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This is an informal and occasional background briefing on the Midsummer Night's Concert, available by email as well.

These are the editions so far:

Countdown! I - January 2003

 Hello and welcome to the first Countdown! Newsletter

The idea is simply to give you some background information about the big concert on 21st June ­ including how and why the idea came about, what the music in the programme is like, and various fascinating things like, how do you actually fix a first-rate orchestral concert in the county town of Dorset in the first place?

So first of all, what exactly is happening that I'm getting so excited about it that I insist on telling everybody about it all?

Good question. Well, on 21st June this year, the Summer Solstice, Midsummer Night, there is going to be an exceptionally fine concert here in Dorchester. Because of the date, the programme will start with one of the most popular overtures ever written: Mendelssohn's Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream. And it will all end with another extremely popular piece, Schubert's Fifth Symphony. In between those two items will come my own first Guitar Concerto, and this is where the whole thing started.

I wrote this concerto in 1992 when I was still at college, but for one reason or another it was never actually performed by anybody. Later on I wrote two more concertos which did get played various times, but not the first one. So by 2001 when the idea for this event arose, it was approaching a decade since I had written it and I thought it was about time to actually do something about the situation, helped by the fact that by then I knew enough people in the local orchestral music world to know that I would be able to assemble the required players.

But the most important thing about a concerto is that it is a work for a virtuoso soloist, accompanied by the orchestra. So in a sense that's the hardest thing to find ­ the virtuoso soloist that is!

Fortunately, when I had originally finished all the editing and messing about with the piece all that time ago, one extremely fine guitarist had expressed a serious interest in doing it. I had, of course sent the score and a tape produced by the computer, to lots of different players and conductors: but the brave soul who had actually picked up the phone and said "I would like to do it" was ­ Fabio Zanon. That's Fabio here on the right.

However, not least because he wasn't quite as famous back then as he is now, he wasn't in a position to snap his fingers and have a conductor and orchestra do exactly what he wanted, so it never happened then. Basically, there is one guitar concerto that everybody does, and everybody knows, and under normal circumstances, no promoter will risk putting on anything else: it's the famous Rodrigo Concierto d' Aranjuez.

No other instrument is so utterly dominated by just one work to the exclusion, effectively, of all the others. You can imagine this is not a very healthy situation ­ especially if you have just written a guitar concerto and want somebody to play the thing.

So that is what is happening: my (understandably) unfamiliar composition, somewhat balanced I hope by very familiar ­ for good reasons ­ works by other composers. Making this happen is going to take quite a lot of doing ­ it will in fact be by far and away the biggest thing I have ever done, quite probably the biggest thing I ever do.

The next thing to decide is what the orchestra will be called ­ and believe it or not, there are quite a few issues hanging on that. That however is for the next exciting instalment of Countdown!

But what's this fairy doing here?






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Countdown! II

Spring Equinox


So here we are with the days as long as the nights ­ that must mean its just three months to June 21st!

Well plans are well and truly in place for the Midsummer Night's Concert, and at last we have a name for the orchestra. This actually took quite a lot of thought, because all the obvious and good-sounding names have already been taken by other people, many of whom have been running orchestras for ages. And you do have to be careful of your acronyms of course: so names like Chamber Orchestra of Wessex (COW) are not going to be possible. Names seeming too parochial - anything to do with Dorchester for example - will give the wrong impression. It is going to be a one-off event and so for potential audience members who don't know the full story, a name was sought which communicates immediately the fact that it will be an entirely professional ensemble. And nothing really up to that specification could be found, so in the end it is a name drawn from the timing of the event, midsummer night. Oberon is one of the most important characters in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and so the name is the Oberon Chamber Orchestra.

You might have thought it odd that there's a lot of emphasis on the professional nature of the orchestra here. Aren't all the orchestras made up of professional players? Does it matter? Well, no and yes it does matter. The region's proper professional orchestra is the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, which is based in Poole but which travels all over the southwest and further afield as well. They used to have a partner chamber orchestra called the Bournemouth Sinfonietta which covered music suitable for smaller groups of players, especially the earlier composers like Bach and Mozart, and which went regularly to smaller venues such as those in Weymouth and Sherborne. Sadly, the Sinfonietta was shut down (due to financial problems) about three years ago, but even so, they had not played in Dorchester for several years, certainly not since I moved here in 1997.

All the other orchestras you will see locally are made up to a greater or lesser extent of good amateurs, usually rehearsing regularly for a period of weeks, and supplemented by a few professional players on the night of the concert. A good example of this approach is the Dorset Chamber Orchestra who achieve an excellent standard within that model, and who rightly have a keen local following. But there can be no mistaking the extra levels of artistic ambition and achievement possible where the entire orchestra is made up of players who make their living by performing in this way. The Oberon Chamber Orchestra will in fact draw most of its personnel from the ranks of the Sinfonietta, and is being 'fixed', that's to say the players hired, by Brian Howells, the past Principal Second Violin of the Sinfonietta. And the all-important leader, is in fact the current Co-Principal of the BSO, Jack Maguire. That's Jack here.

