Having been appointed Honorary Guest Conductor of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Central Band as of 1 September 2022, Douglas Bostock will be conducting the band for ‘In Harmony 37’ at the Esplanade Concert Hall on 17 September, with a programme consisting of the complete original wind band works of Percy Grainger.

The British conductor Douglas Bostock is Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of the internationally acclaimed Southwest German Chamber Orchestra (since 2019) and Honorary Conductor of the Argovia Philharmonic in Switzerland. He previously held positions with the Argovia Philharmonic (Principal Conductor 2001-2019), the Hallwyl Opera Festival (Music Director), the Karlovy Vary Symphony Orchestra (Principal Conductor), the Munich Symphony Orchestra (Principal Guest Conductor), the Czech Chamber Philharmonic (Principal Guest Conductor), the Southwest German Philharmonic (Regular Guest Conductor), and Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra (Principal Conductor & Principal Guest Conductor).

Douglas Bostock has conducted many of the leading European, North American and Asian orchestras, including the London Philharmonic, the BBC orchestras, Royal Philharmonic, Prague Radio Symphony, Prague Symphony, Aarhus Symphony, New Japan Philharmonic, Kyoto Symphony, Sapporo Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, National Chamber Orchestra, State of Mexico Symphony Orchestra, and the Calgary Philharmonic. He has appeared at such prestigious international venues and festivals as BBC Proms, Vienna Konzerthaus, Suntory Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Konzerthaus Berlin, Tonhalle Zurich, Prague Spring Festival, Herkulessaal Munich, Leipzig Gewandhaus and Ravinia Festival.

Congratulations on the appointment as Honorary Guest Conductor for the SAF Central Band! Will you say that the upcoming concert is your official inauguration?

To tell you the truth, I don’t think I’m talking out of term when I say that my becoming Principal or Honorary Guest Conductor was already being discussed before the pandemic, and we wanted to have this concert as sort of an inaugural event, although it has been postponed three times. It was conceived that the appointment would coincide with both this concert and the conducting masterclasses. I think the appointment will allow me to drop in more often, probably once a year, not every time necessarily for a big concert, but at least to do some conducting, teaching, and all the other things I already mentioned in my previous interview. So this is indeed the inaugural concert for me as Honorary Guest Conductor – as is mentioned in the concert programme if I’m not mistaken.

What is the significance of programming such a wide variety of pieces of Percy Grainger for this concert? 

Grainger, for me, is simply one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. He’s not easily put in a category of composers; Percy Grainger is of his own class, and I have a great admiration for his music. I think he wrote some of the greatest, arguably really some of the very greatest music for wind band or wind ensemble. He’s been a major part of my repertoire since I’ve been conducting wind orchestras – I have worked with bands in many countries and almost always included a piece of Grainger in every programme if I can. I’ve done a complete Grainger programme with the Hiroshima Wind Orchestra in Japan before, but it was a normal length concert. I’ve also done others where we maybe had half the programme of Grainger and otherwise mixed repertoire.

With this particular concert it was suggested to include a Grainger piece. Then I proposed doing half the programme of Grainger since it will be his 140th birthday, and somehow it became a whole programme. Following on from that, I was bold enough or had the audacity to ask if we would consider programming Grainger’s complete original music for band, which would be about 95 or 100 minutes music in a three part concert, and as an integral event or a special event which everybody might want to go to; a once in a lifetime experience kind of experience.

Ignatius and Philip both latched onto that, said, yeah, let’s go for it. This will be special, as opposed to just doing a standard concert with nice programme. This is going to be a concert of significance, I believe, a cultural music event, which probably has never been done before, and it’s one of those things where you’re likely to remember having once heard in one evening the complete original music for band by Percy Grainger.

I had the further audacity to even suggest pre-concert talk, which I’d like to do myself. So what we’ve got is this four part event, a pre-concert talk, three music parts, so with a total of three intervals, starting with the talk at six, the concert itself starting at seven and will end sometime before ten. It’s all very meaningful to me, but I hope it will be special for the musicians who are playing it and for the people who are going to listen to it.

Let’s talk about some of the music that you have programmed.

Grainger wrote basically two categories of wind music. One would be transcriptions of the music of other composers, and the other are his original pieces. Of course, many of the latter are also based on folk songs, but they’re still original compositions. In this concert, we are doing 18 of his pieces, all original works except for two which are represented by substitutes. There’s a piece called ‘Hill Song No.1’, which is rather lengthy and which Grainger himself reworked and replaced with ‘Hill Song No.2’ – a kind of condensed version. And there’s the famous well-loved ‘Irish tune from County Derry’ which he reworked later in a piece called ‘County Derry Air’. It is the same well known melody, Danny Boy, but with different harmony and orchestration. So these are the two works that we are doing instead of their predecessors. Out of the 18 pieces, about a third of them are quite well known and played in Singapore –  for example, ‘Lincolnshire Posy’, ‘Country Gardens’, ‘Colonial Song’, and ‘Molly on the Shore’.

