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British Music Festival, featuring the music of Sir Malcolm Arnold, At St Petersburg, Russia

November 2007

A summary by Edward Clark, Festival Producer

The initial idea for a British Music Festival at St Petersburg came from Rudi Eastwood, a young British musician studying conducting at the city’s famous Conservatoire. Rudi felt there was a lack of knowledge towards British music among his fellow students and professors. What better way to correct this than to perform British music for the benefit of the many music lovers living in St Petersburg?

My first contact with Rudi, some years ago, arose from our mutual love for Sibelius. Rudi, in typical entrepreneurial fashion, devised an all Sibelius programme at St Giles Cripplegate London and persuaded the famous broadcaster, Richard Baker, to take part! Here was a young man with ideas, energy and boundless optimism. His performances were well considered and full of feeling.

When Rudi contacted me last year out of the blue about his grand design for St Petersburg I asked how he was going to pay for his ambitious Festival. “With difficulty” was his reply and so I volunteered to act as fundraiser, or in a rather grand way, as Producer of the Festival and Rudi became Artistic Director. In truth we overlap in certain areas including ideas for the music to be played. 

Rudi had already set his stall out to support certain composers in need of wider recognition (in the UK let alone Russia!) and these included John Ireland and Gerald Finzi. On a visit to St Petersburg last September I realised the only British work being performed in the entire orchestral season (the city has two opera houses and half a dozen professional orchestras) was Elgar’s Cello Concerto. There was no evidence of Britten or Tippett, nor various fashionable moderns. We, therefore, could work off a blank canvass for ideas of repertoire, as it seemed no one would have any preconceived notions. There were to be orchestral and chamber concerts and modern composers would be represented throughout. The list of names included Ireland, Vaughan Williams, Elgar, David Matthews, Matthew Taylor, James Francis Brown

Our mutual love for Sir Malcolm Arnold’s extensive output made it easy to consider how best to represent his genius before audiences not familiar with his music. Hence our choice of works from three important strands from his catalogue; a symphony (Symphony No 5), a popular orchestral piece (Set No 2 from the English Dances) and the wonderful Second String Quartet. (Rudi and decided on this piece sitting in the Irish Pub opposite the Mariansky Theatre, reflecting on Arnold’s use of an Irish jig in the second movement!)
Arnold, along with Elgar, who also has orchestral and chamber music in the Festival, is among the best-represented British composers during the month-long duration in November 2007. It is also my intention to give a seminar on “Shostakovich and Arnold, twin spirits living in hostile environments.”  Arnold met the great Russian in Moscow and Prague, both composers officially representing their country’s musical professions. Arnold began his Sixth Symphony (without a commission) immediately on return from his last meeting with Shostakovich. My intended seminar title gives hints as to my approach to the music of these two giants.

Fortified by some wonderful sponsors we can look forward to our British Music Festival with pleasure and pride. Most of the performers will be Russian, including two fine professional orchestras. Our two conductors (or, on these occasions perhaps better known as guides!) are Rudi and Matthew Taylor

For details of the Festival programme please

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