The Orchestral Music of Jonathan Dove
BBC Philharmonic / Timothy Redmond
Lawrence Zazzo, countertenor
The Orchestral Music of Jonathan Dove
1 Run to the Edge (2003) 4.53
2 The Ringing Isle (1997) 5.53
3 Hojoki (An Account of my Hut) (2006)
Dramatic cantata for counter-tenor and orchestra 29.36
Airport Scenes (2006)
Orchestral suite from the opera ‘Flight’
4 I Take-off 3.07
5 II Storm 5.10
6 III Dawn Landing 4.53
7 IV Departures 3.37
Gaia Theory (2014)
8 I Lively 9.01
9 II Very spacious 7.59
10 III Dancing 5.16
Total time 79.25
Lawrence Zazzo counter tenor
Timothy Redmond conductor
It was whilst working on the opera Flight that I first fell in love with Jonathan Dove’s extraordinary music. Along with the effortless word-setting that comes only from a life dedicated to composing for the theatre, it was the soaring and heartfelt beauty of his orchestral writing that really struck a chord. The works on this disc span nearly two decades, fromThe Ringing Isle written in 1997, to Gaia Theory, which was premiered at the BBC Proms in 2014. Together they offer a snapshot of the orchestral output of this most prolific and celebrated composer in his 60th birthday year.
Run to the Edge begins with a sudden burst of energy and a single pitch, ‘E’. As the sound ricochets around the wind and brass, and gradually morphs into the pithy motif on which the work is based, it is left to the violas to drive the piece forward with a chattering repetition of the opening note. It is perhaps no coincidence that Dove places the viola so centrally, for it was this instrument that he played as a teenager in the London Schools Symphony Orchestra under the direction of a young Simon Rattle. When he was commissioned by the LSSO to write a piece for their 2003 tour to Japan, it was a chance to acknowledge the formative experience that playing in a youth orchestra has on the life of any musician. The resulting showpiece is a thrilling musical journey with the tempo marking that all self-assured, virtuosic youth orchestras love the best: fast. The frenetic and urgent pulse that the violas instigate is quickly taken up by all sections of the orchestra and restlessly alternating bars of 6/8 and 2/2 offer the opportunity for snappy cross rhythms and quick flashes of orchestral colour.
The Ringing Isle was commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Association of British Orchestras. Its title is one coined by the composer Handel: so struck was he by the sound of bells when he arrived to live in Britain, that he described his adopted homeland as ‘the ringing isle’. As Dove writes, ’The sound of people ringing the changes is a peculiarly British sound of celebration, and it is the sound of communal music-making, so it seemed a good starting point for a piece celebrating British musical life.’ A series of bell-ringing changes informs the musical material – in particular ‘Grandshire Doubles’, ‘Oxford Treble Bob Minor’ and ‘Plain Bob Major’ – but there is literary inspiration at play too: as the busy chimes of the opening section give way to the luxuriant melody at 3’55”, it is Shakespeare who is evoked. Using a technique described by Robin Holloway, who taught Dove at Cambridge, as ‘suppressed vocalisation’, the words of John of Gaunt in Richard II, are ‘secretly sung’ by the strings:
This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea
Hojoki (An Account of My Hut), is the setting of a thirteenth century text by the poet Kamo no Chōmei (1153-1216). In a thought-provoking story of timeless relevance, the author chronicles a series of natural disasters that befell the people of Japan in the course of but a few years. Having witnessed the horrors of fire, earthquake, flood and famine, the poet retreats to a small dwelling in the mountains. ‘Now that I have reached the age of sixty’, he explains, ‘and my life seems about to evaporate like the dew, I have fashioned a lodging for the last leaves of my years…this hut is not even one hundredth the size of the cottage where I spent my middle years.’ Subtitled a ‘dramatic cantata’, it is probably the most substantial work ever written for counter-tenor and symphony orchestra and draws on all of Dove’s considerable skills as a musical story-teller. The premiere was given in September 2008 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek with Lawrence Zazzo singing the solo rôle.
Jonathan Dove’s 1997 comedy Flight was the work that confirmed his operatic talents to the world. Commissioned by Glyndebourne and premiered under the baton of David Parry, the conductor to whom Dove has entrusted so many of his first performances, Flight is based on the same true story that later inspired the 2004 Tom Hanks movie The Terminal. With a libretto by April De Angelis it tells the tale of a refugee, trapped in an airport, his encounters with all who pass through the building, and, ultimately, his acceptance that this might be his new home. As the composer writes, ‘Airports are gateways to adventure, strange micro-cities between countries. They are places where stories meet, imbued with the magic of flight’. Airport Scenes, a four-movement orchestral suite, was commissioned for Warwick University in 2006 by Paul McGrath, who had previously conducted the opera’s Belgian premiere.
