2010 was a very active and productive year for the composer. Since retiring from his full time teaching post in 2009 Ian Venables is now able to devote himself entirely to music.During the first half of 2010 he composed a new song cycle for the acclaimed British baritone Roderick Williams. ‘The Pine Boughs Past Music’ Op.39 was commissioned by Christine Talbot-Cooper on behalf of the Gloucester Music Society to celebrate the 8oth Anniversary of the founding of the society. Venables’ new cycle consists of four settings of poems by two Gloucestershire-born poets – Ivor Gurney and Leonard Clark. Although the Gloucestershire-inspired poetry provided the work with a unifying ‘theme’, the composer wanted to explore the inherent lyricism found in the poems themselves, and particularly the poets’ engagement with ‘landscape’. This much-anticipated work was given its première by Roderick Williams and the pianist Andrew West at St Mary de Lode Church in Gloucester on 15th April. (See Reviews). Later in the year the cycle received a second performance at the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival, performed once again by Roderick Williams but on this occasion with the pianist Susie Allan.
In addition to compositional ‘work in progress’ the composer has been actively involved in a number of CD recording projects. The first recording, on the Signum Label (See Recordings), is a complete disc of the composer’s music for voice and string quartet. Entitled ‘At Midnight’, it includes the song cycle ‘Invite, to Eternity’, Op.31 – four settings to poems by John Clare, as well as an arrangement by Graham J. Lloyd of four of the composer’s most well known songs. The première recording of Venables’ String Quartet Op.32 rounds off this important new release. The performers on this CD are the award winning tenor Andrew Kennedy and the internationally acclaimed Dante String Quartet. The second disc, released in September on the Naxos label, presents a selection of the composer’s songs. This recording is part of Naxos’ acclaimed English Songs Series (Vol.21) and is the first devoted to a living composer. It includes the première recording of the song cycle ‘On the Wings of Love’ Op.38 for tenor, clarinet and piano, as well the song cycle ‘Love’s Voice’ Op.22 for tenor and piano. Once again, the singer is Andrew Kennedy, who is partnered by the pianist Iain Burnside and clarinettist Richard Hosford. This new recording received a double five star award in the December issue of the BBC Music Magazine (see Reviews). The final recording, released in November, is a disc of Venables’ principal works for piano and strings. This much-awaited CD includes the first recording of the composer’s Piano Quintet Op.27 as well as a selection of other chamber works. The performers are the pianists Mark Bebbington and Graham J. Lloyd and the Coull Quartet (see Reviews). On the 3rd December 2010, the composer attended a Wigmore Hall concert, held to celebrate the 65th birthday of the renowned cellist Bernard Gregor-Smith. The concert opened with the première of a new Venables work, commissioned especially for the concert. ‘The Moon Sails Out’ Op.42 for cello and piano is based upon the composer’s earlier setting, for voice, clarinet and piano, of a poem by the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. The obvious Spanish influence in this work was an intentional tribute to the cellist’s close association with Andalucia.
The year 2008 started auspiciously with the release on the SIGNUM label (SIGCD112) of Ian Venables’ Songs of Eternity and Sorrow Op. 36, performed by Andrew Kennedy, the Dante Quartet and Simon Crawford-Phillips (see photo album).
This cycle was commissioned by the Housman Society and received its premiere at the Ludlow English Song Weekend in 2004. The recording, entitled ‘On Wenlock Edge’ has received much critical acclaim in all the leading CD music review magazines (see reviews) and it has been featured on both Andrew McGregor’s Record Review programme on Radio 3 and on Sean Rafferty’s ‘In Tune’.
It has also been highly praised in the National press. David Mellor writing in the ‘Mail on Sunday’ said, ‘Ian Venables choses some less well known Housman, including ‘Because I liked you better’ … Venables’ four settings come as an unexpected bonus and cap an outstanding CD no lover of British music should miss’. The music for this cycle has now been published by Novello and Co and can be obtained through this website by visiting the scores section. Other new publications released by Novello and Co in 2008 include, Ian Venables’ ‘Song Album – Ten settings for Baritone and Piano’ and an arrangement for voice and piano of ‘Songs of Eternity and Sorrow’ Op. 36a by Graham Lloyd. (seescores).
