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Ian Venables: Looking Ahead through 2010...

It is good to see that a time of recession has not materially affected the output from Ian Venables. If anything he appears to be busier than ever. Last year I reported that he was working on a large-scale song-cycle called Remember This based a poem by Andrew Motion commemorating the death of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Venables reports that he had to delay this work in order to complete a major new piece for the 80th Anniversary of the Gloucester Music Society. This is a song cycle for Roderic Williams entitled, 'The Pine Boughs Past Music' Op.39. It will receive its premiere there on April 15th. It will then get a second performance at The Three Choirs Festival in August (also with Roderic Williams)
However, now that he has completed this commission, he has once again turned to Remember This and is giving it his full attention, although no date has been set for the premiere. Venables told me that there is a great deal to do as not all the music was composed when he set it aside. Additionally, he has to expand the draft into a score for singer, string quartet and piano. This is a format that particularly appeals to him, and, in view of his long interest in Ivor Gurney it is perhaps unsurprising.

And that brings me to another major facet of his musical life – as the chairman of the Gurney Society. This year’s call on his services includes a major lecture at the Three Choirs Festival prior to a performance of Gurney’s Gloucestershire Rhapsody in Cheltenham Town Hall under the baton of Martyn Brabbins. This will be a major event for all students of Gurney’s music. I understand that there are diverse views as to the Rhapsody’s musical value, but whatever the merits, it is essential that it is given at least one well-performed outing. However, I believe that English music enthusiasts are in for a rare treat. This work has been edited by Ian Venables and Philip Lancaster.

After the sad death of Lady Trudy Bliss in November 2008, the presidency of the Sir Arthur Bliss Society passed to George Dannatt. Alas, he died in November last year at the good age of 94. Ian Venables was elected to succeed him. It will be a challenging job to be the figurehead of this important musical society. Venables was a personal friend of Lady Bliss and has always had a great admiration for, and understanding of, Sir Arthur’s music.

One other major work in the composer’s job-book is a commission for the 65th birthday celebrations of the cellist Bernard Gregor-Smith. It will be written for ‘cello, piano and narrator and called When the Moon Sails Out. This will be premiered in December of this year. More details to follow.

Ian Venable website is particularly good and the list of forthcoming concerts where his music will be played is usually regularly updated. In spite of the fact that the header still refers to 2008-2009, there are a number of future concerts listed.

Of great interest are the three CDs that are due to be released this year. The first onto the streets will be from Signum Classics and will feature the composer’s Invite, to Eternity Op.31 for tenor and string quartet. This is a setting of words by the great Northamptonshire poet John Clare. The last poem has the desperately thought provoking lines "Even the dearest that I love the best/ Are strange..." Included on this disc is the long-awaited String Quartet Op.32. This is a work that seems to belong to slippery time – being at once contemporary and also beholden to the tradition of English music over the past hundred years although there is a dissonance and angst in this work that is comparatively rare in Venables output.
In September, Naxos are due to release a collection of vocal music including his setting of six songs for tenor, clarinet and piano, On Wings of Love. Another important cycle on this CD will be the four Venetian Songs by John Addington Symonds. Venables has done much to introduce this forward-looking Victorian poet to our generation. Perhaps the greatest treat is the short setting of words by Robert Graves – ‘Flying Crooked’.
And lastly, in October, Somm Recordings are publishing a CD of ‘Music for Strings and Piano’. Mark Bebbington, Graham Lloyd and the Coull String Quartet will play the Piano Quintet Op.27, the Three Pieces for violin and piano Op.11, the Elegy for cello and piano Op.2, the Soliloquy for viola and piano Op.26 and finally the Poem for cello and piano, Op.29. These three CDs will be important additions to Venables recorded music catalogue.
John France January 2010


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