Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen’s Music, will celebrate his 80th Birthday in September 2014. This offers an ideal opportunity to explore his wide catalogue of works, whether for solo instrument such as the brand new organ work Capstone, chamber group (such as The Last Island for string sextet), orchestra (including his 9th Symphony) or opera company (such as Kommilitonen! – his recent opera for young singers).
Over the course of his International career, Maxwell Davies’s status has changed from enfant terrible to leading cultural figure at the heart of the British establishment. His appointment in 2004 as Master of the Queen’s Music is a tribute to the revolutionary influence he has had on the British contemporary music scene and the public’s perception of it. From his radical works of the 1960s, he has developed a more conventional, but no less startlingly original, idiom often drawing on the music and landscape of the Orkney Islands where he has lived since 1971.
In the early 2000’s, Maxwell Davies concentrated his compositional efforts on chamber music, including the cycle of ten string quartets which were commissioned by the CD company Naxos and entitled the Naxos Quartets. Most recently he has written an opera for young singers – Kommilitonen! (Young Blood!) which was commissioned by the Royal Academy of Music, London, and the Julliard School, New York. It received enormous critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. 2012 saw the completion of his 9th Symphony, premiered by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko. This too received high praise amongst audience and critics alike.
A selection of recent works include:
Symphony No.9 (2012). Dedicated to Her Majesty the Queen, on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee.
‘This brilliantly crafted work - Haydnesque in duration, Mahlerian in scope - is far from the kind of ceremonial work one might expect from the master of the Queen's music. Indeed, its attitude to militarism and war is not so far from Shostakovich's in his Seventh and 10th.’ (The Sunday Times)
The Whispering Gallery (2012) Written for the choir of St Paul’s Cathedral, this work for choir and organ sets text by Andrew Motion.
Stormwatch, Stormfall (2011) This trio, for horn, violin and piano, was written in the winter of 2010 – 11, a winter of storms and snows of unusual ferocity, at Max’s home in the Orkney Islands, all of which is reflected in the music.
Kommilitonen! (Young Blood!) (2010) Commissioned by the Royal Academy of Music London and the Julliard School New York, the opera consists of three interlocking stories of students involved in political action in three different situations. With a libretto by David Pountney (and directed by him also), the performances have won rave reviews.
Voted Best Opera of 2011, Time Out New York
‘Don't be put off by the title or the subject matter - it's a triumph. An extraordinary testament to the fact that, at the age of 76, his creativity is radiantly alive.’
The Daily Telegraph
The Last Island for String Sextet (2009) The title refers to the further of two small islands off the coast of Sanday, Orkney, close to Max’s house, which can be reached by foot at low tide. It is home to rare wild flowers and birds, and is reputed to be the resting place of hundreds of shipwrecked mariners who have perished on the rocks through the centuries.
This sextet attempts to invoke the island’s unique atmosphere – essentially peaceful and full of the wonder of ever-changing light of sea and sky, yet strangely threatened with menace, even on the brightest of days.
Violin Concerto No. 2 Fiddler on the Shore (2009) Written for soloist Daniel Hope, this concerto is both a celebration of Orkney traditional fiddle music, and of the sheer wonder and beauty of the sea, whose sound permeates every moment of the composer’s life, and also a meditation on the fragility of this music under modern pressures, and the vulnerability of a sandy island in the way of ever-rising seas, as icecaps melt.
The Five Acts of Harry Patch (2008) This is a work for chorus and orchestra sets Andrew Motion’s poetry, 'The Last Fighting Tommy' . At the time of composition, Harry Patch was 110, the second oldest person in Britain and the last surviving soldier to have fought in the trenches of the First World War. ‘The Five Acts of Harry Patch’ tells the story of his life, from his early childhood in Somerset through to his experiences during two World Wars and his later years in a care home in Somerset, England.