Birmingham's own classical composer
By Faye Melhuish
He's a Birmingham composer with an international reputation. I caught up with Andrew Downes to talk about his career and his new project.
Andrew Downes was born in Handsworth and has lived around the local area for many years, working in Birmingham as the Head of the School of Composition and Creative Studies at Birmingham Conservatoire.
He grew up with music, making up tunes on the piano from age four but originally wanted to become a singer and was in many choirs including the Midland Boy Singers in Walsall.
Some of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
His father was also a professional horn player and played in the in BBC Midland Light Orchestra.
However, Andrew is adamant that composing is not all highbrow intellectual music. "I love to be influenced by everything" he says, such as rock, folk and western. His favourites being The Rolling Stones.
His latest project is an operatic adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd, but more of that later.
Andrew's compositions have been played all around the world.
Andrew outside Rudolfinum, Prague
His commissions have included song cycles for mezzo-soprano Sarah Walker and tenor John Mitchinson for broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
His Concert Overture ‘Towards a New Age’ premiered in Symphony Hall, Birmingham. His Songs of Autumn (2003) and Songs of the Skies were both commissioned by Symphony Hall. Plus many more.
He has worked a lot with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and told me that he "loves working with people that talented" and that is it very exciting to watch his own music be performed in such an environment.
Audiences respond well to his music he says, as the melodies are very broad, with some of his pieces even having Native American influences.
Andrew and his family.
Andrew gave me some advice for all the budding composers out there. "It's all terribly important that we learn from each other." he said, "Composing is a very difficult area to get into and you have to be really determined."
"Everyone has all sorts of inspiration from all kind of society. With them all working together they create a fantastic fusion."
He encourages people skills. He wants composers to be known as good communicators and not by the snooty stereotype.
Far from the Madding Crowd
Andrew was approached by the Thomas Hardy society four years ago. They decided Far from the Madding Crowd would be best for operatic adaptation because he and his wife, Cynthia both like happy endings and felt that there was a significant element of humour in the story.
Paula Downes as Bathsheba Everdene
The adaptation took three years and Andrew is really keeping it in the family, with his wife writing the libretto, daughter Paula playing the lead role of Bathsheba Everdene and his other daughter Anna leading the orchestra.
Andrew told me that it was "marvellous" to be involved in such a project and that he wasn't ruling out doing it again. With his next venture possibly being a musical.
But with all adaptations "You need to know how its going to work before you put pen to paper, you do not want to waste your time."
Far From The Madding Crowd
You can catch Andrew and Cynthia's operatic adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd on 29th, 30th and 31st August at St James Church in Wednesbury.
Tickets are £5 and can be obtained from Steve Melia on: 0121 502 5751
last updated: 26/07/07
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