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Lockdown Listening with Robert Hodge

Lockdown Listening Episode 3

This week I’ve chosen a fabulous piece by the British composer Sir Arnold Bax – Tintagel. It’s by far his most famous work, but I make no apology for that, and it’s the only one I’ve conducted so far. He is one of the composers I have been meaning to explore further, but never seem to get around to. I have programmed the Overture to a Picaresque Comedy for next year with my orchestra in Cambridge, so I’m getting there slowly. This is a short – 15 mins or so – symphonic poem which is richly scored, and glorious. You are in for a treat if you don’t know it. In places it reminds me of Delius, in others Rachmaninov, and in others of classic film scores. It’s exciting, stirring stuff! For information about Bax you can do no worse than check out this website:

The Wikipedia article is also very detailed:
The work is inspired by the view of Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, and is a fine representation of the sea in music, which led me to think about other works inspired by the sea that I would recommend: 

  • Britten – Four Sea Interludes
  • Debussy – La Mer
  • Grace Williams – Sea Sketches

There are surely others too, but I wanted to give a shortish list, to not overwhelm. If you’re anything like me, there barely seems time to do anything at the moment, despite the diary being quite empty. Thinking about it, perhaps it’s missing my home in Pembrokeshire (I’ve not been there since Christmas) that is bringing out the nostalgia for the coast?

Here are some links to interested articles and notes if you want to learn more about Tintagel:

And this one goes into more depth, but it's worth it if you’re interested:

Here is a recording of the Ulster Orchestra, conducted by Bryden Thompson

And one of the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Vernon Handley.

See which one you prefer!

Lockdown Listening Episode 2

I’ve been listening to a lot of music while I’ve been painting the utility room while on lockdown:

  • Beethoven symphonies

  • Sibelius symphonies

  • Arnold symphonies

  • Elgar Symphonies

  • Mahler Symphonies

  • Korngold/Barber violin concertos

  • Ravel/Rachmaninov/Brahms piano concertos

  • Bernstein On the Waterfront/West Side Story etc…

Lots to choose from for this week’s Lockdown Listening, but I’ve gone with Mahler. The symphonies are so long that I find that it’s difficult to know them unless I’ve conducted/played them, and even then, I can turn the page of a score and be completely surprised (even in a performance!). I’ve conducted 1, 3, 4 and 5 (all twice apart from 3) and each time it feels like a massive journey, with such a range of emotion and musical material. I’ve chosen Mahler Symphony 4 and if you don’t know it, then it’s the sort of piece that would benefit from multiple listening’s, but try to ensure you choose multiple recordings too so that you don’t get fixed on a single interpretation. The one I’ve chosen for you is Claudio Abbado and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on the following link:

Here are a couple of links to biographical/programme notes that you’ll find useful, much more than if I wrote it myself!

These should give you more than enough information to enjoy the symphony – although, perhaps try listening before you read, especially if the work is new, so you can appreciate it on a purely musical level. I love everything about this symphony, and perhaps ASO would consider playing it in the future? It’s the 3 rd movement that gets me every time, I don’t think that anyone writes an adagio quite like Mahler - don’t believe me? Here’s a CD full of them!

There is, when you get there, a massive surprise toward the end of the 3 rd movement. This video explains it incredibly well and is worth a watch:


Lockdown Listening Episode 1

Welcome to the first – in let’s hope not too many – issues of ‘Lockdown Listening’; a weekly message from me exploring a different piece of music. Some of these will whet your appetite for pieces we will be performing next year, and others will explore new works with the aim of expanding and challenging our listening by introducing new styles and composers.

I thought I’d start with a piece that many of you will know well and will have probably performed; Dvorak’s Symphony 8. We are programming this for our first concert back. The concert will also feature the Scriabin Piano Concerto from the recent cancelled concert, and Brahms Tragic Overture. You can find the music for the Dvorak here, just scroll down and look for ‘PARTS’:

It’s a work I know well, having played it at least twice and conducted around five performances, so I’m looking forward to returning to it. Each time you perform/conduct something it becomes a little more refined, and your interpretation of it deepens, so the chance to repeat works is a luxury.

Here are some links to various biographical notes and information about the piece. You’ll find them more than sufficient to get to know the work.

A note about recordings. It’s vital that when you listen to music that you try to listen to as many different recordings as possible, so as to avoid becoming ‘stuck’ on one interpretation (and therefore unable to play/hear things differently). As you listen, try to think about what it is that you like (or don’t like) about the way it is played, so that this can inform your own playing. Luckily, the internet makes it very easy to do this! I’ve given two performances here that I think are both great, but quite different from each other:

If you don’t have Spotify, I would certainly recommend it. The free version is fine, if you don’t mind the odd advert.

Happy listening!