composer Jon Lord rose to fame in the
1970s as a member of Deep Purple. Celebrity
collaborations between the group and
Malcolm Arnold included Concerto
for Group and Orchestra written
and scored by John Lord and conducted
by Malcolm Arnold.. Lord has over the
intervening years increasingly extended
his reputation into the classical field.
The Durham Concerto is the latest
and most ambitious example to date.
In this he is not alone, witness the
various classical pieces by Paul McCartney
- the latest being Ecce
Cor Meum and the orchestral
by Tony Banks of Genesis – a
work recorded on Naxos. All are individual
in their own way but a sign that some
musicians with a rock-popular reputation
felt the siren call of classical eternity
even if we ignore the blurring of ‘boundaries’
represented by the work of Frank Zappa,
Soft Machine and Tangerine Dream.
At the most meagre
level this is a beautifully packaged
delightful musical souvenir of Durham
University's 175th anniversary in 2007.
The concept might remind you of John
Scott’s Colchester Symphony
but this is in fact a seriously-intentioned
extended orchestral suite of six movements
grouped in pairs.
At the start long-held
Tallis-like string chords speak out
of the mists of antiquity. This is music
that takes a slow-shifting shading from
Hovhaness. The glistening murmur forms
a backdrop to meditative solos from
the wind instruments. Then at 3.10 comes
Ruth Palmer's Lark-like violin
solo speaking as a fragile human voice
against the downward remorseless tread
of time. Given the accent of this first
movement it is some surprise that Lord
was not among those pop-contemporary
world musicians interviewed for Tony
Palmer’s recent RVW film-biography.
As this movement, entitled Cathedral
at Dawn, rises to its peak it is
the notable ecstasy of Vaughan Williams
that is most closely echoed.
The composer's Hammond
organ is featured in four of the six
movements. It ushers in the second (Durham
Awakes) with its atmospheric solo
for Northumbrian Pipes. The pipes are
played by that doyenne of the instrument
Kathryn Tickell. Matthew Barley's solo
cello acts as orator and encourager
in this Copland-inflected music but
ancient and melancholically serene voices
from the Pipes – unable to escape celtic
connections - and the solo violin are
there too. The Hammond also intercedes
at several points. This movement proves
a fine example of the successful interweave
of pipes, cello and violin.
Those first two movements
form Part 1: Morning. Then comes
Afternoon in the shape of another
two movements. The first reflects the
spiritual journey of St Cuthbert and
the physical journey of his mortal remains
to interment in the Cathedral. It communicates
as a slow revelatory sunset much in
the same atmosphere as the Dawn. This
is followed by the equally introspective,
cello-led From Prebends Bridge.
Here the composer had in mind the view
from the Bridge and the innumerable
people who have stood and taken in that
view down a thousand years.
The cello solo once
or twice seems rather meandering before
it gathers itself for a more direct
and emotionally hard-hitting address.
The music here reminded me of the Elgar
concerto, Rubbra's Soliloquy and
Holst's Invocation. Then comes
a much needed rowdy movement in which
students on a rag day and a miners gala
meet head on. The brassy whoops here
reminded me of Arnold. Again Lord's
Hammond is to the fore, lending dynamism
to its usual watery discourse - it's
the nature of the instrument. There's
plenty of forward pulse here and the
orchestra have fun with the pizzicato
writing. The Arnold accent appears strongly
at 4:12 onwards with something of the
Commonwealth Christmas Overture to
be heard as well as a nicely burred
and brassy Gaudeamus Igitur at
6:21. History takes hold again at the
end of the movement and those sustained
string chords reassert the long view.
The Pipes invoke the sorrowing melancholy
of heritage morphing without break into
the long meditative finale: Durham
I hope we will hear
more of Lord's classical compositions
including the suite for strings, Disguises
(2004) and the piano concerto Boom
of the Tingling Strings (2003).
Both are due out from EMI later in 2008.
What else remains to be recorded?
The concept of the
present piece and the use of an 'ethnic'
instrument recall, as an idea, Shaun
Davey's works – especially The Relief
of Derry Symphony and The Brendan
The playing throughout
the Durham Concerto is sensitive
and glowing with much accomplished and
thoughtful work for the solo instruments.
