Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Edward Downes, Conductor (1924-2009)

(Sir Edward Downes and Lady Downes; Photo, BBC News)

Sir Edward Downes (1924-2009) was a famed British conductor, who for years worked as the principal conductor of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra (1980-1991).

In early 1990's, by then in Los Angeles, I came to own an astonishing recording of Sergei Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2, in E minor, conducted by the maestro. The recording is sublime, engaging, unforgettable. Its fluidity of dynamics and its masterly balance of contrapuntal lines are hauntingly beautiful. You couldn't have wished for more. It remains one of my all time favorite recordings of any symphonic composition.

As I read in the news, on Friday, July 10th, 2009, after 54 years of marriage, he and his wife calmly left the world by their choice, assisted by the services of a dedicated Swiss clinic. The report struck me as a most honorable message of civility, and a most courageous affirmation of life, freedom and human dignity. This was an inspiring climax for a life spent in making sense of the world through arts, a life devoted to the love of a woman, and to the intimate art of music.

-- Payman Akhlaghi, Wednesday, July 15th, 2009
(Revised: February 18th, 2015)

Corrigendum: In my late teens, while still in Iran, I was introduced to a large array of the classical symphonic repertoire, by name and description, through a (partial) translation of an original book in English. It was a collection of essays and (radio?) commentaries, written by the American musicologist, Edward Downes (1911-2001), under the original title "Adventures in Symphonic Music" (1944). It would take me years before I could hear many of those pieces live or in recordings, but the impact of his vibrant, imaginative prose, and his love for the sheer beauty of this music would never leave me.

However, not until I had received his "Guide to Symphonic Music" (1976) on February 18th, 2015, would I realize that I had wrongly identified the author of that book as Sir Edward Downes (1924-2009), the famed British conductor, and the subject of this post. This gross misconception was boldly reflected in the original version of the post on July 15th, 2009.

As such, hereby, I wish to correct the error made in the original version of this short note. You may see Wikipedia.org for more biographical information on each respective figure. Thank you.

-- Payman Akhlaghi, February 18th, 2015, Los Angeles

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