Holloway at 80: chamber celebrations and new disc
Robin Holloway’s 80th birthday falls on 19 October and this year brings a rich collection of chamber performances of his music by leading soloists, together with a new Toccata Classics recording of his arrangements of works by Brahms and Schumann.
Robin Holloway returns to the town of his birth for an 80th birthday feature at the Leamington Music Festival between 28 April and 1 May. The five concerts include Holloway works performed by leading chamber musicians including clarinettist Michael Collins, hornist Ben Goldscheider and the Sacconi Quartet. The recent Quintet for horn and string quartet, featured in the final concert at Leamington Spa’s Royal Pump Rooms on 1 May, is also performed at Kings Place in London on 30 April.
> Visit the Leamington Music Festival website
1 May brings the world premiere at the Winchester Chamber Music Festival of Holloway’s new Quintet for piano, two violins, viola and cello, led by pianist Huw Watkins. The festival finale concert at St Paul’s Church in Winchester is preceded by Huw Watkins in conversation with Robin Holloway, who was his composition teacher at Cambridge University.
> Visit the Winchester Chamber Music Festival website
A further Holloway chamber premiere, a new Quintet for bassoon and string quartet, is planned for the Autumn with Amy Harman as lead soloist.
On 5 May Toccata Classics releases a new recording of Holloway arrangements with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Mann (TOCC 0450). Creating new realisations, orchestrations and arrangements of music by classic composers has long held a fascination for Robin Holloway, and the new collection is a fitting birthday celebration for this endeavour. Brahms is the focus in the new orchestrations of his Variations on a Theme of Schumann op.23 and the Symphony in F minor op.34, joined by Holloway’s orchestration of Schumann’s Six Canonic Studies op.56.
> Visit the Toccata Classics website
The works chosen by Holloway for these orchestrations had tangled compositional histories of their own. For instance, the Symphony in F minor started life as a string quartet in 1862, then was arranged by Brahms for two pianos, and then again as a piano quintet, offering three sources for Holloway to expand upon in 2008 to create an orchestral alternative.
Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Schumann drew upon his ‘last musical idea’, first turned by Schumann himself into a set of piano variations and utilised in his violin concerto – both unpublished until the 1930s – then adopted by Brahms in 1861 into a two-piano set of variations as a homage after Schumann’s death. This left open possibilities for Holloway’s orchestration of 2016, fulfilling the music’s textural and expressive range and expanding the Epilogue to explore a mood of grief and bitterness.
Three composers are also wrought into Holloway’s 2011 chamber orchestration of the Six Canonic Studies. Schumann originally composed them in 1845 for pedal piano, an exotic instrument invented as a home alternative to the church organ. The primary source for Holloway here was Debussy’s 1891 arrangement for two pianos, and the soundworld hovers somewhere between Schumann and Debussy.
In the notes for the new Toccata recording Holloway explains that “alongside original compositions I have devoted much time, care, love, to orchestrations or arrangements of music by some great composers of the past. Bach above all (Goldbergs, Musical Offering, Orgelbüchlein and, in progress, The Art of Fugue); Haydn (transcriptions for piano duet of all those string quartets not done in the nineteenth century); Mozart (tentative completion of his keyboard suite in Baroque style); Schubert (an orchestration of Lebensstürme, a fantasia upon his Fantasie for violin and piano, as well as a bold attempt to round off his unfinished B minor symphony); Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder; songs by Wolf, Ravel, Debussy, Britten’s Winter Words and, most recently, Janácek’s Diary of a Young Man who Disappeared; piano pieces by Chabrier, Fauré, Ravel, and Debussy’s En blanc et noir. Maybe there’ll be more….”
“Why? Some of these works ‘have a problem’; mostly they are perfected as they stand, and yet there’s a sense that they might be opened out, reverently enhanced, spread more widely, ‘Stravinskified’, even though it may take them – occasionally, sometimes, cheekily tweaked or teased – out of their original aims, idioms, terrains.”
The new Toccata release follows four Holloway recordings in recent years on the Sheva Contemporary label. These include the Quintet for horn and string quartet and works for solo horn performed by Ondrej Vrabec, together with a collection of chamber trios and the composer’s ‘song cycle for speaker’ Moments of Vision.
> Further information on Work: Quintet for horn & string quartet
Photo: Charlie Troman