So we have other music that people know less about such as ‘The Merry King’, ‘Faeroe Island Dance’, and ‘Marching Song of Democracy’, although Tim Reynish did the Marching Song with The Philharmonic Winds some years ago. And there’s ‘The Power of Rome and The Christian Heart’, which is not well known, but I did here in my last concert with the SAF Band with Dr Evelyn Lim as solo organist. I’m happy to say she’s playing with us again this time. The work is always worth hearing because it’s not easy to grasp – so the more the better! There’s also ‘Country Gardens’, which will be performed in the original version and not the one usually played, and it’s going to be the first time ever performing in Singapore. In fact, I believe that about four or five works of the repertoire are going to be local premieres.

So would you say you have, out of these pieces, something that you really like?

I like them all. I love them all. It’s like parents with their children. Some of them are more significant musically, no question. ‘Lincolnshire Posy’, which is one of the greatest band or wind ensemble pieces ever written; it is just a pinnacle of artistic achievement, a great piece and I love it. I’ve done it many times, recorded it several times and it’s a piece which is just outstanding. ‘The Power of Rome and The Christian Heart’ is also an equally great piece. I’m particularly fond of the ‘Lads of Wamphray March’, which is a very sprightly and swashbuckling piece, as is the ‘Marching Song of Democracy’. Grainger’s pieces are often quite short; I think ‘Country Gardens ‘is a minutes and a half, and the longest is probably ‘Lincolnshire Posy ‘at around 18 minutes. Somebody said recently to me it’s a programme for the best encores ever written. Grainger’s pieces are sometimes too short for normal concert repertoire.

One of the challenges for me in doing this, was to choose the order of the pieces and where to put the two intermissions. I hope we’ve got a good balance. We also have to think about the musicians’ energy and how to channel them in the best way. We’re starting with a piece which is something hardly known here, the ‘Duke of Marlborough’s Fanfare’, which starts with an offstage horn form and he either walks on or stays off stage and is represented by another player on stage with a few winds. It’s a terrific piece, two minutes and a half long, but a lovely way to start the concert with the sounds of the horn far away.

What else makes this concert special?

We’re very lucky! After I got the programme together, I was helped and advised by the President Emeritus of the International Percy Grainger Society. His name is Barry Peter Ould, one of the world’s leading authorities on Percy Grainger. He has written books, published music, and was a founder member of the Grainger’s Society. He has actually provided some of the editions on what we’re going to play, which are being heard for the first time in Singapore.

There’s a wonderful piece called ‘Spoon River’, which has been played in Singapore and around the world, in the edition that is arranged by Glenn Cliffe Bainum. However, we are going to play Grainger’s original orchestration of the piece which was only very recently found. So Barry has been very helpful in this way. I’ve never met him personally, he lives up in Scotland, but we’ve been in contact for years because I’ve done other Grainger projects and several recordings. He’s written extensive programme notes for the concert programme – not a note on each piece, as it were, but an essay about Grainger’s life, which covers all of the 18 pieces. There is also a timeline about Grainger’s life and many photos of him, some which have previously not been published. Barry has also written a lovely greeting message from the Percy Grainger Society, so with this whole concept, we want to lift the concert to a different level.

This is a major effort, and on the international level. I think it is good that the SAF Central Band is really committing itself to do something of this scale. Of course, every concert is wonderful, every In Harmony concert has a great programme but I hope this one is something a little bit out of the ordinary, which has a lasting value. For example, the concert programme is something that people who are interested will want to keep on their shelves. In fact, it will be going to the Grainger Museum in Melbourne, in Australia, because Grainger was an Australian who went to Germany, England and then America. It’s also going to be in the house of Percy Grainger in White Plains, USA, and of course it is going to the Percy Grainger Society.

What would you say to the audience who are attending the concert, and those who are still considering it?

Well, I’d like to encourage people to come to the concert because it’s going to be a once in a lifetime event – probably, and not to fear the length of the programme, or the fact that all the music is by one composer. There is so much variety, colour, so much humour, so much feeling, so much passion, so many different levels in which Grainger is communicating with us. The rich palette of orchestral colour is beautiful, including a vast array of instruments, some of them less frequent guests in the wind orchestra.

So there’s going to be so much happening on stage and so much to listen to, so nobody should get worried about being bored or about the concert being too long. In fact, it should be quite the reverse – it’s a challenge and something unusual with two intermissions and a pre-concert talk, at which I’ll be happy to see everyone who comes. I’ll be talking about his life and some of its interesting quirks, how he came to write music, and his love of folk songs. We will celebrate the life and works of one very amazing composer. I hope to welcome many Singaporean musicians and music lovers, to take the challenge and come and meet the genius, Percy Aldridge Grainger!

In Harmony 37 – Grainger Fest!
Esplanade Concert Hall

Pre Concert Talk: 6pm (Doors Open)
Concert: 7pm

Get your tickets here!


Written By Editor

A contributing editor at TBP.