Academy’s birthday tribute to Elgar

TONY COOPER The Academy of St Thomas, under the direction of its principal guest conductor, Christopher Adey, open with their new season in St Andrew's Hall, Norwich, on Saturday, March 3 (7.


The Academy of St Thomas, under the direction of its principal guest conductor, Christopher Adey, open with their new season in St Andrew's Hall, Norwich, on Saturday, March 3 (7.30pm), in a concert paying tribute to Sir Edward Elgar on the 150th anniversary of his birth. Alexander Baillie will be the guest soloist in the cello concerto in E minor, which Elgar completed late in his life in keeping with Schumann and Dvorak, who also composed their famous cello concerti towards the end of their lives.

It was, in fact, his very last major work, completed when he was 62 years old. However, he lived to be nearly 77 but he produced no music of any consequence after the cello concerto apart from some orchestrations of pieces by earlier composers.

Elgar had strong links with Norwich as he was a regular visitor to the Norfolk and Norwich Triennial Festival meetings held in St Andrew's Hall and it was here that he conducted Dame Clara Butt in his song-cycle, Sea Pictures (a festival commission) in 1899.

He also conducted the premiere of his cello concerto in America (Boston) in 1919. Unfortunately, it didn't go down very well and that may have been a pertinent factor in the termination of his creative activity. An unsatisfactory orchestral performance prevented it from making the fullest impression at its first hearing. Moreover, the audience came with the expectation and memories of hearing the luscious violin concerto (dedicated to and premiered by Fritz Kriesler in 1910) and were disappointed to find a work of four short movements in which a few leading themes were treated with almost severe conciseness. But this quality of conciseness could be said to be the work's strength. In the concerto (which is now one of the most popular in the repertoire and played the world over) the composer has said all that he wanted to say and a wealth of varied expression is contained within its simple outline.

Born at Broadheath, a village close to Worcester, the young Elgar had the great advantage of growing up in a thoroughly practical musical atmosphere as his father had a music shop in Worcester and was also a piano tuner. He studied the music available in his father's shop and taught himself to play a wide variety of instruments. It is a remarkable fact that he was very largely self-taught as a composer - evidence of the strong determination behind his original and unique genius.

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After Sea Pictures came one of his greatest religious compositions - The Dream of Gerontius - based on Cardinal Newman's great poem about a soul's journey through to its judgement and beyond. After its initial failure, Elgar was understandably depressed, but within a few days he had characteristically started writing again: an ebullient concert overture Cockaigne (In London Town) which was successfully premiered in 1901. After this success came the first of the two Pomp and Circumstance Marches: the first in D major contained the famous trio section that was later to become Land of Hope and Glory. Elgar appreciated its worth; he had prophesied: “I've got a tune that will knock 'em - knock 'em flat! a tune like that comes once in a lifetime.” How true he was! Elgar had arrived.

Completing the programme is Dvorak's fourth symphony with the concert opening with the overture to Carl Maria von Weber's romantic opera, Euryanthe.

t Tickets £14 to £8 (family tickets (5) £35 to £20), from Prelude Records, St Giles' Street, Norwich, telephone 01603 628319

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