ROBERT FARNONS BASSOON CONCERTO RECEIVES ITS WORLD
PREMIERE IN MALVERN
Romancing the Phoenix (Robert Farnon) : World
DANIEL SMITH, Bassoon
CHANDOS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Conducted by MICHAEL LLOYD
Sunday 13 September 2009
When an amateur orchestra in a provincial town is offered
the opportunity to perform the world premiere of a new work
it is bound to create a certain degree of excitement. And
when the composer happens to be someone that many people
regard as the worlds finest light music master of
the second half of the 20th century and
the soloist is also recognised as a world leader on his
chosen instrument, the musical establishment starts to sit
up and take notice. And rightly so.
The venue was the Forum Theatre in historic Malvern, an
idyllic town famous not only for its mineral water, but
also because of its association with Sir Edward Elgar. The
Malvern Hills, often quoted as the inspiration for much
of Elgars magnificent music, are an overwhelming presence
- but comforting, rather than threatening. One could almost
imagine the great composer nodding in approval as the fine
orchestra dealt competently with a wide ranging selection
of music aptly described in the concerts title "The
Lighter Side of Classical".
As expected the local press recognised the importance of
the event. In the Birmingham Post on 7 September Peter Bacon
alerted his readers to a "Rare outing for exotic bassoon":
Bassoons you wait years for one to come down
the jazz road and then two come at once!
getting a real prestige outing at Malvern. As a composer
and arranger, the Canadian-born English resident Robert
Farnon worked with Frank Sinatra, was admired by Andre Previn
and influenced Quincy Jones. The last work he wrote before
he died in 2005 was a concerto for bassoon and jazz trio,
but it has never been performed - until now.
The piece, called "Romancing The Phoenix",
is in the programme being performed by bassoonist Daniel
Smith (its dedicatee) and the Chandos Symphony Orchestra
at the Forum Theatre in Malvern on Sunday.
Daniel says of Romancing The Phoenix, "Robert Farnons
bassoon concerto was not bound by any commissions, deadlines,
financial obligations, or anything else; just written to
fully express himself as a composer.
"I was honoured that he dedicated the piece to
me and he told me it was the best piece of music
hed ever written. As the only piece of music written
by Robert Farnon which has never been performed in public,
this concerto premiere will be a fitting tribute to the
memory of one of the 20th centurys greatest composer/arrangers."
Daniel is a leading pioneer of the bassoon with a repertoire
from Baroque concerti to jazz, ragtime and crossover. He
has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Wigmore Hall and the
On 10 September, under a heading "Robert Farnons
light music not to be sniffed at", Christopher
Morley wrote a second pre-concert piece in the Birmingham
A recent depressing correspondence in the Radio Times
spluttered that MGM film music
had no place at the BBC Proms, where it was allocated a
concert this year, and that Henry Wood and Malcolm Sargent
would be spinning in their graves. To be honest, I dont
care if they do. MGM had the services of some of the worlds
most expert composers and arrangers (many of them refugees
from the Nazis), and the scores they created remain classy
examples of the film-composers art.
I wonder how many of our "respectable" composers
would be capable of instantly providing an extra 13 seconds
of music to complement a take where the actors had gone
on too long? And I dont think John Wilson, the gifted
young conductor who has devoted so much time and energy
into reassembling these film scores, and who this season
conducts concerts of both film music and "proper classical
music" with the CBSO, would have any truck with such
Michael Lloyd, conductor at both English National Opera
and in Andrew Lloyd Webbers publicity-grabbing production
of The Sound of Music at the London Palladium, is obviously
of a like mind. On Sunday he programmes an entire concert
of light music with the Chandos Symphony Orchestra in Malverns
Forum Theatre, a venue which more frequently resonates with
all the sounds of Elgarland.Selections of music by the great
film composer Ron Goodwin (how CBSO players who performed
under his baton revere him) and the brilliant Leroy Anderson
are included, as well as the whimsical Symphony 5½
by Don Gillis, subtitled A Symphony for Fun. Possibly the
most serious part of the evening comes with Malcolm Arnolds
Four Cornish Dances, but the undoubted curiosity is the
world premiere of the bassoon concerto Romancing the Phoenix
by the elegant Canadian light-music composer Robert Farnon,
with American bassoon virtuoso Daniel Smith as soloist.
