Geoffrey Alvarez

 

 

 

The search for a ‘grammar of musical myth’ as Graves’ White Goddess is a ‘grammar of poetic myth’ - Gravesian Analysis - was initially proposed in a paper Geoffrey Alvarez delivered to the Robert Graves Society at the University of Manchester in September 1998, and subsequently published by Gravesiana, the Journal of the Robert Graves Society in two parts: Part I in Volume 2 Number 2 / Summer 1999, Part II in Volume 3 Number 1/ Summer 2007,  This work attracted the attention of feminist theologian Asphodel Long, ethnomusicologist and editor of New Grove, Veronica Doubleday and the poetess Kathleen Raine. His review of work by Jonathan Harvey, Alexander Goehr, Wilfrid Mellers and Ian Pace has appeared in Tempo; his analytical review (the first) of the Northumbrian Symphony by Robert Sherlaw-Johnson was published in the June 2000 edition. His major study The Song of the Earth: Music and The Great Mother In Twentieth Century Europe formed a large part of an address to the Contemporary Music Society at the University of Oxford. He recently (2008) returned to St John's College at  University of Oxford to deliver a paper on his setting of five poems by Robert Graves My Last Muse inspired by dancer and choreographer Julia Simonne,  Graves last Muse. He conducted this work in 2008 in St John's Smith Square with his orchestra,  the Alvarez Chamber Orchestra, the poems recited by Julia Simonne herself, pictured on the right at the performance with Bass soloist Patrick Ardagh Walter and guitar continuo Timotty Waltker..

 

His concertino for piano and chamber orchestra was awarded a prize in the Tansman 6th International Competition of Musical Personalities, Composers Competition, Lodz 2006. The adjudicators included Krauze, Penderecki, Nyman, Holliger and Zur. He was pianoforte soloist in this work with the Arthur Rubenstein Philharmonic Orchestra in Lodz, conducted by Luca Pfaff (pictured on the left) whilst his lute pieces Teares and Lamentacions have been featured in an article by Betsy Small published by The Lute Society of America and also gaining an entry in the Internationales Lexikon Neue Lautenmusik - ILNL published  in Basle by Oliver Holzenburg. They are published by the Lute Society

 

Alvarez (b. London 1961) has played under conductors such as Pierre Boulez and Simon Rattle as a member of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, (1974-5). At this time, whilst a Worshipful Company of Musicians Scholar at the City of London School, he founded an orchestra, the Alvarez Chamber Orchestra under the patronage of Sir Colin Davis, writing a concerto Montage for Michael Collins and Peter Kronheimer and a Symphony, both played by his orchestra.  Geoffrey Alvarez was subsequently a Leverhulme Scholar at the Royal Academy of Music, studying piano, violin, conducting, repetiteur skills and composition, the latter with Paul Patterson, concurrently attending English National Opera’s repetiteur course.

 

HIs orchestra ceased to operate whilst he pursued studies as  a postgraduate student at the University of York during which time he participated in the 1986 International Dance Course for Professional Choreographers and Composers. In 1989, he obtained a D.Phil. in composition from the University of York, having helped rebuild the University’s new music ensemble, Anemone. Chair for two years, he conducted works by Pierre Boulez, Henze, Mellers etc., premiering pieces by Roger Marsh and David Collins, performing works by Ligeti, Swayne (with whom he studied privately) and Messiaen for two pianos with Dominic Saunders.

Returning to London in 1990, he taught Ethnomusicology and Classical Performance/Analysis at Goldsmiths College; the same year being awarded a composition prize in the Royal Overseas League MusicCompetition. In 1998 he tutored composition at the Caithness Summer Music School. Since this time, the orchestra resumed activity and became a registered charity and has performed in venues as diverse as the PolishEmbassy and St John's Smith Square. All prospective sponsors and friends of the ACO can keep abreast of  the latest developments here.

 

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The work of  the orchestra now includes an annual composition prize. Last year was the first year of the award, calling for works including harp -  Plucked from Nowhere - and the American composer Molly Kien was awarded the first prize of £1000 by film and opera director Tony Palmer in the Schott recital room.

