Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Year's Music: Ross Edwards' "Maninyas," Howard Blake's "The Leeds"

Late last year, I committed to writing occasional, informal blog posts about favorite music during 2016. I'll continue such posts, Lord willing, beyond this year. But meanwhile, here are two favorite violin pieces that I highly recommend.

Sometimes, while driving, I hear music on the radio I’d like to hear again. Driving U.S. 89 between Ash Fork and Prescott, AZ years ago, I loved a certain piece on the classical station, which the announcer identified.  All I could remember, though, was "Dawndee" and “mountain air”----appropriate, since Bill Williams Mountain stood prominently in the distance.  Somehow I figured out later that the piece was “Symphony on a French Mountain Air” by Vincent D’Indy.

All this to say: a few years ago, something similar happened. As my family and I were returning to St. Louis on I-70 from our daughter’s college in Pennsylvania, I loved an unusual violin piece as we passed across the West Virginia border into Ohio. I glanced at the radio dial and tried to remember the piece’s title until we could stop. The dial of my satellite radio read “Edwards Maninyas.” The composition was so stylistically interesting and---I correctly surmised----evocative of the natural world.

The piece is Ross Edwards' “Maninyas: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.” ( As explained at the composer’s site (, Edwards developed a musical style by listening to the natural environment around his home north of Sydney.  One aspect of his style is “isolated sound events ... conceived for their spatial and timbral intensity. Rather than hearing a logically ordered sequence of events, the listener becomes aware of the uniqueness of each acoustic experience....The other style is characterised by an abstraction of insect and bird sounds, lively tempi and rhythms, angular pentatonic melodies and simple drone-lke harmonies and is now referred to as the maninya style.” On this recording, violinist Adele Anthony also performs the Sibelius concerto, interesting in a different way!

Here is another recording of the first movement:

As long as I’m recommending violin concertos, I should recommend Howard Blake’s “Violin Concerto ‘The Leeds.’” A few years ago I ordered from my CD club a 5-disc set of English concertos called “My England.” A standout on the set was this 1993 concerto by Blake, whose name I didn’t recognize, but who wrote the music for a VHS tape that my young daughter played and played and played as a kid: “The Snowman.”

If the world was just, this piece would be in the repertoire. Fortunately it's available as a download and once again on CD (with Blake’s piece “A Month in the Country”).  ( The concerto’s first movement, Allegro assai, lasts almost twenty minutes, with the violinist playing an uplifting, birdsong-like melody and its variations almost continually.  The second, Adagio movement is shorter but is so intense and beautiful. The last movement, Allegro con brio, is as uplifting as the others but more playful and joyful. I apologize if I’ve “gushed” a little bit but I do hope that, if you love violin music, you might try these two pieces.

Here are the three movements of the piece:

No comments:

Post a Comment