Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I started my musical life as a chorister at Ripon Cathedral in Yorkshire. Exposure to the greats of choral music was the basis for becoming a composer and conductor, and was a great introduction to the technical as well as the aesthetic aspects of music.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

In my teens I corresponded quite a bit with Benjamin Britten in the later years of his life, and he gave me a lot of ideas and encouragement to become a composer. Studying music at Christ Church, Oxford as an undergraduate was also an important step on the road.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

The greatest challenges revolve around presenting pieces to audiences which require active listening on their part. People are everywhere bombarded with noise, and commercial music of all kinds, which requires no active participation from the listener. This puts them off the idea of listening to something and being challenged to think about what the music is trying to say to them.

Of which works are you most proud?

The Sonata for Organ, which was premiered and recorded by Clive Driskill-Smith; Suite – King Richard III for Solo Violin, premiered and recorded by Rupert Marshall-Luck; the works I have written for Christ Church, Oxford (especially King Henry VIII’s Apologia); the setting of the Jubilate Deo (in Zulu) which I wrote for the 750th Anniversary of the foundation of Merton College, Oxford; and a number of choral pieces for choirs in Germany, especially the Frankfurt Canticles and Responses, and the Berlin Canticles and Responses. I have also had a number of commissions from the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music. My Sonata for Piano is just about to be premiered in London, and this is a major piece.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

Making sure that we are all agreed at the outset as to what exactly is being requested, and the reason why the person is commissioning the piece. However, it is a very rewarding experience to deliver a new work to someone who has commissioned it. People are very generous in their appreciation of new works like that. It is very exciting to be writing for a distinguished performer or ensemble, in particular to write a work which fits their style of performance, their character, and their ethos. The challenge is to write something which is appropriate to the performer, and is a work that they will want to play frequently and be identified with. Of course, they can be very demanding (!), but that is also good, because it means they have thought a lot about what they are looking for and why.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

Mainly this is a great pleasure, because the reason they will want to play your music is because they choose to. This enables one to develop a longer-term relationship with performers who are looking to include this type of music in their repertoire. Then a very fruitful discussion about new pieces can ensue, and trying new things which enhance the appeal of the performer to the audience.

How would you characterise your compositional/musical language?

It varies from very simple tonal pieces (especially some of the pieces for church choirs), through to more complex works, like the larger Sonatas. Maybe it could be see as being a continuation of the English musical tradition, from VW, Howells, Finzi, Britten, Tippett, Leighton, Lutyens.

How do you work?

I do like things to be organised, because I really do not like missing deadlines! A lot of planning goes into each piece. They will have been forming in my mind for many months (sometimes even years) before the pencil even hits the paper. I tend to write things out long-hand, and then put them onto Sibelius. Then it’s off to the publishers.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

That people are interested enough to listen to the music, and that if they studied it in detail, they would appreciate the logic, structure, and meaning of the pieces I have written. Where listeners have done this, they tell me the music appeals to the ear, the heart, and the brain. It’s lovely when you get feedback like that.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

To work hard, listen to the great music, and enjoy what you are doing. You have an individual voice as a composer or performer, and you need to find ways to express yourself. Others will guide you, but your voice is your own.

Richard Pantcheff’s Piano Sonata is premiered by Duncan Honeybourne on 6 November 2019 at the 1901 Arts Club, London. Introduction by Richard Pantcheff. More information


Richard Pantcheff is internationally renowned as a composer in many genres, and has established a prominent reputation as a composer of Choral, Organ, Chamber and instrumental music of the highest quality. His musical career commenced as Head Chorister at Ripon Cathedral, in England. During his five years as a Music Scholar at senior school, he corresponded regularly with Benjamin Britten, who acted as occasional mentor to him in composition. Thereafter, he graduated with Honours in Music at Christ Church, Oxford University, under Simon Preston and Francis Grier.

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You can see most of Richard’s music on his publisher’s website : www.musicaneo.com

0000614_honeybourne-duncanThe Weymouth Lunchtime Chamber Concerts, the brainchild of pianist Duncan Honeybourne, were launched at the Weymouth Arts Centre in the summer of 2002. Familiar with the concept of regular lunchtime concerts from his own professional touring, Honeybourne had returned to his home town earlier that year and longed to bring regular high quality lunchtime concerts to his own corner of Dorset. He was also keen to establish a platform for chamber music partnerships with friends, to invite friends and colleagues to explore the area, to promote young artists and to try out his own solo programmes. He wanted to build up a loyal audience willing to trust his artistic judgement and give unusual repertoire a hearing as part of a regular series.

