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Orchestra of the Swan, Philip Sheppard (conductor) Detailed performer information
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Label: Signum Classics
Recording details: June 2022
School Farm Studios, Little Maplestead, United Kingdom
Produced by David Instrall & David Le Page
Engineered by Stefano Civetta & Simon Allen
Release date: May 2023
Total duration: 57 minutes 32 seconds

Enjoy a genre-bending journey of rewardingly unexpected juxtapositions in the company of David Le Page and his Orchestra of the Swan.

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Crafting a mixtape in the 1980s (the decade when mixtapes were at their most ubiquitous) was a more time-consuming process than it is in our present era of streaming. You began by planning a set list and then—using a double cassette recorder, a turntable connected to a tape deck, or even the radio—transferred your tracks in real time to a blank cassette. The inevitable loss of quality was an accepted and somehow charming by product of the exercise. You wouldn’t get to experience the flow of your creation until your first complete listen, at which time it would become apparent if the desired effect had (or had not) been achieved.

The mixtape was often a personalised gift—a portrait of the individual it was intended for and, by extension, an encapsulation of the relationship you had with that person. It meant something to the recipient because of the time you had spent putting it together—from making decisions about musical choices and tech sources to designing the hand-written sticky labels on the front and back of the cassette (Side A and Side B lest we forget). Other people’s mixtapes were equally fascinating; as much for what they said about the curator as for what they said about the dedicatee and the bond that existed between them; it was like eavesdropping on a personal conversation.

The mixtape lives on—spectacularly but less personally—in the guise of the playlist. On any of the major streaming platforms a playlist can be created within mere minutes and, what’s more, with almost the whole of recorded music at your fingertips. You can, if you wish, have instant access to millions of playlists made by strangers, record companies and even algorithms (algorithms construct playlists based on your listening history with results ranging from interesting to hilarious). The wonky, one-of-a-kind personal touch has been replaced by cold, generic (although admittedly stylish) interfaces, the result being that receiving a playlist is similar to opening an e-card on your birthday.

Echoes, however, resonates with effort and careful thought: from the early stages of imagining exactly what kind of music would fit, to the compiling of numerous abandoned set lists; from the painstaking creation of new arrangements to the physical act of recording the material itself; from locating the perfect studio, booking the musicians, overcoming logistical issues during the sessions, to the complex jigsaw of editing, mixing and mastering. Much hard work and love has been invested in this particular mixtape.

Although you can listen to each track in isolation Echoes is, first and foremost, a complete journey; the way a work ends and another begins is designed to create a frisson, a jolt of recognition or a feeling of surprise and satisfaction. Echoes explores landscape, light, water, dreams, birth and the slowly changing rhythm of the seasons; it also represents a callback to the days of vinyl when the act of listening to recordings was necessarily more involved and required all of your attention. The way we listen to recorded music is constantly evolving but sometimes it is hard to imagine where we can go from here. Despite the ongoing march of music technology and the death of various beloved formats the mixtape has somehow survived and adapted. It is unaccountably more popular than it has ever been.

Prelude in B minor BWV855a (Johann Sebastian Bach, arr. Alexander Siloti & David Le Page)
In this collaboration across three musical time zones, Ukrainian pianist and composer Alexander Siloti’s elegant transcription of J S Bach’s Prelude BWV855 provides a springboard for new musical ideas in a delicate game of musical consequences. Transcribed for strings and a stratospheric solo violin, this version explores new melodies suggested by the archeological layering of Siloti and Bach.

Spring 1 from The Four Seasons Recomposed (Max Richter)
German composer Max Richter samples birdsong from Vivaldi’s Le quattro stagioni—imaginatively layering and embellishing, conjuring a mesmerising cloud of fiddles that materialises with a single instrument and expands exponentially—all delicately and poignantly underscored by bass, cellos, violas and harp.

Buffalo Jump (Philip Sheppard)
Buffalo Jump was originally conceived for solo cello using loop pedals and subsequently arranged for string orchestra by the composer. This exhilarating rhythmically charged and continuously evolving set of variations threatens to fly off the rails at many points, but is kept hard to the track by the centrifugal power of motor-rhythmic quavers and sheer determination.

Peaches en regalia (Frank Zappa, arr. Ali N Askin)
Peaches en regalia originally appeared on American composer and iconoclast Frank Zappa’s 1970 album Hot Rats. The piece is a fully formed and ingeniously constructed signifier of things to come in the Zappa musical universe. Part TV theme tune, part early multitrack experiment, and featuring a seamless combination of composition and improvisation, Peaches is exhilarating and irresistible.