Smith is a versatile player whose repertoire ranges
from the baroque he has recorded all 37 of Vivaldis
concertos for his instrument for the ASV label to
jazz, where his playing has prompted comparisons with baritone
saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. His discography includes music
by Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Horace
Silver, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and
many other jazz notables. He also gave the American West
Coast premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and crossover
pioneer Gunther Schullers Concerto for Contrabassoon
and Orchestra, one of only a handful of concertos written
for the contra.
Farnons concerto is heavily influenced by jazz,
incorporating passages of free improvisation. The bassoon
has to be amplified, Smith points out, to be heard above
the rhythm section, let alone the rest of the instruments.
"In the score you can see passages where the bassoon
plays the role of a lead saxophone, with three bassoons
underneath in the scoring, just as in a saxophone section,"
says Smith. "There is also a lot of percussion used
and in many sections, the winds act as a sort of wind band
within the full orchestra Farnon described this as
a big band within a full symphony orchestra."
In the final movement there is a section where both
orchestra and "big band" sit back and the soloist
is left to improvise on an up-tempo blues with a rhythm-section
of piano, bass and drums. This passage is open-ended, and
at the soloists moment of choosing the conductor brings
the orchestra back in, beginning with the percussion. After
several more passages involving improvisation, the concerto
culminates in what Smith describes as "a really startling
ending which simply flies all over the place and ends on
Farnon did not live to hear the piece played in public,
and Daniel Smith reveals that the composer declined the
chance to have it previewed. "He had the opportunity
for one movement to be premiered with the BBC Concert Orchestra
but turned it down because they would have used their own
bassoonist (he would have had to write out any improvised
solos of course), and he would not allow this to happen
until I did the actual premiere. Which was very kind of
There was a pre-concert conversation between Daniel Smith
and Michael Lloyd, chaired by Birmingham Post music critic
David Hart. Daniel explained how he had become involved
with Robert Farnon, and he made it clear that there had
been detailed discussions during the final stages of composition
to ensure that the work was right for the instrument. Michael
Lloyd spoke about his wide career in music, most recently
in Londons West End, and his love of light music.
He was especially pleased to be conducting Don Gilliss
Symphony No. 5½.
Daniel Smith is widely regarded as the leading pioneer
of the bassoon with his many critically acclaimed award-winning
recordings and live performances. As the most recorded bassoon
soloist in the world, his repertoire spans music ranging
from Baroque concerti to contemporary music including jazz,
ragtime and crossover. He is the only bassoonist performing
and recording in both the jazz and classical fields. Daniel
Smith's unique career has been profiled in Gramophone, the
New York Times, Fanfare, Classical Music, Musical Heritage
Review, American Record Guide, Classic CD and many leading
European publications including The Times in England. In
the USA, his career was highlighted on PBS's "All Things
Considered'. In the UK, one of his recordings was the 'signature
tune' for BBC radio 3 while BBC radio 4 recently showcased
Daniel Smith's performances include jazz with his quartet
'Bassoon and Beyond', classical recitals with piano, concertos
with orchestra, and highly popular programs divided between
classical and jazz, with music ranging from Vivaldi, Elgar,
Mozart and Verdi to Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Charlie
Parker, Sonny Rollins and Dizzy Gillespie. Described as
a 'phenomenon', he has been called the 'Gerry Mulligan of
the Bassoon' in the world of jazz and the 'Galway' and 'Rampal
of the Bassoon' in the world of classical music, bringing
his unique sound and style to concert series, festivals
and jazz clubs.