The Weymouth Arts Centre had earlier been a setting for some of Duncan’s own teenage successes. He had played concertos there, with Angela Nankivell conducting the Arts Centre Orchestra, and it was with Angela – a much-loved and much-missed driving force in Dorset music – that he now drew up a plan for action. Angela, a musician and teacher of rare quality, was by this time – in retirement from the Dorset Music Service – immersing herself in helping the Weymouth Arts Centre evolve and grow, and Duncan tells the story of the chance conversation in which the idea of the Lunchtime Chamber Concerts was born. One day he drove into the car park opposite the Arts Centre and, whilst searching for a parking space, he spotted Angela walking across the car park -with a question for him. “I’m glad I’ve seen you”, she exclaimed. “I’m trying to help the Arts Centre find ways to increase their profile and get people in. Have you got any ideas?” “Yes!” replied Duncan without hesitation. “Why don’t you start a lunchtime concert series?” “Good idea”, said Angela. “Would you like to run it? I’ll do the admin and you can do the artistic side.” By the time he had parked his car, a new strand of Duncan’s future work was sealed. “I had been thinking how much fun it would be to start something like that”, he remembers. “It was something that had to be done, and it was just the right moment in my life for it.”

“We decided to try a summer series on all the Thursdays in August that year,” Duncan recalls. “I gave the first one myself, on the 1st August, and a wonderful team of ladies prepared refreshments. We were gratified by the good turnout, and we decided to make it a regular thing. I was young then, and bursting with ideas. Almost too many ideas! But I’d never have imagined then that we’d still be going now, 17 years later. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge, but the central ideas and priorities have remained unchanged.

Duncan says that several of his own philosophies have been hard-wired into the raison d’etre of the concert series. “Firstly, I abhor the snobbery, elitism and exclusivity which so often attaches itself to classical music. I wanted to create a cosy, welcoming and all-embracing atmosphere, and always to present the music in such a way as everyone felt comfortable, involved and valued. The artists almost always talk to the audience, telling them their own feelings about the works. I’ve always been passionate that you don’t have to have any kind of background in music to get something out of it. It’s all about how you deliver and contextualise it. This sense of dialogue, of our sharing the works we love, aims to foster that very ethos”.

“We’ve also tried to keep admission costs low,” says Duncan, “because we don’t want money to be a bar to anyone coming to enjoy first class professional music. South Dorset isn’t the wealthiest of areas these days, and I don’t want my concerts to be the preserve of a privileged few, just because they’re the only people who can afford to come. Music provides spiritual and emotional nourishment – just look at what they do in that amazing world of music therapy – and I want that to be on offer to all who would like to be part of the experience.”

Duncan’s second objective has been to support young musicians at the beginning of their careers – “I was one myself, in fact, when I started the whole thing”, he observes with a laugh – and to present a wide and challenging range of music, stepping far beyond the established and well-loved masterpieces of the baroque, classical and romantic repertoire. “The old favourite pieces are there, of course”, he is quick to reassure, “but we are able to take far bigger risks in our regular series than the average music club or concert society would be able to do.” Duncan points out that the concerts receive no outside funding, being entirely dependent on the current modest £5 admission charge.

After less than two years in their original home, the concerts had to move to a new venue. The Weymouth Arts Centre closed in 2004 and, after a few concerts at Weymouth College, the series moved permanently to St Mary’s Church in September that year. “The church is a beautiful setting for music and is ideally located in the town centre. We have had a wonderfully fruitful and happy relationship with our hosts there for some 15 years now”, Duncan tells us. “Initially we took the old Arts Centre piano to St Mary’s but, in 2007, the Weymouth and Portland Piano Association purchased a new instrument, a Yamaha, which is now housed at St Mary’s Church. And we are lucky enough to be able to use the piano for our concerts. People are constantly remarking on the wonderful setting and piano, and how fortunate we are to have such an ideal set-up. It’s warm and welcoming, and I try to make the concerts like that, too.”

