In memory of
This concert is dedicated to the memory of Judith Smith, our principal bassoon for over 20 years, who died in December 2022 after bravely living with breast cancer for six years. Judith was a wonderful player who had previously played professionally with the Manchester Camerata, among others. Her proficiency enabled the orchestra to tackle some of the most infamous bassoon repertoire: most notably Shostakovich’s 9th symphony with its terrifying bassoon cadenza, which she performed twice with us.
As well as her fabulous playing, the orchestra particularly misses her self-deprecating sense of humour, often referring to herself as ‘bad Judith’ (‘good Judith’ being Judith Ennis on flute!), and also her organisational and personal skills in ‘fixing’ the bassoon section, with the repertoire’s tendency for erratic and specific requirements of bassoon numbers! She was, above all, an extraordinarily kind, generous and self-effacing person, preferring others to take the limelight while she quietly got on with the job at hand.
Judith’s son Dominic is a member of the cello section and continues to provide us with a link with her. Dominic writes: "Judith was particularly fond of the symphonies of Brahms and Beethoven, and in fact her final time playing ‘in person’ with the Hallam was our last rehearsal before the Covid pandemic in March 2020, when we were rehearsing Brahms 4 for a concert which never happened. She would have loved the anniversary concert programme."
Benjamin is a member of the orchestra’s cello section who reckons he has been composing since he was two years old. One of his earliest musical memories is of listening as a very young child to the suite from Shostakovich’s The Gadfly and Shostakovich has been a favourite composer ever since. Benjamin studied the fifth symphony for A Level and wrote his Master’s dissertation on the fourth symphony; his compositions during this course included his first piece for full orchestra The Hollow Island, which was premiered by the university’s symphony orchestra in 2021.
Shostakovich’s approach to composition continues to be an influence and you can decide tonight whether this can be seen in the new work!
My approach to “Shining Dawn” was to create something celebratory and memorable that also depicted something forming, crystallising and coming together. The fact that a group of musicians have been coming together for 50 years to make and enjoy music, and as a consequence spread that enjoyment further, is something genuinely fantastic.
I remember thinking after lockdown that even though there was quite a lot of rubbish going on in the world, being able to do this together - and continuing through thick and thin in one way or another - is something truly worth celebrating. I have also hidden the number 5 in the piece in a few different ways to celebrate the five decades, and the piece even finishes on note 5 of the scale, meaning it leaves things open ever so slightly. 50 years is a momentous milestone, but it’s certainly not the end.
Symphony no.1 (C Major)
Ludwig van Beethoven
1. Adagio molto - Allegro con brio
2. Andante cantabile con moto
3. Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace
4. Finale: Adagio - Allegro molto e vivace
Without prior knowledge, one would assume that Beethoven's first symphony would sit amongst his early output; similarly prodigal contemporaries had already churned out their first in their teen years (Mozart of course had, astonishingly, written his first symphony by the age of 8; Schubert had completed six symphonies by the time he was 16). But in fact Beethoven had already knocked out 10 piano sonatas and 6 string quartets before he got round to finishing opus 21, the Symphony No. 1, sometime around 1799 (although the exact completion date is unknown, with sketches tracing back to 1795) – aged 29.
The preceding string quartets were, in essence, slightly more circumspect works than the daring tonal language that had been fostered beforehand would suggest. But in mitigation, Beethoven had already spent a year under Haydn's tutelage, and it may well be that the large shadow cast by his master's prolific hand had caused him to be wary that, when the big works were written, they were to be fitting to such a teacher.
The piece was first played on the 2nd of April, 1800, at Vienna's grand Burgtheater, in what was essentially a lavish self-benefit concert. And while the musical style of the first symphony certainly shares similarities with Haydn and indeed Mozart, there are plenty of trademark Beethovenisms along the way; not least the very opening, which propels the wind section to the forefront, accompanied by pizzicato strings. Here we hear deliberately ambiguous harmony, disguising the true centre of C major, and not hitting the root tonic chord (i.e. C major with a C at the bottom) until the Allegro launches some bars later. Not necessarily particularly shocking developments to modern ears, but nevertheless all rather revolutionary stuff at the time.
Listen carefully and you'll hear further hallmarks of Beethoven's style throughout; traits that would be magnified somewhat by the time the Eroica was written three years later. The winds' aforementioned increased autonomy; sudden shifts in tonality; rich, grand melodies that are at the same time majestic yet simplistic; alarming sforzando gut punches and fortissimo recapitulations.
The whole symphony rattles along boisterously, barely catching its breath over its 25-minute span. Even the slow second movement pretends to be a chirpy Minuet, and the third movement's Minuet assumes the form of a Scherzo, all before an explosive and irreverent finale, completing Beethoven's announcement to not just the Viennese patrons, but indeed the world, as one of the great orchestral composers.
Notes by Chris Noble
Symphony no.4 (E Minor)
1. Allegro non troppo
2. Andante moderato
3. Allegro giocoso
4. Allegro energico e passionate
Just as Beethoven stood in the symphonic shadow of Haydn, Brahms’ slow start as a symphonist is attributed to his deep respect for Beethoven - "You have no idea how the likes of us feel when we hear the tramp of a giant like him behind us”. Brahms composed his No. 4 during the summers of 1884 and 1885 in the Styrian alps. The source of the symphony's tragic character is speculated to be Brahms' desire to contrast with his previous symphonies, his contemplation of Greek tragedy, study of Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra and possibly considerations of his own mortality (he had written letters to his publisher on completing the symphony about his intentions for the premier in case he didn't survive that long!) The symphony had a lukewarm reception from his close friends, some suggesting he rewrite the inner movements, but it was well-received at its premiere and has remained a cornerstone of the symphonic repertoire since.