Flight starts with a great theatrical flourish: an upward surge of excitement that compels us, as the refugee sings, to ‘Look! Up there’, and it is with this music that Take-off begins. The cast of the opera is peopled with holiday-makers, business-travellers and employees of airline and airport alike and it is their infectious enthusiasm for the possibilities of travel that is depicted in this first movement. A slow unfolding of the notes in the harmonic series causes the great blades of a jet engine to turn (0’55”) before the orchestra starts to send the plane on its thundering journey down the runway. As the wheels of the aircraft eventually leave the tarmac, a pair of piccolos takes us to the very edge of the orchestral pitch spectrum (2’15”), and a triumphant theme in E-flat major spirits the plane off into the distance. Storm is derived from Act II of the opera. The travellers are grounded overnight during electrical storms; the turbulence outside seems to affect them and leads to some strange behaviour, with violent consequences for the refugee. Dawn Landing sees the weather clear and the characters acknowledge the unfortunate events of the previous evening: ‘What a dreadful night. What have we done?’ (0’14”). A plane lands and a message of love is delivered (3’00”). Departures sees a reprise of the opening material which quickly accelerates into an irresistibly toe-tapping final chorus: ’Goodbye, goodbye. We’re for the sky’ (0’25”).
The last work on the disc, Gaia Theory, takes its inspiration from the groundbreaking writings of scientist and environmentalist James Lovelock. ‘Lovelock’s assertion that the Earth behaves as a self-regulating organism, which tends to maintain surface conditions on the planet that are favourable for life, is a beautiful idea in itself; and his image of everything dancing together to achieve this balance obviously invites music.’, writes Jonathan Dove. ‘I was struck by his observation that, since life on Earth began, the sun has got perhaps 30% hotter, and yet the Earth has not. For hundreds of millions of years, the impact of the sun’s heat has been moderated by cloud cover, the atmosphere, the albedo of the polar ice-sheets and so on, all affected by the behaviour of microscopic organisms as well as by animals, the respiration and rock weathering activities of lichens, plants and trees and innumerable other processes, including human activity – all, as Lovelock describes, “locked in a sort of dance in which everything changes together.”’
The dance that Dove creates in response is for a very large orchestra – including triple woodwind, five trumpets and an extensive percussion section – and is divided into three movements. The first, marked Lively, emerges from a triad of C major played high on the violins. Those three notes are joined by two more to create a five-note chord built of fourths: E-A-D-G-C and it is this musical cell that informs the entire work. Great melodic arcs, scurrying rhythmic patterns and hypnotic bass-driven ostinati are layered one over another, building and then dissipating, until we are left with the gentle ringing of a single triangle. The middle movement Very spacious describes a whole panoply of living entities and the different rates at which they breathe. Over the glacial ebb and flow of the strings, who need half a minute to complete their slow pattern of respiration, the bassoons take seven seconds and the flutes barely four for their three-note chords to rise and fall. Harp, vibraphone, celeste and piano add a gentle phasing of shifting sounds, their notes quietly resonating like a reflection of colours caught in the passing light. As this trance-like movement ends, the sound of the vast orchestra slowly dissolves to reveal only two notes remaining from the original five-note cell. Just as it seems as if the music will come to a halt, the violas take hold of this slim strand of musical DNA and the piece bursts into life once more. The Dancing finale teems with endless invention as Dove considers ‘how the heat of the sun would change the character of the dance’. And then, after briefly settling over a driving bass pattern, and with a nod to the Stravinsky of Le sacre, this orgiastic dance of perpetual life accelerates until frozen mid-frame.
After many years of conducting Jonathan Dove’s orchestral works and experiencing their popularity with orchestras and audiences alike, it had always struck me as something of an anomaly that none had been commercially recorded. This is music that deserves to be heard and so I’m delighted that now, thanks to the generosity of Independent Opera at Sadler’s Wells whose financial support made this recording possible, it has the chance to reach the widest possible audience.
© Timothy Redmond
Jonathan Dove’s music has filled concert halls and opera houses with delighted audiences on five continents. Born in 1959 to architect parents, Dove’s early musical experience came from playing the piano, organ and viola. He later studied composition with Robin Holloway at Cambridge and, after graduation, worked as a freelance accompanist, repetiteur, animateur and arranger. From his early career he has continued to compose incidental music for theatre, including work for the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Dove’s work for orchestra has included three Proms commissions – A Song of Joys for chorus and orchestra opened the festivities at the Last Night of the Proms in 2010; in 2016 an expanded version of Our Revels Now Are Ended premiered at the same occasion; and Gaia Theory, which features on this disc, was premiered by Josep Pons and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2014. There are works for chorus and orchestra (There Was a Child), for young audiences (The Crocodiamond) and a ballet (Diana and Actaeon) as well as concertos for trombone (Stargazer), trumpet and alto saxophone (Moonlight Revels), flute (The Magic Flute Dances) and accordion.
Since his breakthrough opera Flight was commissioned by Glyndebourne in 1998, Dove has gone on to write almost thirty operatic works. Flight, a rare example of a successful modern comic opera, has been produced and broadcast many times in Europe, the USA and Australia. In 2018, Theater Bonn premiered Dove’s new opera, Marx in London, marking the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth. Casting a comical view on the philosopher’s life and his time in the city of London, the opera features a libretto by Charles Hart after an original scenario by Jürgen Weber.
