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Deserts and Canyons:
John McCabe returns to his alma mater

From 1957-60, John McCabe was a student in the Music Department of Manchester University, when it was in Dover Street. Since those days the Department has moved several times, first to Denmark Street (where it acquired a proper concert hall) and then to the Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama in Bridgeford Street, where it is now prospering. Over the intervening years McCabe has made many return visits to the Department as both composer and pianist, and he is particularly delighted that the University’s distinguished ensemble Vaganza presented a short Festival of his chamber, vocal and instrumental music on 20th March 2009, to celebrate his 70th Birthday Year. The Festival was masterminded by the brilliant young composer Emily Howard, and included not only performances but also workshops and lectures, both formal and informal.

The composer was in residence to hear his own music along with new works by current outstanding students and a sparkling miniature from one of Pendleton College Salford’s young composers. There was also an informal get-together with student composers, and possibly staff, on the evening of Wednesday 18th March, and the formal activities started on the afternoon of Tuesday 19th March with a Vaganza Brass Workshop at 2.30 pm in the Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall of the Martin Harris Centre – this event was an internal one, and officially closed to the public. At 4.15 the same afternoon McCabe gave a Composer Forum in which he discussed some aspects of his work.

Coincidentally, but not part of the McCabe festivities, at 6.30 pm on the 19th James MacMillan conducted a BBC Philharmonic Orchestra concert in Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, at which music by several younger composers was performed, including David Sawer and Emily Howard.

On Friday 20th March there was a lunchtime concert by Vaganza, and at 7.30 pm they gave an evening concert, including two of his favourites among his own ensemble works (Desert I: Lizard  for wind quartet and percussion, and Rainforest I, for 10 instruments). Full programmes are outlined below. As an extra event, on Saturday 21st March at 7.30, also in the Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall, the Manchester University Wind Orchestra performed two of his most well-known band pieces: Cloudcatcher Fells for brass band, and Canyons for wind band.

The title of the festival, Deserts and Canyons, indicates McCabe’s strong identification with particular landscapes, and the programmes reflect this very clearly. Desert landscapes, the rainforests of Australia, and the Lake District of Britain have been constant interests of his since childhood – the Lake District played an especially important part in his recovery from serious childhood illnesses, and he has been devoted to it ever since. McCabe is delighted at the University’s generosity in putting on this festival, and the fact that it included music by students.

The full public schedule was as follows (all in the Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall unless otherwise stated):

Thursday 19th March
(1.10 pm    Lunchtime concert – student recitals)
(2.30-3.30 pm    Vaganza Brass Workshop: closed session – repertoire includes
    Salamander (conducted by Adam Cooke) and
    Cloudcatcher Fells (conducted by Jack Adler-McKean)
4.15 pm    Composer Forum in Room G16

Friday 20th March
1.10 pm    Lunchtime concert – Vaganza:
    McCabe        From Irish Songbook, Part I, for voice and piano
    Chiu-Yu Chou        In the Mist
    Robin Stevens        Clarinetissimo!
    Soojung Park        In the Beginning
    McCabe        Evening Harmonies (Study No 7 – Hommage à Dukas)
    
7.30 pm    Evening concert – Vaganza:
    John Davies        Ritual
    Oliver Thompson    Fabric
    Chris Swithinbank    Excavations
    McCabe        Desert I: Lizard, conducted by Calum Fraser
    Pendleton College Young Composer World Première
    David Önaç        Beginnings
    Thomas Brewster    The Glass Palace
    McCabe        Rainforest I, conducted by Rob Guy
    
Saturday 21st March
7.30 pm    Evening concert – Manchester University Wind Orchestra    
    John McCabe   Cloudcatcher Fells
    John McCabe   Canyons
    Joseph Horovitz  Bacchus on Blue Ridge

    Martin Ellerby   Paris Sketches
    Martin Ellerby   New World Dances
    Martin Ellerby   Dreamscapes

    Philip Robinson - conductor

Vaganza website: www.vaganza.manchester.ac.uk
Online: www.quaytickets.com
Box Office: 0161 275 8951 / boxoffice@manchester.ac.uk
Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama, Bridgeford Street, Manchester M13 9PL.

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