year of British Music, which begins on 20th January.
Supported by the British Council, four young composers will travel to Portugal and showcase some of their work. They are Philip Venables, Edmund Finnis, Emily Howard and Daniel Kidane. Also in the first weekend, a symposium on Brexit, chaired by Tom Service (BBC Radio 3 and The Guardian) will discuss the potential impact that the referendum result may have on the music industry in Britain and Europe. Joining Tom will be Susanna Eastburn (Chief Executive at Sound and Music), Cathy Graham (Director of Music, British Council), Sir Nicholas Kenyon CBE (Director of the Barbican Centre) and Emmanuel Hondré (Philharmonie de Paris). The opening concert of the weekend will see Coro Casa da Músic and Orquestra Sinfónica perform together with a programme featuring British composers through the ages. John Dowland’s Lacrimae will be followed by Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s Earth Dances, written some 413 years later. The concert concludes with Gustav Holst’s Jupiter from The Planets and finally, the always rousing, Jerusalem. Casa da Música will be open across the opening weekend with rehearsals, workshops and free guided tours available.
"I love the way this intensely rich opening weekend sets the ambition and bold chronological sweep of the year of British Music in the first two pieces of the very first concert,” says Cathy Graham. “How wonderful to see the extensive education work in the programme which has been inspired by Benjamin Britten, composer, founder of the Aldeburgh Festival, pacifist and passionate advocate and creator of music for young people … I thank and pay homage to my colleague Antonio Pacheco for his vision and insightful programming.”
We hope to delight everyone with the great geniuses of British music
And why choose British music to form the core of this year’s programme?
“The reason is twofold,” explains Antonio Pacheco. Partly it is a celebration of historical and ancestral connections between Portugal and the UK and secondly, “the urgency of sharing with our audience a musical heritage of prime importance that goes far beyond Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, Handel’s Messiah, Thomas Arne’s Rule, Britannia!, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance … the richness of harmonic textures, the boldness and vigour of the melodies, a very particular compatibility with the English language, in addition to a constant oscillation between the respect for the national traditions and the openness to foreign influences …
“Let us pay attention to the music, the great British music … it may be a mere confirmation for some, but it will be a true revelation for many. We hope to delight everyone with the great geniuses of British music from various eras and musical genres.”
And was the programme in any way a response to the Brexit referendum result?
“I've been working on the 2017 schedule for three years now, when we could not guess what would happen,” says Pacheco, but admits the theme has now certainly taken on added significance.
Year of British Music: Opening Weekend
Philip Venables, Edmund Finnis, Emily Howard and Daniel Kidane showcase their work, introduced by introduced by Cathy Graham, Director of Music, British Council.
In this educational concert for all, on stage we see a rehearsal of “É ou Noé?”. Dedicated to Benjamin Britten, the conductor (É), the presenter (Noé), and a group of singers prepare a concert filled with music by the celebrated composer but it will take an unexpected turn …
Tom Service is joined by Sir Nicholas Kenyon, Cathy Graham, Emmanuel Hondré and Susanna Eastburn to discuss what the future may hold for music making in the UK and Europe.
Three of the greatest names of today’s British music – Rebecca Saunders, Julian Anderson and Sir Harrison Birtwistle – present recent works. Peter Rundel and Pedro Neves conduct. The English soprano Juliet Fraser appears for the first time in Portugal and Daniel Moreira provides the pre-concert lecture.
This concert celebrates British music set to words with pieces from the likes of John Taverner, Thomas Tallis, John Dowland, John Dunstable and, this year’s composer in residence, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, who premieres his Three latin motets.
Year of British Music: Spring 2017
With the usual irreverent spirit that always characterises carnival concerts, this one features John Barry’s Bond theme, Rodney Bennett’s “Murder on the Orient Express” and Malcolm Arnold's “A Grand, Grand Overture, for vacuum cleaners and orchestra”.
Brahms’ famous Symphony No. 4 is preceded by two works from 20th century English composers with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis and Edward Elgar’s Cello concerto. Joseph Swensen conducts.
Vaughan Williams’ London Symphony evokes the sounds of the capital and we hear the national premiere of Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.
Aa joint commission from the BBC, Casa da Música and Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival – where it was premiered at the end of 2014 – this “powerfully original” piece from James Dillon features 12 voices and 12 instrumentalists.
The title refers to September 1995 and the first time a contemporary composer was able to premiere a piece at the closing concert of the BBC Proms. The composer was Sir Harrison Birtwistle and the piece was Panic.
Following on from the theme of the previous night, we hear several pieces that, for different reasons, have difficult histories with the Proms. Peter Maxwell Davies’ Worldes Blis was first heard at the 1969 Proms; many left and many that stayed booed but it is now considered one of the finest Proms premieres. John Adams’ A Short Ride in a Fast Machine Proms debut was held back owing to sensitivities in 1997 around Princess Dianna’s recent death in a car crash, and then again in 2001 following the September 11th attacks.