The main theme of the first movement is a drooping, almost sighing melody first heard in the violins, the theme evolves and is interrupted by fanfare-like motifs in the woodwinds. The second theme is broader and first heard in the cellos and horns, it transforms into a powerful almost tango-like section that is eventually ominously interrupted by the strings. the opening melody reappears in a disguised form and the music is rigorously, almost classically developed, “I feel I’ve just been beaten up by two terribly intelligent people” is how one of Brahms' confidants first reacted to this symphony and Brahms was often criticised in his time for being overly intellectual in his symphonies (presumably in contrast to his more 'Romantic' contemporaries); a staggering idea on hearing how emotionally wrought this first movement is.
The foreboding opening horn call of the 2nd movement is in the ambiguous and ancient sounding Phrygian mode (think the melodies of the Tallis Fantasia, or Metallica's "Wherever I May Roam"), which contrasts with the bright E major wind music that follows it. Throughout the movement there is opposition between powerful, beautiful, loud and quiet, major, minor and modal. It's hard not to read a dramatic plot into the music and our conductor and musical director Jon Malaxetxebarria notes that Brahms was deep into his study of Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra, as well as Greek history whilst composing this music. Brahms never gave his music a program as was becoming more usual with his contemporaries, so we will have to imagine what struggles he was wrestling with in this movement!
The third movement is possibly the most obviously Beethovian, at the premier it was an instant hit and the audience demanded an encore immediately. Brahms declined, history does not record whether they also had cake planned after the concert and a 10PM curfew. Triangle and piccolo add shine to this playful dance-like scherzo.
Brahms was captivated by the Baroque chaconne, a continuous variation style typically in 3/4 time, He expressed his fascination with the chaconne in a letter to Clara Schumann and arranged some Bach chaccones for piano left hand (although he was a frequent guest at the Wittgenstein house, this was not written for the wartime amputee Paul Wittgenstein, who was 10 when Brahms died, in fact Clara Schumann seems to have at least been the most thankful beneficiary as she played them after injuring her right hand). The chaconne that is this final movement is built upon eight powerful chords played by the woodwinds and brass at the opening, there then follows 32 variations and a remarkably bleak and fatalistic coda. the mood shifts as in the 2nd movement between light and dark, dancing and solemn. Brahms is embracing an ancient musical form and making it his own.
Notes by Tom Davies
Born in Gernika in the Basque Country of Spain, Jon Malax conducts regularly in both Spain and the United Kingdom. In Spain he has conducted many ensembles such as the Orquesta Radio Televisión Española, the Basque Country Symphony Orchestra, Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, Navarra Symphony
Orchestra, Oviedo Filarmonía, Orquesta Sinfónica de Extremadura, the Orfeón Pamplonés, Bilbao Municipal Band and the Malaga Philharmonic. Jon has been the assistant conductor at the two main opera houses in Spain: Teatro Real (Madrid) and Liceu (Barcelona).
From 2016-2021 he was Music Director of the Basque Youth Orchestra. He is currently Head of Conducting studies at Musikene Music Conservatory in San Sebastian.
In the UK he has conducted Manchester Camerata, Liverpool Mozart Orchestra, Crosby Symphony Orchestra, Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra, North Staffordshire Symphony Orchestra and the Derbyshire City & County Youth Orchestra amongst others. He was Music Director of Solihull Symphony
Orchestra from 2013-2023.
As a keen advocate of new music, Jon performed the world premiere of Simon Dobson’s Trombone Concerto with Peter Moore and the RNCM Brass Band, broadcast on BBC Radio 2.
Following his studies with Dale Clevenger at Roosevelt University in Chicago, Jon moved to Manchester in 2010 to study orchestral conducting at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM). Upon completion of his studies he was awarded the Mortimer-Furber Prize in Conducting, and in 2011 he was appointed as a conductor of the Junior RNCM. Jon has been Senior Lecturer in Conducting at Leeds Conservatoire since 2014. As a guest conducting tutor, Jon has taught at the RAF, RNCM (both undergraduate courses and international short conducting courses) and at the University of Manchester.
Hannah Thompson-Smith, Kate Fehler, Matthew Cobbold, Richard Gilbert, John Cooper, Paul Adam, Liz Stephenson, Catherine Pugh, Anton Nikolaev, Richard Allen, Katy Silverman
Tom Davies, Mary Dougherty, Jack Czauderna, Helena Vassiliadis, Hannah Watson, Deborah Blewitt
Rachael Evans, Catherine Bowman
Charlotte Kenyon, Helen Mather, Kiri Smith, Sue Adams, Laura French, Charlotte Boig
Jeremy Dawson, Charlie Hardwick, Benjamin Jackson, Nat Blakesley, Joy Paul, Sue Dumpleton, Dominic Smith, Angela Rosenfeld, Matthew Moore
Stuart Wilson, Cathy Bennett, John Goepel, Christie Harrison, David Shearn
Judith Ennis, Kath Hathaway
Vicky Holmes, Helen Jenkinson
Karen Burland, Cath Murray
Dawn Allenby, Tom Farrar, Bia Cavalho (Contrabassoon)
Rachel Wilkes, Jo Towler, Frank Edenborough, Gill Hillier
Matthew Redfearn, Jocelyn Allsopp, Jo Beach
Andrew Knowles, Nick Hart, Richard Dixon
Adam Harrod, Gareth Widdowson