His historic and unprecedented 6 CD set on ASV
of the complete 37 Vivaldi bassoon concertos was chosen
as 'Best Concerto Recording of the Year' by the Music Industry
Association and awarded the Penguin Guide's coveted ***
rosette rating as well as inclusion in Fanfare's annual
'Want List'. These concertos, recorded with The English
Chamber Orchestra and I Solisti di Zagreb, firmly established
Daniel Smith as a leading soloist on his instrument. His
recordings with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Caravaggio
Ensemble for the ASV
White Line label produced innovative crossover albums,
with unique renditions of ragtime pieces, opera excerpts,
and popular standards. In the world of jazz, his albums
on the Zah Zah label, 'BEBOP BASSOON' and 'THE SWINGING
BASSOON' showcase the music of Charlie Parker, Thelonious
Monk, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Duke Ellington, Count
Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and many other legendary jazz artists.
Other recordings of Daniel Smith are available on Vox, MHS,
KemDisc, Pearl, Spectrum, Cambria, Regis, Crystal and Forum
His performances have included many firsts: The American
West Coast premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gunther
Schuller's 'Concerto for Contrabassoon and Orchestra'; the
world premiere of Steve Gray's 'Jazz Suite For Bassoon'
with the Welsh Chamber Orchestra; solo concerts at New York's
Lincoln Center and the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen,
and also five appearances at London's 'Pizza On The Park'
with his jazz quartet. Other major venues where he has performed
include New York's Carnegie Recital Hall (two appearances)
and the Merkin Concert Hall. In London, the Wigmore Hall
(three times), St.John's Smith Square, and the BBC Concert
Hall. His many recordings are heard throughout the world
on classical and jazz radio stations, National Public Radio
in the USA, major airlines for in-flight listening, and
featured with leading book and record clubs as well as the
Muzak network. In 2003, Daniel Smith was designated as 'Ambassador
for the Bassoon' by Youth Music in the UK.
In 2008 the International Jazz Journalists Association
voted him as finalist for 'player of the year' in their
category of "Instruments rare in jazz'. Starting at the
end of 2009 and thereafter, his new jazz album 'Blue Bassoon',
will be heard world-wide on leading jazz radio stations.
Warner Chappell recently published the score and parts
of "Romancing The Phoenix" with Robert Farnon's
dedication to 'The American virtuoso Daniel Smith' on the
The conductor Michael Lloyd, BA, ARCM, also has
an impressive cv: read music at the University of
East Anglia; postgraduate studies at RCM. Career includes:
Scottish Ballet (company pianist and professional conducting
debut); Staatstheater Kassel where he switched from
ballet to opera, Württembergisches Staatstheater, Stuttgart;
ENO 1985-2003, conducting new productions, revivals and
performances in a wide range of repertoire (in 1989 appointed
Assistant Music Director, in 1998 Senior Resident Conductor).
Conducted frequently in New Zealand (opera, concerts and
ballet), in Japan, Korea, Singapore and Macau. Regular
conductor with Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and English
National Ballet and made his debut with the Ulster Orchestra
and with Opera Holland Park in 2005. Has returned
regularly to ENO since 2003. Music Director of the
Chandos Symphony Orchestra, Malvern and the Birmingham Philharmonic
David Harts report on the concert was printed in
the Birmingham Post on 15 September. He began:
Although conductor Michael Lloyd is not a complete stranger
to light music,
for the Chandos Symphony Orchestra this concert was a new
experience, and one Im sure they will want to repeat.
In addition to introducing these part-time players,
who for tonal quality and precision could easily be mistaken
for full-time professionals, to the delights of miniature
classics by Leroy Anderson, Ron Goodwin and Don Gillis (and
on a more elevated level Malcolm Arnolds Four Cornish
Dances), it also gave us the world premiere of Robert Farnons
bassoon concerto "Romancing the Phoenix".