2008 has also seen further progress towards the completion of a large-scale song-cycle – a setting of Andrew Motion’s commemorative poem, ‘Remember This’. Commissioned by the Birmingham-based Limoges Trust, it is scored for tenor, soprano, string quartet, and piano and it is expected to be around 40 minutes in length. ‘Remember This’ is an elegy on the life of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. It comprises eight sections, inter-linked by a narrative that touches on interludes in her life, whilst reflecting upon the wider significance for humanity of the eternal cycle of life and death. This work is being especially written for the tenor Andrew Kennedy and soprano Elizabeth Watts and it will receive its world premiere at the end of 2010.
Breaking off from the Limoges commission, the composer set a short lyric poem, entitled ‘Friendship’ by the English poet Elizabeth Jennings. This song was written for the soprano Patricia Rozario and is dedicated to the memory of Jim Chance, a close friend of the composer who died suddenly in April 2008.
2009 will see the culmination of a number of recordings of the composer’s works. Andrew Kennedy, together with the Dante String Quartet, will record on the SIGNUM Label a complete CD of the composer’s music for voice and strings. The chief works represented on the disc are his song cycle, Invite, to Eternity Op. 31 – four settings of poems by John Clare, and his powerful String Quartet Op. 32.
The second recording is for the SOMME RECORDING CO. This CD will include all the composer’s music for strings and piano and will feature his important Piano Quintet Op. 27. The artist’s on this recording will be the Coull String Quartet and pianists Mark Bebbington and Graham Lloyd.
Finally, in November, Andrew Kennedy, together with pianist Iain Burnside and clarinettist Richard Hosford, will record a complete CD of the composer’s songs on the Naxos label. This major recording will also include the premiere recording of his song cycle, On the Wings of Love Op. 38 for tenor, clarinet and piano. As there are no release dates for these recordings, please watch this space!
Later this year, the composer will begin work on a song cycle for Baritone and Piano, for the outstanding British singer, Roderick Williams. The commissioning body for this work is the Gloucester Music Society and is to be written in celebration of its 80th anniversary. The cycle will draw on poetry written by Gloucestershire poets. The composer is delighted to be writing a work specifically for Roddy Williams who has already recorded and performed works by Venables.
This year has seen the fruition of a number of ongoing musical projects, culminating in December 2007 with the composer’s signing for the world-renowned publishers Novello and Co. (see photo album). Arrangements are now in place for the publication of all Venables’ songs and vocal music. Such has been the demand that his ‘Song Album’ (high voice) is now in its second printing – the album for baritone will be available in January. In addition, it is hoped that the full score of his song cycle ‘Songs of Eternity and Sorrow Op. 36’ will be on sale at the end of February. Novello and Co have also produced an informative and up to date biography together with a complete list of all currently available music scores on their website at www.chesternovello.com.
In conjunction with the publication of the score of Songs of Eternity and Sorrow, the acclaimed young tenor, Andrew Kennedy, together with the Dante String Quartet and pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips have recorded the cycle, and this new recording has just been released with outstanding reviews (see reviews). The CD is entitled ‘On Wenlock Edge’, and in addition to the famous Vaughan Williams cycle, the recording also includes Ivor Gurney’s ‘Ludlow and Teme’. This compact disc in available on the Signum Classics label (SIGCD112) and can be bought online at Presto Classical and Amazon.
During the summer of 2007, Ian Venables spent a month in the USA. While in San Francisco he gave an interview for the San Francisco Chronicle and a podcast that featured his Elegy for ‘Cello and Piano Op. 2. The cellist was Nathan Chan, a 13 year-old child prodigy who together with the pianist Graham Lloyd gave a passionate and moving performance of this early work. So successful was the partnership that this recording was uploaded onto Youtube where it has since received much critical acclaim and world-wide attention.
In the autumn of 2007, Cambridge University held its first conference to the poet and composer Ivor Gurney. As Chairman of the Ivor Gurney Society, Ian Venables was asked to give a paper on the subject of Gurney’s unpublished songs. His recent research into these songs led him to reconstruct a performing version of Gurney’s setting of Hilaire Belloc’s ‘Tarantella’ for tenor and piano. This was the focus of his paper and Gurney’s setting was subsequently given its first performance in a concert to mark the end of the conference by the tenor Andrew Kennedy and pianist Joseph Middleton. This recital also included a performance of the composer’s own setting of Gurney’s war sonnet ‘Pain’.
