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The Sixth Annual Malcolm Arnold Festival 21st – 23 October 2011:

Gramophone Magazine January 2012 – Ivan March

“Sir Malcolm Arnold was once asked why he wrote symphonies, and the gist of his reply was, ‘I find the height of my musical enjoyment in listening to a well-argued, thoughtful, lively and emotional piece of music played by a symphony orchestra’. He went on to say, explaining his great gift for writing melody: ‘I find ideas accumulate and develop automatically. My mind seems to pick them up like a rolling snowball and eventually there are enough to form a whole work, and a whole section can take its musical form from a few basic intervals. I do not normally write atonal music which leads to a state of music meandering, whereas I want to write something understandable, new and simple.’

The sixth annual Malcolm Arnold Festival was organised by its director, Paul Harris in the town of the composer’s birth and was held in the main auditorium and smaller underground area of the Royal & Derngate Theatre, over a three-day weekend in October 2011. Its special claim to fame was the presentation of all nine of Sir Malcolm’s symphonies – an achievement unique in British music-making. Eight different semi-professional provincial orchestras of remarkably high calibre participated, including the Cambridge SO, conducted by Steve Bingham (Nos 1 and 2), the (Yorkshire) Slaithwaite PO, conducted by Benjamin Ellin (No 3), the University of London SO in the hands of Daniel Capps (No 4), the extraordinarily accomplished Northamptonshire County Youth Orchestra in the charge of Peter Dunkley (No 5), the Ealing Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Gibbons (No 6), the Hull Philharmonic and East Riding Youth Orchestras directed by Andrew Penny (Nos 7 & 8). To round things off, John Gibbons directed the Malcolm Arnold Festival Orchestra in the profound and enigmatic Ninth Symphony. Also three engaging programmes of Arnold’s whimsical chamber music for wind instruments were admirably played in the ‘Underground’ theatre by the excellent Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Ensemble.

Apart from the sheer enjoyment, it is a salutary experience to hear the nine symphonies in the order in which they were written and discover again how vividly original is their scoring and individually memorable are their themes. Alongside the rich, tuneful, lyrical writing, there are clashes of bold dissonance and moments of violence which one female listener suggested to me are essentially ‘man’s music’. These symphonies are characteristically unpredictable and hauntingly intense.

The Festival was opened by the inimitable Robert Hardy, a confirmed Arnold admirer who emphasised the composer’s gift of melody, and this was echoed by John Amis who launched the proceedings on the second day. Then a whole series of distinguished contributors talked about each symphony in turn before it was played.

The weekend was unforgettably stimulating and we must hope that Paul Harris can be persuaded to repeat this wonderful Arnoldian symphonic journey next year, perhaps suggesting that each orchestra and conductor might return, but each perform a different symphony of the Arnold Nine.”
Ivan March.


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