As well as championing young artists and encouraging unfamiliar repertoire, Duncan has always sought to feature living composers and new music in the series. He has frequently played, recorded and broadcast contemporary piano music at home and abroad, and he has brought a taste of this activity to South Dorset – “in small doses, carefully chosen! I’m mindful that many people can be suspicious of contemporary music per se but, by choosing it with care, programming it with sensitivity and having it eloquently introduced by living, breathing composers at the top of their game, I try to demystify it and engage new enthusiasts. And we’ve had some very distinguished composers visiting us over the years.” At one of the first concerts at St Mary’s 15 years ago John Joubert, the late South African-born composer best known for his choral music and with whose piano music Duncan is closely associated, introduced several of his own works. “That was a unique opportunity for us all to hear a titan of his age talking about what fired his creative passions, what he wanted audiences to listen out for and what he hoped they’d get out of his music.” Other visitors have included Grammy-nominated Dobrinka Tabakova, now the BBC Concert Orchestra’s Composer in Residence. “At the very first concert, Andrew Downes was in the audience to listen to his First Piano Sonata, and Andrew – for many years Head of Composition at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire – has been with us on many occasions since, so that’s a very special association too.” But it wasn’t a composer who contributed what, for Duncan, was one of the most memorable and moving verbal additions to the series: “In 2006 we invited Christopher Finzi, son of the composer Gerald Finzi and a distinguished musician himself, to a concert on the very day marking the 50 th anniversary of Finzi’s death. I asked him if he would be willing to say a few words to the audience, and he responded with the most wonderful, touching reflection on his father’s personality, musing on what Finzi senior would have thought of the modern world had he come back to see how life had changed. That was a special moment, and a little bit of history was made here in Weymouth.”

Among many other highlights of the first ten years was a special celebrity concert in January 2006, when oboist George Caird and cellist Jane Salmon joined Duncan for a recital of which the Dorset Echo wrote: “The three played as well as I have heard anywhere, and to a packed house.”

Tragedy struck in 2011 when Angela Nankivell died after a long illness. “She shouldered the weight of the administrative burden, which was considerable, and was a wonderful musician and a good friend. I miss her very much, and when she was ill I wondered whether we’d be able to continue”, admits Duncan. Fortunately, his colleague and friend Jean Shannon, formerly General Administrator of the Scottish Baroque Ensemble and other premier professional organisations, came to the rescue and has been Concerts Manager for the past nine seasons. “Jean really saved the series,” Duncan tells me, “and I owe her a huge debt. Jean has organised concerts for decades at the South Bank and other London venues, and she knows her job inside out and at the highest level. I could never have coped with the organisation, but Jean put an immense amount of work in and helped us to build on the structure that Angela had already set in place. We streamlined the planning process to 10 concerts per year – previously we’d had more – and we managed to build up our audiences further. Jean created a website, an electronic mailing list and regular reminder bulletins, and our audiences shot up. They usually number between 50 and 80 people these days.”

Most of the concerts since the early days were recorded by Ridgeway Radio for broadcast in Dorset County Hospital. “They have a tremendous archive”, remarks Duncan, “and I’m thrilled that we have a new association with Ridgeway Radio’s upgraded successor, Dorchester’s community FM radio station KeeP 106. It’s tremendously energising to be ever-evolving, constantly refreshing ideas – and that’s how we have to be to survive and grow.”

Duncan has continued to play in most of the concerts and especially relishes the opportunity to take part in rewarding chamber music projects. In 2014-15 Duncan was joined by Catrin Win Morgan, violinist in the renowned Brodowski Quartet, to play the complete violin and piano sonatas of Beethoven and Brahms in a series of concerts spanning the whole season. And in 2013-14, Duncan and three colleagues formed the Wessex Piano Quartet for a year-long residency, exploring works for this well-loved combination of piano and strings by Faure, Howells and Dvorak and returning in later seasons to play Mozart, Brahms and Taneyev. And, in a collaboration with the Royal Academy of Music, a memorable concert saw Duncan joining forces with four senior students to play Schubert’s Trout Quintet. Every Christmas is marked by a special seasonal concert, often featuring Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols, and one year the actor Freddie Fox – once a pupil of Duncan’s at Bryanston School -contributed Christmas readings and reflections to a specially – devised programme entitled “A West Country Christmas.”

