Scott of the Antarctic Centenary Concert

Birmingham International Concert Season 2011/12

Conquering the Antarctic

Friday 3 February 2012, 7:30pm

Symphony Hall

Vaughan Williams Excerpts from Scott of the Antarctic 30’
(narrator: Hugh Bonneville)
Cecilia McDowall Seventy Degrees Below Zero 25’
(world premiere)
Vaughan Williams Sinfonia Antartica 41’
(with photos from the 1910 Antarctic Expedition)

In association with the Scott Polar Research Institute.
Scott of the Antarctic Centenary Concert is supported by Arts Council England, Colwinston Charitable Trust, The RVW Trust, The Richard Hickox Fund for New Music, The Summerfield Charitable Trust and Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust.

City of London Sinfonia
Ladies of the Holst Singers

Stephen Layton conductor

Hugh Bonneville narrator

Katherine Watson soprano

Robert Murray tenor

This landmark concert retraces the steps of Captain Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in music, images and words. Excerpts from Vaughan Williams’s film score for Scott of the Antarctic (1947) are interwoven with moving readings from Scott’s diary, read by Hugh Bonneville, and the world premiere of a piece setting words from Scott’s poignant final letter, ‘To my widow’. A stunning selection of Herbert Ponting’s original expedition photos will be projected during the Sinfonia Antartica.

Click Here to view City of London Sinfonia’s blog post Conquering the Antarctic – In Pictures

Click Here to view City of London Sinfonia’s blog post Who was Captain Scott?

Click Here to hear an interview with UK composer Cecilia McDowall and poet Sean Street

Review by John Watson, Express and Star:

Click here for full review

…     “The performance on Friday by the City Of London Sinfonia, conducted by the excellent Stephen Layton, was dominated by the masterly compositions of Ralph Vaughan Williams. It also featured the premiere of a work by Cecilia McDowall, honouring the bravery of the ill-fated Captain Scott and his expedition team.”     …

Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard (for same programme but in Cheltenham – though we had organ in Birmingham!):

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…     “The title of Seventy Degrees Below Zero is a phrase used in Scott’s letter – he and his companions were having to contend with such temperatures. Miss McDowall, who was present, has produced an eloquent and affecting work, which I should like to hear again. Her music received splendid advocacy from Robert Murray who was strongly supported by Layton and his orchestra.

After the interval came Sinfonia Antarctica and here the devisers of the programme achieved something of a coup. As RVW’s music was being played a series of black and white photographs were projected onto a screen behind the orchestra. These photographs were taken during Scott’s 1910-12 expedition by Herbert Ponting, the expedition’s official photographer. The images were remarkable in their clarity despite their age and to say that they were evocative would be a massive understatement. Whether the pictures were of landscapes, wildlife or the members of the expedition they brought the Antarctic wastes and the brave men who pitted themselves against that environment vividly to life. The images changed every twenty seconds or so and I would guess we saw at least 150 as the symphony unfolded. In no way did the pictures distract attention from the music; rather the music and pictures complemented and enhanced each other.”     …

Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

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…     “It could not be possible without Vaughan Williams’ ‘Sinfonia Antartica’; and the City of London Sinfonia’s atmospheric performance, magnificently structured by Stephen Layton and extremely well played (though a larger string section was needed for total impact).

 The female chorus (Holst Singers) and super soprano soloist, Katherine Watson, certainly provided a bonus, as did the visual counterpoint of photographs taken during the expedition, although the selection and pacing of these often bore little relevance to the music’s specificity.”     …

Review by Rian Evans, Guardian (for same programme but in Cardiff):

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…     “Scott’s diaries and letters, found on his body and incredibly affecting, were read aloud by Hugh Bonneville during the first half of the evening. Extracts from Vaughan Williams’s score for the 1948 film Scott of the Antarctic set the scene. Bonneville’s delivery was shipshape and, while amplification detracted from the intimacy, the realisation that Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian team had beaten them to the Pole drained us all.”     …

Blog post by “Telescoper” (for same programme but in Cardiff)

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