 

He has received commissions from artists/organisations such as Nicholas Daniel (Oboe Concerto), Nicholas Korth - formerly principle horn Oslo Symphony Orchestra, now with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (Horn Trio - The Cimmerian Sibyl), the Garden Venture of the Royal Opera House (The European Story - Libretto by poetess Ruth Fainlight, published by Hutchinson), the Soho Theatre (Emisori Rites - winner of the Barclays New Stages Award by Sila Kanyua), Country Opera (a ‘completion’ of Mozart’s Bastien and Bastienne). Several works have been purchased by the Banff Centre for the Arts, Canada. His song cycle, Songs My Parrot Taught Me - poems by polymath Polly Hope delighted Luciano Berio when he heard the CD conducted by Malcolm Singer during Alvarez’ visit to Berio’s Florentine home in 1994. His Spinning Night is also to be recorded on CD with trombonist Alan Tomlinson, recently heard at the 1998 festival of the British Trombone Society.

 

Notable recent performances include the Polish Embassy, and  two concerts at St John's Smith Square with the ACO.   Previous performances include a piano accompaniment to Hitchcock’s The Lodger for the unveiling of a plaque commemorating his birthplace and the conducting of the première of his Cummings setting Love’s Own Secret for double choir, horn, organ and soloists. His Laughing Lotus received a London performance by the Harlequin Wind Quintet in March 1999, having been first performed the previous year at the Oxford Festival of Contemporary Music. 1999 also saw a revival of the ballet Kerb-Crawling in Oxford, conducted by Julian Faultless, first heard in the York Festival in 1989. His erotic setting of the XXIIIrd Psalm in Hebrew commissioned by soprano Lisa Nolan, was premièred in St. Cyprian’s Church, on October 7th at 7.30, 2000 and a wind quintet The Travelling Musicians, with additional parts for children, commissioned by the Harlequin Wind Quintet was first performed in July, the same year, at Dartford Grammar School for Girls, and his Second Symphony; ‘The Five Seasons’ for conductor Charles Peebles was completed. A sketch for the archetypal structure of the symphony  details the mythological basis for the illustration below on the right.

 

Although much of his output is influenced by such archetypal religious imagery, Alvarez is also influenced by scientific ideas: a Superstring Quartet (a string quartet in ten parts based on a recent version of the Superstring Theory of physics which suggests that the universe consists of particles each consisting of one dimensional strings vibrating in a specific way in both four extended dimensions, and curled round in six dimensionalCalabi-Yau manifolds, thereby generating their mass) is dedicated to musicologist/scientific consultant Eila Bannister.

 

He has set a number of poets, from Lorca to Ruben Dario and  Decadent poet Ernest Dowson. The latter instance his setting - Dregs - consists of  two poems by  for baritone, viola and pianoforte. As both poems deal with 'last things', juxtaposition in a recital program is undesirable - rather they could both be place at the end of each half of programme - together they may be considered a 'broken cycle'. This work is dedicated to Desmond Hayes-Lynge who commissioned the piece with funds available from Sir Richard Parsons KCMG.. The King's Last Prophesy, an opera, libretto by the composer, based on the society on predications of the Kogi of Columbia and Frazer's The Golden Bough is also under consideration. Previous operas include The Tell-Tale Heart. based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe and The Mad Tea Party, drawing on the seventh chapter of Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland and  Bastien and Bastienne a completion of Mozarts juvenile work, which was was performed on June 8th and 9th 2001 at the Swaledale Festival in Yorkshire, directed by Philip Parr.

 

A list of music by Geoffrey Alvarez may be found by clicking here: Catalogue.

 

Further details of his writings, conducting and teaching may be obtained directly from the composer himself at geoffrey.alvarez@virgin.net. Several works, including  My Last Muse are available to be purchased, downloaded and printed out by first clicking here (a link to the composer’s website provided by sibeliusmusic.com and then clicking on the title of any piece.

 

 

 

Portrait photograph © Malcolm Crowthers