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Interview with Michael Bell MBE of Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra

Interview with Michael Bell MBE of Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra

Composers of the First World War:
A Commemoration

St Davids Hall
Friday 19 October, 7.30pm

CARDIFF PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA start their much-anticipated 2018/19 season with Composers of the First World War: A Commemoration at St David’s Hall on Friday 19 October

On the centenary of the end of World War I, CPO presents a captivating concert of works by composers who served at the time. Neil Collins chats to CPO Conductor, Michael Bell MBE about this powerful programme at the National Concert Hall of Wales… 

The repertoire for Composers of the First World War makes for a very moving concert. How did you come to choose which pieces should be performed? 

I wanted to make the programme as varied as possible, so there’s a wonderful symphony, film music, popular songs of the day and the last work of one of our composers, who was killed during the course of the war. 

How important are concerts like these in commemorating the sacrifice that those before us gave to allow us to live happily and peacefully? 

The First World War was fought by volunteers, conscripts with the military from all different backgrounds. Among their ranks were a number of classical composers, who wanted to fight for their country. 

The concert opens with one of the very few works by George Butterworth. Would you agree that it’s a very wistful and poignant piece especially as he was killed in the Battle of the Somme in 1916? 

Ahh George Butterworth…sadly there are so few works of his to perform. And those that do exist conjure a vision of a land, and way of life, that were to vanish forever at the outbreak of war. We’re performing Butterworth’s The Banks of Green Willow – his final piece composed before going off to war. Tragically, Butterworth was shot and killed in the Battle of the Somme. The Banks of Green Willow is such a beautiful and poignant piece, and is a lasting memorial to a composer who promised so much. 

Ralph Vaughan Williams volunteered for the army and served throughout the war. Do share the opinion his Fifth Symphony is the most beautiful and moving symphony by a British composer? 

Vaughan Williams was 41 at the outbreak of the First World War and needn’t have served at all, but he was determined to join up and served throughout the war. He wrote his Fifth Symphony much later, at the height of the next World War, but anyone expecting a piece along the lines of Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony, with its epic grandeur, will be surprised by a symphony marked by serenity and overwhelming beauty. Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No 5 provided repose and calm while all the madness was going on in the world. 

A stirring centre-piece to the concert is provided by Cardiff-born Ivor Novello’s much-loved songs Keep the Home Fires Burning and We’ll Gather Lilacs. Was it important for you to get a Welsh element into the concert? 

It’s so important to have the music of Ivor Novello in this concert – a composer born in Cardiff, who became world famous as a writer of glamorous stage shows in the first half of the 20th century. He was also a film star, who featured in two early films directed by Alfred Hitchcock no less! Novello’s song Keep the Home Fires Burning was extremely popular during World War I as was another much-loved Novello song in World War II, We’ll Gather Lilacs.We’re delighted to welcome sopranos Ros Evans to sing these wonderful songs.  

‘Tunes from the Trenches’ is a selection of popular and patriotic songs sung by the British and American troops. What pieces will you be performing? 

‘Tunes from the Trenches’ is a 15-minute medley of song tunes that were favourites of the troops. 

The selection begins with the recruiting song Your King and Country Want You followed by Goodbye, Dolly Gray as the soldiers leave for war. Belgium Put the Kibosh on the Kaiser is followed by some French songs with lyrics improvised by the soldiers,such as Three German Officers Crossed the Rhine and They Were Only Playing Leap-Frog

Stille Nacht(Silent Night) recalls the legendary Christmas truce. When This Lousy War is Over and There's No Place Like Home are balanced by Land of Hope and Glory before the Americans arrive with The Caissons Go Rolling Along and Over There. It's a Long Way to Tipperary takes us towards a rousing finish, butthen we hear The Last Post to end the piece reflectively. 

Sir Arthur Bliss – who was injured in the Battle of the Somme and was mentioned in dispatches – closes the concert with his landmark film score to Things to Come. As a film buff yourself, is it one of your favourite scores? 

What is the greatest music written for a science-fiction film?...Star Wars? Star Trek? Independence Day? 2001: A Space Odyssey

All contain great music, but the score that set the bar for these films – and all others that followed – is that of the 1936 film, Things to Come.

Things to Come tells of how the world is all but destroyed by war, and how a new world is built from the ashes of the old. 

The composer of Things to Come was Sir Arthur Bliss, who fought throughout World War 1, and for his bravery was mentioned in dispatches. 

This is a rare chance to hear live in concert this fantastic film music, which is in turn bold, colourful, exciting, scary but ultimately brilliantly uplifting; and performed by a huge orchestra augmented by the mighty St David’s Hall organ. 

The best known section of the score, the famous, ominous sounding March is the music that inspired the Imperial March from Star Wars. 

The concert includes a performance from talented Welsh soprano, Ros Evans. Tell us a little bit about her.

We first worked with Ros in a performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony in 2008, and we’re really happy to welcome Ros back on this occasion. Ros hailsfrom Swansea, has sung many operatic roles and concert performances, including works by Sir Karl Jenkins and John Rutter in performances conducted by the composers themselves.

Ros Evans – Soprano

What have you got planned for us next in CPO’s 2018/19 season?

We’ll be back at St David’s Hall on Friday 7 December for our annual pre-Christmas presentation of A Night at the Movies – lots of new film titles this year including Back to the Future, Star Trek, Jurassic World and The Blues Brothers alongside favourites such as Mary Poppins and The Lion King, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s with what else but Moon River? 


On Banks of Green Willow

Symphony No 5

Keep the Home Fires Burning & Well Gather Lilacs

Tunes from the Trenches

Things to Come (Film Suite)





Tickets are £7, £10, £12, £18 & £24
(plus an optional £1 postage fee).

Concessions available. 

Book for all four concerts and receive 25% off each ticket!
(only available via Box Office). 

To book your seats, please visit www.stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk
or call the Box Office on 029 2087 8444. 

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