Sawyers, P Orchestral Works

New and engaging music from a British composer with an American connection

Author: 
Peter Dickinson

Sawyers, P Orchestral Works

  • Gale of Life
  • Symphonic Music for Strings and Brass
  • Symphony No 1

Philip Sawyers is a British composer, violinist and teacher now in his late fifties. As a result of an American connection – with the Grand Rapids Symphony in Michigan – his 1972 student work Symphonic Music for Strings and Brass was performed in 2002. He admits that it draws on Hindemith and Bartók but the piece stands up as a remarkable achievement for a student composer of barely 21. There’s some Shostakovich in there too, and, like his models, Sawyers’s discourse is well paced and logical, but with an unexpected soft ending. It’s not surprising that, after playing it, the Grand Rapids conductor, David Lockington, wanted to take their connection further. Two years later the result was Sawyers’s Symphony No 1 (there is now a second). This is a four-movement work lasting over half an hour and it shows all Sawyers’s experience as an orchestral insider with 24 years as a violinist in the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. He works with clear tonal centres, and the over-extended slow movement is, he says, related to the “spacious adagios of Bruckner and Mahler”.

The Scherzo is a display piece of the kind orchestras enjoy and it led to another commission for an overture. The title The Gale of Life is taken from a poem of Housman where “the gale of life blew high”: it does. There’s nothing particularly original about these pieces, all recorded live, but Sawyers has provided repertoire works and their viability is being recognised in performances.

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