2007 also saw a number of high profile performances of the composer’s works that included two performances of his String Quartet Op. 32 by the Dante Quartet; a performance of his song cycle Songs of Eternity and Sorrow Op. 36 with Andrew Kennedy and the Sacconi String quartet, together with solo songs featured in recitals by Roderick Williams, William Coleman and Nathan Vale.
Although the composer is now recovering well from his recent illness he has through necessity had to curtail some of his composing and so regretfully has not been able to take on any new commissions. However, 2008 will be dominated by a major new work written especially for Andrew Kennedy and the soprano Elizabeth Watts.This work will be based upon the poem, ‘Remember This’ by the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion (more news to follow).
The Gurney Society annual spring weekend
Saturday 29 April 2006
St. Andrew’s Church, Churchdown, Gloucester
A Lecture and Song Recital
At 2.00pm – ‘Ivor Gurney and English Lyric Poetry’ with Professor Stephen Regan.
At 3.00pm – song recital with Keira Lyness (soprano) and Richard Sisson (piano).
Sunday 30 April 2006 – A literary walk with Graham Middleton.
This English song recital will include a variety of settings by Gurney, Butterworth, Quilter, Bussey, Ireland, and Elaine Hugh-Jones. The recital is followed by tea at 4.00pm. Combined tickets for the talk and recital are �15 and can be obtained from John Phillips on 01497 831660 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
During the first half of 2005, Ian Venables took a sabbatical and spent the majority of his time in Boston, USA where he worked on a number of new musical projects. He was also able to forge links with musicians at the New England Conservatoire. The distinguished Boston composer, Daniel Pinkham introduced Venables to Matthew McConnell and Troy Lucia who were studying composition. In May, Venables visited New York, and was fortunate to meet the composer, Ned Rorem. Rorem who is now in his early 80’s, is still very active as a composer and writer. His latest book entitled, ‘Wings of Friendship’ is a selection of his letters from (1944-2003) to some of America’s leading artistic figures, including; Leonard Bernstein, Virgil Thompson, Paul Bowles, and Edmund White. On his return to England in June, the composer suffered a serious illness that curtailed his composing for several months. He is now on the road to recovery and is currently completing a cycle of songs for tenor, clarinet and piano. This work will receive its premiere in December of this year at the Holywell Rooms in Oxford. In the summer of 2005, his recent ‘Finzi Friends’ commission, Songs of Eternity and Sorrow Op. 36 was arranged especially for voice and piano by Graham Lloyd for a performance at the ‘Celebrating English Song Series’ in Tardebigge, given by the 2005 Cardiff Singer of the World Lieder Prize winner, the tenor Andrew Kennedy and the pianist, Simon Lepper.
2006 will see a number of ongoing musical projects come to fruition. The independent record label SOMM, are due to release two English Song CDs that will include songs by the composer. The first disc, entitled. ‘Severn and Somme’ is performed by the baritone, Roderick Williams and pianist, Susie Allan. This disc will present a number of previously unrecorded songs by Ivor Gurney, together with songs by Christian Wilson and the late John Sanders. The Venables songs included are; Midnight Lamentation, A Kiss, Flying Crooked and Easter Song. The second CD, entitled, Love’s Voice is performed by the tenor, Nathan Vale and pianist Paul Plummer. This disc will feature song cycles by John Ireland, Finzi and Ian Venables’ cycle, Love’s Voice Op. 22, plus four other songs by the composer. Both of these recording will be available in the Autumn. Other concert highlights this year, will include; a performance of the composers large scale choral work, Awake, Awake, the World is Young Op. 34, given by the Worcester Cathedral Choral Society, conducted by Adrian Lucas; a song recital, as part of this year’s, ‘Autumn in Malvern’ music festival given by the tenor Nathan Vale and pianist Paul Plummer; a talk at the Recorded Music Society in Worcester, given by John Brain, that will feature the composer’s Piano Quintet Op. 27 and a song recital at St James’s Church, Wollaston performed by the tenor, Nathan Vale together with the pianist, Michael Jones and clarinettist, Anthony May.