Throughout his career Dove has made a serious commitment to community development through innovative musical projects. Tobias and the Angel, a 75-minute opera written in 1999, brings together children, community choirs, and professional singers and musicians in a vivid and moving retelling of the Book of Tobit. His 2012 opera Life is a Dream, written for Birmingham Opera Company, was performed by professionals and community choruses in a disused Birmingham warehouse, and a church opera involving community singers, The Walk from The Garden, was premiered at Salisbury Cathedral as part of the 2012 Salisbury International Arts Festival.
2015 brought the world premiere of The Monster in the Maze, a community opera commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra, Berliner Philharmoniker and Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, performed under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle in three separate translations and productions. The Monster in the Maze has since been performed around the world, translated further into Taiwanese/Chinese, Portuguese, Swedish and Catalan, and received a BASCA British Composer Award in 2016’s ‘Amateur and Young Performers’ category.
Jonathan Dove is published by Edition Peters.
Lawrence Zazzo counter tenor
A native of Philadelphia. Lawrence studied English and Music at Yale University and King’s College, Cambridge before completing his PhD in Music at Queen’s University. He made his operatic debut as Oberon A Midsummer Night’s Dream to great acclaim whilst studying voice at the Royal College of Music, London.
As an opera singer, Lawrence continues to perform in major opera houses throughout the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, Opera de Paris, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Staatsoper Berlin, Bayerische Staatsoper Munich, Teatro Real Madrid, La Monnaie Brussels, Vienna, Lyon, Aix-en-Provence, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Toronto and Glyndebourne. Lawrence premieres the work of composers in both early and contemporary music and has worked with leading conductors including René Jacobs, Rinaldo Alessandrini, William Christie, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Ivor Bolton, Ottavio Dantone, Martyn Brabbins, James Conlon, Peter Eötvos, Thomas Adès, Jonathan Dove, Iain Bell, and Rolf Riehm. He regularly appears in concerts and recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Innsbruck Festwochen, Leipzig Bach Festival, Theatre des Champs-Elysées, the Edinburgh Festival, BAM, the Wiener Konzerthaus, and the Festival d’Opera Baroque in Beaune. His CD and DVD recordings include Giulio Cesare, A Royal Trio, Saul, Deborah, Rodelinda, Messiah,Rinaldo, Serse, Partenope, Riccardo Primo, Griselda, Byrdland, Lunarcy, Lotario, Fernando Ré di Castiglia, Chichester Psalms, Stabat Mater, Apollo et Hyacinthus, and Mitridate. In addition to giving masterclasses throughout the world, Dr. Zazzo is Lecturer and Head of Music Performance at Newcastle University, where he also teaches a course on Performing Baroque Opera.
Timothy Redmond conductor
A love of contemporary music has taken Timothy Redmond to opera houses and orchestras around the world. He has conducted productions for companies including the Royal Opera, English National Opera, Irish National Opera, the Mariinsky Theatre, Opera Theater of St Louis and at festivals in Aldeburgh, Bregenz, Los Angeles, Tenerife and Wexford. He started his career as a member of music staff at De Vlaamse Opera, Strasbourg, Garsington and Glyndebourne and as an assistant to Elgar Howarth, Valery Gergiev and Sir Colin Davis.
He has appeared in the UK with the BBC Symphony, Philharmonic and Scottish Symphony Orchestras, the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Britten Sinfonia and English Chamber Orchestra, and with the City of Birmingham Symphony, Hallé, London Philharmonic, Philharmonia and Royal Scottish National Orchestras. He has conducted widely throughout Europe and the US with the RTÉ Orchestras, St Louis Symphony, Oulu Sinfonia, Concerto Budapest, Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana and the Rotterdam Philharmonic. He has long-standing associations with the Manchester Camerata, Royal Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestras and he has recorded orchestral discs for EMI, Warner Classics and Harmonia Mundi.
Timothy Redmond studied at Manchester University and the Royal Northern College of Music and in masterclasses with Ilya Musin and Pierre Boulez. He is Professor of Conducting at the Guildhall School, where he also conducts many of their opera productions, and he teaches conducting at the Dartington International Summer School.
The BBC Philharmonic, known for its innovative and versatile music-making, has its home in Salford and enjoys worldwide recognition. Its adventurous approach to programming places new and neglected music in the context of the established classical canon and the orchestra performs over 100 concerts a year for broadcast on BBC Radio 3. The orchestra’s passion for bringing classical music to new audiences has seen collaborations with Clean Bandit, The 1975, Jarvis Cocker, Will Young, The Courteeners, Rag’n’Bone Man, Elbow and The xx.
Known for its range of creative partnerships, the orchestra’s recent work across BBC networks includes performing at 2017’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards and recording music for the title sequence of the BBC Proms TV coverage in 2017. The orchestra also records for CD/download and has delivered over 250 recordings for Chandos, selling close to one million albums.
Performing across the North of England and beyond – the orchestra is resident each year at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall and appears annually at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms. Internationally-renowned, the BBC Philharmonic also tours Europe and Asia, has performed in America and China and was touring Japan during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Embracing new technology, the orchestra launched Philharmonic Lab in May 2018 in partnership with BBC Research and Development – inviting audiences to keep their mobile phones on to access live programme notes in a bold move to reimagine the orchestral experience.