And while we are onto the personalities, here is some more background on the concerto soloist, Fabio Zanon. Fabio is Brazilian but we first met in London in 1994 where he was pursuing postgraduate studies at the Royal Academy, after exhaustive studies in Brazil in conducting and composition as well as guitar performance. In 1996 Fabio was catapulted into the limelight by a series of spectacular guitar competition wins at the highest international level, since when he has established a reputation as a magnificent interpreter and a formidable scholar, not least on Villa-Lobos, and in 1997 he became the first instrumentalist of any instrument to be awarded Brazil's Santista Prize, a national award for contributions to Brazilian culture. I brought Fabio to Dorchester in 1999 for a solo recital and there are many people impatient for his return!

So I hope that's all answered one or two questions from the last edition of Countdown! And in case you were still wondering about the dancing fairy from before, well, Oberon is of course in fact the King of the Fairies, a point I am sure will be kept in its ahem, due literary and folkloric perspective.














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Countdown! III - June 1st 2003

Since the last edition of Countdown! at the Spring Equinox many more things have fallen into place regarding the Oberon Chamber Orchestra performance on Midsummer Night - 21st June. That's to say, nearly all the players have been hired, and the programme is at last totally finalised!

As far as the hiring of players is concerned this process has been an interesting one because in my world of solo recitals and working with fixed chamber music groups, the business of accepting or otherwise a date for a performance - gig to use the parlance - is quite simple: you say 'yes' and that's it. With orchestral players who might at the last minute be offered a two week residency in a show or something, the answer is 'Yes, unless I get offered a two week residency in a show or something'. Which is perfectly sensible because there is a lot more money in that, and obviously one would do the same in their situation: its just a bit of a different world, one of inter-changeability. Fortunately my 'fixer' Brian Howells has been dealing with all the players and getting to sort these things out. Brian was the violinist in our Quartetto Concertante last year ­ this photo is from our publicity.


The finalisation of the programme rested on the fact that Schubert's 5th Symphony is a tiny bit short to occupy the second half on its own, so we needed something to supplement that part of the programme. The solution in the end was easy: more from Mendelssohn's incidental music to A Midsummer Night's Dream, in the form of the truly gorgeous Nocturne.

So we start with the Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, which is probably one of the most popular overtures ever, even though when it was written it wasn't actually to be used as an overture to anything, the composer just wrote it, in 1826. He happened to be all of 17 at the time and I suppose you can do those things when you are that old, though in fact the miracle is that such a perfect work of musical and literary synthesis was created by one of an age when few can cope much with Shakespeare at all. Well, he only knew the play from a German translation

With some symmetry then the second half opens with the Nocturne: this is from the incidental music written in 1843 at the behest of King Frederick William of Prussia, and this movement is basically a solo for French Horn. The four lovers have been running about in the forest at night getting very tired, lost and confused, and as they sleep Puck gets to put right his mistakes. At its end the fairy queen Titania is revealed in a clinch with the donkey-headed clown Bottom, which was more of Puck's doing; you'll just have to read the play to get the full picture!

As far as the concerto is concerned, all I can say is I'm very glad somebody as capable as Fabio has got the job of playing it, because I was fully reminded how very hard indeed it is during the preparation of the final version of the soloist's part. Its also full of colours in the orchestra, which isn't very large, but the instrumental combinations are used to full effect. The first movement is full of energy and certainly deserves its sleepy ending: the second movement starts with a solo for the bassoon in its highest register, and has subtle modal and medieval influences aiming for a more spiritual repose. The last movement works itself up into quite a lather before a very happy dance-like conclusion.

As for Schubert's 5th, its another case of youthful genius at work, because this work was written when the composer was 19. The symphony is full of the late-classical verve and clarity of Mozart and Haydn and is justly one of the composer's most popular works.

Another heartening thing about organising this event has been the enthusiastic way people have rallied around to help. The support of Music and Arts Promotion Dorchester (MAP) was critical because under their umbrella approaches to funding bodies could be made, and their advice and expertise continues to be invaluable. And quite a few people have taken up the offer to become Player Sponsors, for which they get access to the rehearsal on the Saturday afternoon, reserved seating, and signed programmes: and no doubt the warm glow that comes from supporting a worthy artistic cause! There are a few players left looking for a sponsor if you are interested ....



Here's all the data for the Midsummer Night's Concert

Saturday 21st June 2003 7.30 pm St Mary's Church, Edward Road, Dorchester.

Oberon Chamber Orchestra led by Jack Maguire, conductor Stephen Kenyon, soloist Fabio Zanon.

Mendelssohn: Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream

Stephen Kenyon: Guitar Concerto I (first performance)

Mendelssohn: Nocturne

Schubert: Symphony no. 5

Tickets: £10 (£4 students/school age)

from 01305 257099 or on the door

Supported by West Dorset District Council