2004 saw the completion and first performance of the composer’s song cycle, Songs of Eternity and Sorrow Op. 36. This commissioned work by the ‘Finzi Friends’ was premiered at the triennial ‘Weekend of English Song’ held in Ludlow on Friday 4th June. It was performed by Andrew Kennedy (tenor), Simon Lepper (piano) and the Tippett string quartet (see reviews). Before the concert Ian Venables discussed his new work in an open forum with Lyndon Jenkins.
On the 4th April 2004, Lady Bliss, the widow of Sir Arthur Bliss celebrated her 100th birthday. By way of a personal tribute, Ian Venables composed a special song – a setting of John Clare’s poem, ‘Love Lives Beyond’. This was privately recorded by the soprano Susan Black and pianist Graham Lloyd and was presented to Lady Bliss, at her home on Sunday 15th August. (see Bliss Society Newsletter Vol. 2, no. 4). See the Bliss Society website for more information.
One of the highlights of 2004 was the Three Choirs Festival song recital in Gloucester, given by Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside. This concert included two of the composer’s most engaging and popular songs, A Kiss Op. 15 and Flying Crooked Op. 28. In his review for the BMS Newsletter, Lewis Foreman said, ‘The two songs by Ian Venables were timeless, the dancing butterfly of the second delightfully caught, reminding us that good songs are still being written and need to be sung’.
On the 6th of November the composer travelled to Chester to hear a performance of his anthem, Awake, Awake the World is Young Op. 34 performed by the Chester Bach Singers, together with musicians from Chetham’s School of Music, conducted by Martin Bussey. Also in November the Baritone Howard Wong gave the premiere of the song Break, break, break Op. 33 no. 5 at a recital in London.
2005 looks to be yet another busy year for the composer. He is currently at work on a set of songs for Tenor, Clarinet and Piano, which will be his Op. 38. This privately commissioned work will bring together a number of settings in English by non-English poets.
By far the most important news this year is Thames Publishing’s decision to publish all of Ian Venables’ songs and chamber music. This exciting collaboration will begin with a volume of songs for high voice and will continue over the next few years with the publication of his other major works. For more information see the MusicRoom’s Music Sales.
Another highlight of 2005 will undoubtedly be the composer’s sabbatical in the USA. For two months he will be living in Boston, MA where he will work with musician’s from the New England Conservatory and the Boston University School of Music. In connection with this Ian Venables has been awarded a travel grant by the PRS foundation and Bliss Trust.
To mark the composer’s 50th birthday, there will be a concert of his music at the Countess of Huntingdon’s Hall, Worcester on Saturday 9th July and a concert in San Francisco to coincide with composer’s actual birthday on July 25th.
During the summer, Celebrating English Song at Tardebigge, (see below for further details) will also include his recent ‘Finzi Friends’ commission, in a special arrangement for Tenor and Piano by Graham Lloyd.
At the end of last year the composer completed a commission by the ‘Finzi Friends’ of a cycle of songs to poems by A. E. Housman. The work, entitled Songs of Eternity and Sorrow Op. 36 will be premiered at this year’s ‘Weekend of English Song’ in Ludlow on Friday 4th June performed by the tenor Andrew Kennedy with the Tippett String Quartet and pianist Simon Lepper (see the performances page for further details). Before the concert there will be an opportunity to hear the composer discuss the background to this new work in an open forum with Lyndon Jenkins.
Other highlights this year will include a performance of the composer’s orchestration of two Ivor Gurney songs ‘Severn Meadows’ and ‘Even such is Time’. These will form part of an English Orchestral Song concert on the 22nd May, given by Pershore Choral Society and conducted by Andrew Wilson. The songs will be premiered alongside two other Gurney songs orchestrated by Herbert Howells. On the 7th May there will be a performance of the composer’s String Quartet Op. 32 given by one of the country’s leading chamber groups, Chamber Domaine. This concert at the Hollywell Rooms in Oxford will also feature the first performance of a number of the composer’s songs arranged, by Graham J. Lloyd and sung by the soprano Helen Meyerhoff.
On the 4th April, Lady Bliss, the widow of Sir Arthur Bliss will celebrate her 100th birthday. By way of a tribute the composer has composed a special song – a setting of a poem by John Clare and chosen by Lady Bliss. The work will be presented to her on her birthday and performed shortly afterwards.