Sydenham International Music Festival – Philip Sawyers Premiere

Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, K466
Symphony No.2 [World premiere]
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92

Valerie Tryon (piano)

London Mozart Players
Robert Trory

Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker

Reviewed: 15 June, 2008
Venue: St Bartholomew’s Church, Sydenham, London SE26

Philip SawyersThe concluding concert of this year’s Sydenham International Music Festival, the tenth, given before a sold-out audience, brought the month-long festivities to a superb close with the world premiere of a new Symphony (his Second) by Philip Sawyers, a young British composer who is having much success in the United States.

The new Symphony, in one movement and playing for about 22 minutes, is scored for the same-sized orchestra as Beethoven’s Seventh. It proved to be a deeply impressive work, serious in tone throughout, and genuinely symphonic, in that at a first hearing it appeared that all the elements in the piece were related and grew naturally out of the preceding material, without at any time leading us to guess successfully what might be coming next – but when it did, the surprises were genuinely musical and entirely at one with the underlying thrust of this very fine work.

It is superbly orchestrated – as befits a composer who is also a distinguished orchestral and chamber musician – and grabbed the audience from the opening bars, who followed the composer’s by no means easy train of thought with close attention. This is one of the finest new symphonies by a British composer I have heard in years, and certainly deserves performance and recording. It stands a better chance, it seems, of getting them in the United States rather than in Sawyers’s home country, such is the nature of things in the UK today with regard to new serious orchestral music. But the work’s relatively short length, the modest orchestral forces required and the composer’s ability to create new and interesting music within what one might term a traditional context betoken a genuine composer who deserves wide recognition.

The performance seemed magnificent, following a fine account of Mozart’s D minor Piano Concerto by Valerie Tryon, in which the first movement, in particular, was superbly performed. Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony was equally superb, with the audience not permitting either the very gifted Robert Trory or the orchestra to leave until, as an encore, they gave a tingling performance of Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” Overture.

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