The recording produces an almost tangible
effect without embracing an in-your-face
Here is an extended
work of continuity across six substantial
movements. The predominant meditative
character will instantly mesh with those
who love John Barry’s Beyondness
of Things, Tavener and Vaughan
Part 1: Morning
1. The Cathedral at Dawn (solo violin,
solo cello, Hammond organ)
2. Durham Awakes (solo violin, solo
cello, Hammond organ, Northumbrian pipes)
Part 2: Afternoon
3. The Road from Lindisfarne (solo violin,
solo cello, Northumbrian pipes)
4. From Prebends Bridge (solo cello)
Part 3: Evening
5. Rags & Galas (solo violin, solo
cello, Hammond organ)
6. Durham Nocturne (solo violin, solo
cello, Hammond organ, Northumbrian pipes)
Notes from publicity
The magnificent Norman cathedral on
the rock, part of the World Heritage
site shared by Durham University and
Durham Cathedral, was the setting for
the world premiere of Jon Lord’s Durham
Concerto commissioned by the University
to commemorate its 175th anniversary.
The 1,000 strong audience rose spontaneously
to its feet as the final climax reflected
Sir Walter Scott’s vision, which is
engraved on Prebends Bridge: "Grey
Towers of Durham/ Yet well I love thy
mixed and massive piles/ Half church
of God, half castle ‘gainst the Scot".
The work emotionally evokes the sense
of history, scholarship, place and community
evident in Durham - an unbroken line
from St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede,
Europe’s leading scholar of the 7th
and 8th centuries, to the modern day
university. Jon Lord, known to all for
Smoke On The Water and as the driving
force behind Deep Purple, was classically
trained and has returned to his roots.
Durham Concerto cements
Lord’s position as a leading contemporary
composer. Each of the six movements
in this hour-long piece reflects a different
aspect of a day in Durham. The serene
"The Cathedral at Dawn" has
undertones of Vaughan Williams in its
expansiveness, while "Rags and
Galas" celebrates town and gown,
using Bernsteinian rhythms and interruptions
of "Gaudeamus Igitur." Northumbrian
pipes, played by its world’s leading
exponent, Kathryn Tickell, give a true
sense of North-East wilderness and melancholy
to "The Road From Lindisfarne,"
reflecting the pilgrimage by the Cuthbert
Community, carrying St Cuthbert’s body
and the Lindisfarne gospels, one of
the world’s great treasures, to found
Durham Cathedral in the 11th century.
The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
under Mischa Damev perform the work
along with an array of world class soloists
in this concerto for violin, cello,
Northumbrian pipes and organ: Ruth Palmer
(violin) who won the Young British Performer
award at the 2007 Classical Brit Awards,
Matthew Barley (cello) who featured
in BBC2 TV’s "Classical Star"
series, leading folk musician Kathryn
Tickell (Northumbrian Pipes) and of
course, Jon Lord on his original Hammond
organ, one of the very few occasions
that such an evocative instrument has
been used in an orchestral setting.
Jon Lord’s "Durham Concerto"
is a contemporary classic.
Jon Lord writes:
The general inspiration for the music
was an idea of Durham, garnered from
two or three short visits and a reading
of a short history, so a sort of ‘Durham
of the mind,’ a stylised Durham; My
Durham, if you will, imagined into music.
However the defining inspiration for
the piece was the cathedral. My first
visit to Durham in 2001 saw me standing
open mouthed on Palace Green and then
in silent awe as I walked into that
formidable magnificence inside. Most
of the themes came from the days immediately
following my first experience of this
extraordinary, imposing building. The
feeling that the very stones and pillars
themselves are imbued with centuries
of prayer, with people’s joy, grief,
despair, even anger, gratitude and hope.
As the tunes and chords and sounds started
to organise themselves in my mind and
on manuscript paper, I realised that
I was writing a sort of ‘Day in the
life of Durham’ and that the Cathedral
would be its beginning, would be in
its middle and would be at its ending.