Nana from Siete canciones populares españolas (Manuel de Falla, arr. David Le Page)
A lullaby composed in 1914 by Manuel de Falla and taken from his Siete canciones populares españolas, 'Nana' hypnotises exquisitely and simply throughout its short duration. Its harmonic stasis and gently probing pedal support a melody line of almost unbearable tenderness.

The Sea of Time and Space (David Le Page)
Inspired by the middle movement of Vivaldi’s L’inverno, the Romance from Britten’s Frank Bridge Variations and the second movement of Stravinsky’s Concerto in D for string orchestra, The Sea of Time and Space takes its title from a painting by William Blake. Two solo violins entwine and flow over pizzicato droplets and a gentle bossa nova bass.

Trance from The Art of Dancing (Toby Young)
"The Art of Dancing is a modern homage to the baroque dance suite, with each movement hinting at a different style of electronic dance music. ‘Trance’ is a nocturne from the centre of the work, inspired simultaneously by the hypnotic quality of trance music and the stillness of Mahler’s famous Adagietto from his fifth symphony." (Toby Young)

Venus in furs (Lou Reed, arr. David Le Page)
The Velvet Underground’s chiming wall of sound counterpointed by John Cale’s shrieking viola conspire to render the opening of Venus in furs as one the most instantly recognisable moments in all of rock music. Lou Reed’s drily delivered sprechgesang provides the perfect foil for lyrics based on the novella by the Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch with its themes of female dominance and sadomasochism.

Glory Box (Portishead, arr. David Le Page)
Isaac Haye’s haunting string sample provided the inspiration for this taut yet fragile, blues-infused song. Released in 1995, Glory Box’s sophisticated angst was informed by Hip Hop and the spirit of Billie Holiday, refracted through the lens of a particularly British urban sensibility.

We played some open chords and rejoiced (A Winged Victory for the Sullen)
American-born musicians Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran’s ambient project A Winged Victory for the Sullen creates starkly beautiful soundscapes with simple piano, sensitive strings and shimmering guitar. In We played some open chords … from their eponymous debut album, strings shadow and enhance pure architectural blocks of piano driven by perfectly paced and affecting emotional surges.

Starburst (Jessie Montgomery)
Starburst is a play on imagery of rapidly changing musical colours. Exploding gestures are juxtaposed with gentle fleeting melodies in an attempt to create a multi-dimensional soundscape. A common definition of a starburst: 'The rapid formation of large numbers of new stars in a galaxy at a rate high enough to alter the structure of the galaxy significantly.' (Jessie Montgomery)

Aquarelle 1 (Frederick Delius, arr. Eric Fenby)
Originally conceived for a cappella choir and subsequently arranged for string orchestra by Delius’ amanuensis Eric Fenby, Two Aquarelles bore the title Two Songs to be sung of a summer night on the water. A clearly defined and memorable melody is never subsumed by intoxicating layers of harmonic sensuality.

Mishima – Closing from String Quartet No 3 (Philip Glass, arr. David Le Page)
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is a 1985 film based on the life and work of Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima. The surface simplicity of Philip Glass’ score belies an almost indefinable sense of longing, euphoria and apotheosis. Glass uses different orchestrations to correspond to the three visual styles of the film. Black and white biographical flashbacks are underscored by an almost claustrophobic-sounding string quartet whereas the music to accompany stylised scenes from Mishima’s novels, are scored for large symphony orchestra.

The Salutation from Dies natalis, Op 8 (Gerald Finzi)
Finzi’s heart-stopping setting of text by metaphysical poet, priest and theologian Thomas Traherne sublimely chronicles the mystery of birth and the infant state of beauty and innocence. 'The Salutation', which forms the final movement of his cantata for tenor and strings, was composed between 1938 and 1939 on the eve of the most destructive war the world had yet seen. Despite celebrating the joy and wonder of human (or divine?) creation, the darkness of humanity’s compulsive drive towards self-destruction is never far away.

David Le Page © 2023

This album is dedicated to the memory of Niall McChesney (1948-2020), Membership Secretary of the Friends of Orchestra of the Swan from 2007. Niall was a proud Liverpudlian whose keen interest in music began in early childhood attending concerts at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. He was a member of the Sondheim Society and particularly keen on Barbara Streisand! Niall joined the planning department at Coventry City Council where he worked for 40 years, becoming a stalwart supporter of the orchestra from its foundation in 1997. Niall worked tirelessly to help build the Friends organisation, and the orchestra is delighted to be able to mark his contribution in this way. Thank you Niall for your dedicated service, and a huge thank you to Ailsa Logan, Niall’s partner, for her substantial donation that enabled us to remember him in this way.

Orchestra of the Swan © 2023

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