Conductor Douglas Bostock On
THE SIR ARNOLD BAX WEB SITE
Last Modified April 5, 1999
Bostock, born in England in 1955, is one of the outstanding British
Conductors of his generation. In 1991 he was appointed Music
Director and Principal Conductor of the Carlsbad Symphony Orchestra,
one of the leading orchestras in the Czech Republic, a position from
which he resigned in May 1998. He has been Principal Guest
Conductor of the Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra of Bohemia since
1991 and is Permanent Guest Conductor of the Munich Symphony
Orchestra since 1997. He is a former pupil of Sir Adrian Boult
and he had a close working relationship with Bryden Thomson.
He is currently recording a series of British music for the Classico
The Douglas Bostock Interview
by Richard R. Adams
Whose decision was it to include Bax in your comprehensive
"British Symphonic Collection" for the Classico label?
I suggested we record Bax to the president and executive producer of
Classico, Peter Olufsen. He knew about Bax and he agreed with
me that Bax, as a major figure in British music, should be included
in our series.
RA: Did you have
any particular interest in Bax before doing the recording?
DB: Maybe more an
inquisitive interest and fascination than an abundant knowledge.
I've known and heard quite a lot of Bax's music but I would not
considered myself a "Bax buff."
RA: How did you
chose the programme for the Bax CD?
DB: First we decided
the CD should only be of Bax because Bax warrants that. It was
clear that to be representative we needed to include a symphony and
then to be true to the line of the series we needed to include
something unrecorded. I fancied the idea of a well known piece
and chose Tintagel, a work I've known for a long time and have
always admired. And although there are several recordings of
it, that didn't disturb the idea of doing it again. As for
which symphony to do, I was thinking about the Third because I've
known it and heard it more than the others. But I also felt
strongly of the importance of the Sixth which I believe has been
less recorded than some of the others, certainly less than the
Third and of course the Sixth has the reputation of being one of his
RA: Do you
believe it is his strongest?
it's amongst his greatest works. I wouldn't want to say
ultimately the greatest - if that indeed is possible.
RA: How did you come
across Overture to Adventure?
DB: Just by a
process of elimination. Because in this series we want to put
at least one previously unrecorded work onto each CD, we needed to
find something by Bax that hadn't been recorded before. We
also wanted something shorter because we knew there wouldn't be much
room after the symphony and Tintagel so I was thinking that
something like an overture would be nice, and then I just
happened to find Overture to Adventure in a catalogue of orchestral
music. I didn't know the work at all. I ordered it and
the other works from the publishers and was very much helped by the
people at the
Chappell/Warner library. The Overture to Adventure was an
absolutely virgin score. No one had ever used it before.
challenges does Bax pose to the conductor?
challenges I would say because his scores are complex. He's usually
using quite a large orchestra, and by that we are talking about
triple woodwind and full brass, percussion, harp and a sizable
string section often divided. With Bax you get those very complex
and personal harmonies and a kind of Straussian texture with
abundant chromatics, doublings and complex polyphonic lines going on
all at the same time. So it's not easy to disentangle.
It's like going through a thick fog, trying to find your way. You
have to decipher what are the principal lines and with the doublings
you have to work out what should be most dominant, which colour and
so on. The string writing is often like Strauss because of its
chromatic complexity. You're faced with lots of difficult,
meandering lines. And then there is the question of tempo;
where's the music going and what should be the right pulse and the
right colours and the right light or shade to make it clear.
These are not scores you can just open up and start. Clarity of the
composer's intentions is paramount for me. It's important to
be able to hear everything and not to be swamped by a mass of sound.
structures are often criticized for being rhapsodic. Do you agree?
DB: No. Each
piece of music has its own structure, doesn't it. To say weak
strong...these are very subjective words which, of course, stem from
the perceptions of the person who describes them as such.
Sometimes it may be a question of the balance of the orchestra or
the tempo which determines whether the structure will work. It
is very difficult to say on paper whether this is good or bad until
you've heard it performed. I know what is meant about this
"rhapsodic" nature in Bax, but let's say it's maybe a
point that needs particular attention on the part of the
conductor. There may be some academic reason for saying this
but I'd be a little guarded about making too general a statement
about weak structures in Bax's music. Generally, it works very
well. Again, it's a question of finding the right balance, tempi,
colour, pace and so on.
RA: You worked
with the Munich Symphony Orchestra for these recordings. How did
they respond to playing this music?
DB: By chance a
few of the players in the orchestra are British. I remember
principal cellist told me he had played a Bax symphony as a student
but for the rest of the orchestra this music was unknown and quite a
challenge. When they saw so many pages of music that is of
such complexity, they could not imagine how it would work out.
The Munich Symphony Orchestra is a quick working orchestra both in
terms of getting the notes right and in getting to the soul of the
music. I remember the orchestra finding this music very
satisfying. They found themselves being drawn into the music
and being in the midst of something very important. The
producer of the disc, Jiri Gemrot, didn't know Bax at all but he
left those recording sessions feeling uplifted. After the
sessions he told me he thought he had just heard one of finest
symphonies of this century - and he's a composer himself, one of the
leading Czech composers of his generation, in fact.
RA: You've been closely
associated with several prominent Baxians including Boult, Groves
and Bryden Thomson. Do you recall them discussing Bax with
DB: No, not that I can
remember. There may have been the brief mention but I don't
recall anything specific being said.
RA: One of your mentors
was Bryden Thomson who recorded all the Bax symphonies. Have you
heard his recordings and what is your opinion of them?
DB: The first thing
that should be said is that it was a pioneering effort to get
all the symphonies and tone poems done. Jack, in his usual
professional way, was able to get into the music and produce
beautiful playing from the orchestra. It's a wonderful
achievement. Of course in hindsight it's very easy to say this
could have be done differently or better, but he was out there in
the forefront doing it and one can only say "bravo" to
RA: Do you think Bax
might become anything other than a fringe composer?
DB: Yes. I think he
could become "major fringe." I don't think he's ever
going to go into the concert halls like Elgar or Strauss. His
message is very personal and his music is not easy to play.
The big forces required to play a Bax symphony make them rather
expensive to do. Managers are going to ask what are the rewards in
comparison to the investment required to rehearse and perform these
symphonies. But I think the music is going to go
somewhere and will become better known in Britain as well as
internationally. It's a voice that people will learn to listen to.
Bax does, however, require several listenings to appreciate.
RA: Do you have
any desire to perform or record more Bax?
DB: I would love
to do more Bax, but right now I don't see the possibility of
recording another Bax disc because we're in the middle of doing this
British cycle, and Bax has already had his shot. But in the
coming years, I would deeply love to record more. I'd also
love to play some Bax in concert. I don't think it's too
difficult to programme Tintagel or one of his shorter works. I'd
also love to do one of the symphonies or Garden of Fand but I'd have
to have a good orchestra, decent acoustic and sufficient rehearsal
RA: What can we look
forward to in the Classico series?
DB: We have the
world premiere recordings of Arthur Butterworth's First Symphony and
Ruth Gipps' Second Symphony, which are about as rare as you can get.
Then we'll be making the world premiere recording of Gustav Holst's
Cotswolds Symphony in May. We've been given the permission and
blessings of the Holst Trust to do this. It will be a
sensation, I'm sure. We will have a disc devoted to Sir
Malcolm Arnold, the programme of which we haven't yet finalized but
it will include at least three premiere recordings! Other composers
we have lined up include York Bowen, Montague Philips, Coleridge-
Taylor and a few living composers. Oh yes, and we may have
some Havergal Brian and Sir Arthur Bliss too!
Copyright © Richard R. Adams
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