Andrew Downes obituary

My friend, composer Andrew Downes, who passed away at 72, was a pioneer and original voice in British music. As president of the school of composition and creative studies at the Birmingham School of Music (later the Royal Birmingham Conservatory) from 1975 to 2005, he became a mentor to generations of young musicians who enjoyed his irreverent humor and enjoyed his inspirational teaching.

Andrew’s career as a composer has seen a steady stream of commissions and publications, including an overture in the Cotswolds., Song loops for the Three Choirs festival, Centenary Firedances for the City of Birmingham centennial festival in 1989, anthems for the BBC Radio 4 Daily Service and singers Sarah Walker and John Mitchinson on Radio 3. In 1997 Andrew’s Towards a New Age overture was premiered by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, and a long association with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Dvořák Hall and Rudolfinum, attended commissions and premieres in Prague and a collection of Andrew’s symphonies. It led to the CD box set.

His charismatic and disruptive approach to his academic role has made him a popular lecturer and sometimes infuriated but beloved colleague. He did not intend to challenge authority and had a talent for sparking artistic potential in students that others found unruly and unteachable. He encouraged his followers to create opportunities, organize festivals, bring music to the community and, above all, be themselves.

Under his direction, the school of composition and creative studies became a leader among English conservatories, pioneer gamelan ensembles, gospel choirs, klezmer groups, folk bands and African drums, as well as emerging symphonists. His own musical sound is distinctly personal and owes much to the late romantic British tradition, while benefiting from an eclectic mix of influences.

Born in Handsworth, Birmingham to secretary Iris (née Fennell) and Frank Downes, a horn player with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Midland Light Orchestra, Andrew was educated at Aldridge grammar school and music at Cambridge University. he read. He studied composition with Sir Lennox Berkeley and Herbert Howells, who described himself as “one of the most influential composers to come to me these days”. I have very high hopes for him.”

Andrew has suffered from ankylosing spondylitis since he was a teenager, and an accident in 2009 resulted in permanent paralysis. Although his travels were restricted after that, his creative zeal and joy of life did not diminish and he never gave up composing.

In 1975, Andrew married Cynthia Cooper, his lifelong friend and broadcaster, whom he had met with the Staffordshire County Youth Orchestra as a teenager. He survives, along with his daughters Anna and Paula and grandchildren Oscar, Maxwell, Persephone, and Emilia.

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