Completed just before Farnons death in 2005, the
work was written for the American bassoonist Daniel Smith,
a multi-talented performer equally adept in classical music,
jazz and crossover. And its these qualities which
shape and inform the concerto, by integrating and contrasting
the bassoon with full orchestra and a jazz trio.
At times it seems an uneasy combination. Smiths
note-bending, although elegiac in its way, on Sunday sounded
rather at odds with the lyrical opulence and lush string
writing of the opening Andante Moderato; but when it lifted
off into brass-led big band territory with jazz bass and
drums, everything fell into place.
The slow movement also started reflectively, though
less purposefully, again reserving its big moment
with the amplified soloist pitted against full brass
until the end.
As did the finale, although there were jazzy excitements
along the way, including a very punchy improvised cadenza.
The best moment, however, came in the concluding bars, with
a flying scamper of bassoon and orchestral woodwind culminating
in a glorious Mahlerian tam-tam clang. If only there had
been more of that sort of thing earlier.
As many RFS members will no doubt agree, Robert Farnons
serious works become considerably more enjoyable when heard
several times. His writing is often so complex, and his
harmonies frequently unexpected, that a first encounter
does not always reveal a new work in its full splendour.
An audience accustomed to the works of Beethoven, Wagner
and Mozart must have found the experience in Malvern that
Sunday evening something of a cultural shock, although the
applause at the end indicated that many people present were
very glad to be there.
Daniel Smith certainly rose to the occasion magnificently.
His mastery of the bassoon is beyond question, and his careful
preparation for the premiere was evident. The work is based
on the "Saxophone Tipartite" from 1971, but Farnon
has added some nice touches, including a sensitive introduction
lasting around two minutes before the full, rich orchestral
sound fills the concert hall so dramatically.
The climax of the work finds the bassoon supported by a
jazz trio Sean Whittle on keyboard, Russell Swift
bass and Steve Smith who was outstanding on drums. The audience
clearly wanted to hear more from this impressive quartet,
and Daniel obliged with three titles from his latest CD
"Blue Bassoon", ending with the Mercer Ellington
classic "Things Aint What They Used To Be".
Amazingly some members of the orchestra (particularly the
strings) managed to sit through this jazz session without
any sign of the rhythms reaching their bodies. How they
could sit there without even the slightest movement of even
a gently tapping foot was astonishing. Of course, the brass,
woodwinds, percussion and notably the french horns were
certainly caught up in the excitement of the occasion
as was the audience!
Our president David Farnon was present to witness the premiere,
and it was good to meet several other RFS members as well,
including John Bladon, David Corbett and Eric Smith.
Thanks to Daniel Smiths persistence, the concert
was previewed in the magazine Classical Music on 29 August,
and it made the Bassoon Concerto its Premiere of the
Fortnight with a report covering two-thirds of the
page and photos of both Daniel Smith and Robert Farnon.
Chris Elcombes report went into some detail about
the meetings between performer and composer:
The timing of Farnons death helps to explain the
premieres delay until 2009 as Smith explains: "When
he died unexpectedly early in 2005 it fell on my shoulders
to follow up and try to get premieres and performances lined
up, which was not an easy task starting from scratch".
Fortunately though, there had been enough time for composer
and soloist to discuss the piece together in the final weeks
of Farnons life. "When I first flew to Guernsey
he showed me a work in progress and I offered input and
ideas. Within a very short time he had it all finished.
I had the opportunity to fly again to Guernsey (this time
to meet him at the hospital where he was recovering from
surgery) and I played the entire piece for him. He gave
me a good idea of how the piece was to be performed. Within
a month or so of this meeting he died in his sleep, and
this was the only opportunity to find out what he had in
mind in regard to his concept of the concerto".
Daniel Smith is now concentrating on getting more performances
of this work, both in Europe and his native USA. He also
hopes that other UK orchestras will follow the lead of the
Chandos Orchestra and include it in future programmes.
Daniel Smith gave an exclusive interview to Journal
Into Melody about his meeting with Robert Farnon
published in issue 165, September 2005.