Duncan now teaches piano at Southampton University and Sherborne School, and maintains an active profile as a performer. His solo performances are broadcast regularly on radio networks worldwide, and his recording career, which sees his 14 th disc released later this year, reflects the long association with British piano music for which he is best known. But the Weymouth Lunchtime Chamber Concerts remain a focus of special pride to him, and his deep roots in Dorset central to his life and work. “I was born here, and my father’s family have lived here for centuries. My great-great-great grandfather was the Weymouth town bailiff in the 1850s, and I can trace my ancestors back to the 16th century and beyond in the surrounding towns and villages. I love giving something back to Dorset, and it’s a privilege to be able to live in this beautiful place still. There’s work still to be done in building new audiences, and it’s no easy task getting new generations in. But I’m determined to keep this particular cultural flame burning here.”

The 2019-20 season of Weymouth Lunchtime Concerts opens on Wednesday 25th September, and is brimming with delights. Duncan’s own piano trio gives two recitals (on 25th March and 17th June) following its launch in the series two years ago, and the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 2020 is commemorated in a year-long feature, Beethoven 250. “We’ll be featuring violin sonatas, cello sonatas, the “Archduke” trio, and I’ll be playing Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas in May 2020. It’s a very exciting project,” remarks Duncan.

“In 2022 we’ll have been going for 20 years,” muses Duncan, “and we’re getting to the stage now where performers who are now established tell me that they gave one of their first concerts for us, and what a pivotal experience it was for them. I believe we still have a role to fulfil, and it’s invigorating and challenging to look forward.”

All concerts start at 1pm at St Mary’s Church, St Mary Street, Weymouth, Dorset DT4 8PU

2019/20 concerts and further information

Meet the Artist interview with pianist Duncan Honeybourne

Flowing Waters – Luke Whitlock
Suite Antique (piano solo)
Flowing Waters (piano solo)
Evening Prayer (piano solo)
The Faust and Mephisto Waltz (piano solo)
Three Pieces for Wind Trio
Flute Sonata

It’s always nice when someone contacts me to tell me about a new CD which they think I will like, and Luke Whitlock’s debut recording Flowing Waters is no exception. It was recommended to me by librettist Ben Kaye, and I have enjoyed exploring it over the course of several days.

This is the first album devoted to Luke Whitlock’s work (in addition to composing, he is also a producer for Radio 3 and 4) and it reveals a composer whose music is firmly rooted in melody, tonality, lyricism and expression. There are hints of folksong in the Suite Antique, as well as a very obvious hommage to the Baroque tradition of composing dance suites in the titles of the individual movements. It is also redolent of works by Debussy and Ravel which also looked back to Baroque antecedents, with quirky nods to Prokofiev and Shostakovich in the ‘Gigue’. The music is lyrical, elegant and witty, at times mininalist and at others more richly textured in the manner of Chopin or Liszt (‘Minuet’, a sensuous Chopinesque waltz), all sensitively executed by acclaimed pianist Duncan Honeybourne.

The title track ‘Flowing Waters’ was a commission from the Arts Council of Wales and the Welsh Government, and is a musical portrait of the River Teign in Devon. The piece opens with simple chords before moving into a flowing passage which owes much to Philip Glass in its spare textures and unexpected harmonic shifts, but also to Beethoven in the repeated LH quaver figure (the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata springs immediately to mind here) and also Liszt’s second ‘Petrarch Sonnet’ from the Années de Pelerinage. There are some Lisztian harmonies in the middle section of the work too, and the music plots a course through different tonal, melodic and harmonic landscapes, reflecting the winding and varied course of the river which inspired it. I was particularly taken with this track because it echoes a number of piano pieces (including several of Philip Glass’s ‘Etudes’) which I am currently working on.

The ‘Three Pieces for Wind’ trio are haunting and reflective pieces which depict certain landscapes and the listener’s interaction and response to them. There is a pleasing balance and sense of conversation and humour between the instruments (flute, clarinet and bassoon). The ‘Flute Sonata’, composed for flautist Anna Stokes (accompanied here by pianist Wai-Yin Lee), is the major work on the disc and reveals hints of Chopin and Poulenc in its melodies and scope. Meanwhile, ‘Evening Prayer’, which comes between the works for wind, is a tender meditation, redolent of some of Satie’s piano music.

The disc closes with ‘The Faust and Mephisto Waltz’, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Liszt whose music is taken from a score for a silent film. It is jokey and enjoyable in its pastiche, while presenting some technical challenges for the pianist (Duncan Honeybourne), and does indeed have a very filmic quality.

The music contained on this album is very accessible and will certainly appeal to those listeners who may initially shy away from “new music”. Recommended.

Flowing Waters is available on the Divine Art label. Further information here

Composer Luke Whitlock will feature in a future ‘Meet the Artist’ interview