#Classical365: 7 – Gunning Saxophone Concerto

Today I was meant to be to listening to Christopher Gunning’s Symphony No.5. It was Debbie Melliard’s suggestion posted on the Sibelius blog. Listened to it (again, whilst I was in the gym) and was enjoying it up to a point – around about 20 minutes in – before my attention trailed off. When I zoned back in part-way through the last movement I was a little frustrated with it. I’d heard amazing orchestrations, sweeping melodic lines played with a creamy legato by the London Philharmonic and contrasting percussive interludes. But I when I returned to it after my absent-minded wanderings, I didn’t feel like I was hearing anything different. And by this time I was on the fourth movement.

I was all set to be honest whilst being as balanced and charming as I possibly could be, but come late afternoon (when I seem to pen these responses) I discovered myself feeling altogether different.

Being tired probably didn’t help today. I was plagued by a strange dream in which I had been summoned to meet with my former boss at the FT from twelve years ago to explain myself for an incomplete piece of work I’d started in late 2003. When would I be finishing off the work I started , did I know what the work entailed and could I explain it to him? I struggled to answer his questions, resorting to calling husband Simon to whom I explained in detail (balling my eyes out at the same time) why I wouldn’t be coming home that night. “I’ll have to pull an all-nighter,” I explained, “I need to do the following to finish the job off.” I proceeded to explain in great detail what needed to be done down the phone, during which my former boss said, “You don’t have much time left!” It was at this point I opened my eyes and stretched out for the mobile phone on my bedside table in a bid to answer his question. It was six minutes past four in the morning and I was awake.

I did manage to get back off to sleep, thankfully. And although fully functioning for most of the day, it was those times when I interacted with people that I began to feel my nerves starting to go a bit jangly. I’m not talking about the people themselves or things discussed which caused my stress levels to go up, more the process of interacting at all which seemed challenging. It was the process of listening to what other parties were saying and listening to what I was thinking to myself in response which seemed unusually demanding and draining.

Regardless of the subject matter of a conversation there are times when any interaction amounts to the following process:

1. There are things said by one party; things said by another party.

2. Things are listened to by one party and then responded to accordingly by the other.

3. Sometimes things are ‘mis-listened’ or ‘un-heard’ by either party and responded to accordingly.

4. Interactions finish. Parties go their separate ways. Post-mortem on interaction begins.

It’s a common experience for me. Something I’ve grown up with and never thought to question, on the basis that I’ve assumed most other people function in the same way. That said, now I come to stop and think about that process, it is utterly exhausting and not very helpful at all.

“My week in Southwold seems like such a long way away now,” I said to a colleague as the lift went down to the ground floor. “Work would be so much easier if there weren’t any people,” he replied, “especially on my commute.” And yet, how much more miserable life would be. There would be no-one around to listen to at all.

So there was that – going on all day – draining the energy levels. And then there was the Paris shootings. Appalling. Barbaric. Wanton. People somewhere aren’t being listened to and want to be heard. It’s been on the TV screens at work all day long, but its only now, sat at home watching the 6 O’Clock News, the reality of it hits home. It’s only at home I can hear stuff, so to speak.

For a while on the way home I pondered whether there was a piece of music I knew of already I could substitute Christopher Gunning’s fifth symphony with. As I thought about that, I began to wonder whether it should a piece of music which reflected in some way the atrocities in Paris today. Or should it be work which reflected my mood at the time I travelled home? Or was there a work which took me out of my mood? Something which healed in some way.

In a hot bath I searched for Gunning again and found, by chance, an album of English clarinet music. All the old-familiars were there – the ones I’d performed at Uni. Joseph Horovitz, Finzi and Stamford. There at the end was Christopher Gunning’s Saxophone Concerto (“On Hungerford Bridge”) played by John Harle. At 19 minutes long it was half that of the symphony, so probably more compact, I thought. Nineteen minutes would also be enough time to keep me in the bath so I completely unwound.

The mysterious introduction has echoes of Shostakovich and reminiscent of Britten’s double viola and violin concerto completed by Colin Matthews in 1997, long winding melody passed between the wind instruments over a vast chord shimmering in the strings. Given what I heard of his 5th symphony earlier on in the day, I’d wager that this is Gunning’s trademark.

The work is one complete movement with three distinct sections reflecting the conventional concerto structure. Six minutes in a sense of calm passes over proceedings with the solo line and orchestral accompaniment working in contrary motion. Simple yet incredibly effective.

But something lurks underneath which although not entirely evil is there to present some kind of challenge. A very gentle kind of battle ensues depicted in a musical language which isn’t that far away from his writing for TV. That battle peters out around 15 minutes to something more serene. Had it ended there, it might be a little trite. Instead, we’re left with what feels like a acknowledgement of things as they are. And a sense that there is work still to be done, work which could be done starting tomorrow.

I was listening to Christopher Gunning’s concerto for saxophone and orchestra (“On Hungerford Bridge”) played by John Harle and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Spotify

The Gunning is also added to my Classical 365 Spotify playlist

If you’ve got a suggestion for a work for me to listen to, leave a comment below or tweet me@thoroughlygood.

One thought to “#Classical365: 7 – Gunning Saxophone Concerto”

  1. OK, as Jon went to the trouble of creating a playlist for me on Spotify I felt that as I listen to each piece I should comment on it. I am not musically minded and my taste is eclectic to say the least so my descriptions won’t be along the same lines as Jon’s.
    In summary, didn’t love it. It was OK but I had it more as background noise while I worked rather than actually listening to the music.
    Not one I would listen to again

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