The John Downey Festival

By Matthew-Walker, Robert | Musical Opinion, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

The John Downey Festival


Matthew-Walker, Robert, Musical Opinion


Mention John Downey's name to most British music-lovers and the chances are you will be met with a look of blank incomprehension. Such would have been my reaction until I heard several events during the week-long Downey Festival which took place in various London venues between 20 November and 2 December, starting with an all-- Downey Philharmonia Orchestra concert under Geoffrey Simon at the Barbican. Absent from many music dictionaries, including the new Oxford, John Downey was born in Chicago in 1927 and has lived and worked in the USA all his life. He has written much music in many forms and several of his works have been recorded, some by Chandos. Surely reason enough to be noted in a modern dictionary?

He is an exceptional composer: exceptional in the clarity and imaginative nature of his thought, virtues rare in 20th-Century music, a pupil of Honegger, Milhaud, Boulanger and Messiaen, manifestly undeserving the international neglect which his work has suffered. American admirers of Downey's art, largely under the auspices of the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, where John Downey has taught for many years, took the bull by the horns. They combined to finance and present this Festival, flying over musicians and supporters from the USA and ensuring that his music was performed to the highest standards. It was a refreshing, rather astonishing, wholly courageous act of faith on their part. What was the response from the British press? …

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