Conductor brings composers together

The Journal Gazette

Andrew Constantine is more than the conductor of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Reading (Pennsylvania) Symphony orchestras. He is also a music historian who can lose himself in a day’s research much the way his Embassy Theatre patrons find themselves drifting across a Brahms melody.

“I’ve been fascinated for as long as I can remember by reading history books on music and seeing names of composers and never knowing anything about them,” Constantine says. “It seems as though every generation throws up a few composers who we stay with and love and quite rightly so; and there are people who get left behind. And I’ve always been interested in investigating some of these people.”

Several years ago, as he further studied fellow British countryman and composer Edward Elgar, Constantine kept coming across the name of a lesser-known American composer, George Chadwick. In addition to their proximity in age – Chadwick was born in 1854; Elgar, 1857 – Constantine recognized how their careers paralleled each other. And while the two composers would eventually meet (Elgar apparently unimpressed), Constantine’s newest project would reunite them.

Under Constantine’s direction, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales recorded the album “Elgar: The New England Connection.” The orchestra, over three days in January in Cardiff, Wales, performed a familiar work from each composer – Elgar’s “Enigma Variations,” written in 1899, and Chadwick’s “Symphonic Sketches,” completed in 1904 after nearly nine years of on-and-off composing.

“There are parallel variations in lots of ways because it’s about friends or experiences, or life around friendships; observations of contemporary life, and they make a wonderful coupling to almost compare and contrast the two,” Constantine says.

The “New England Connection” portion of the album’s title is a nod toward Chadwick, who was the director of the New England Conservatory and a member of “The Boston Six,” which was a group of New England composers.

“I think it’s more of a juxtaposition,” Constantine says of combining the two. “They both tried to achieve the same objective. Chadwick very much wanted his works to be heard in Europe. He wanted European success. He wanted everything that Elgar had. He wanted to be an internationally-renowned composer. That never happened.”

To some, Chadwick’s works may be familiar. One particular Elgar work, however, is hauntingly familiar.

In 1901, Elgar wrote “Pomp and Circumstance.” When Elgar came to the United States to receive an honorary degree, his march was played at the graduation processional. “To this day, that’s why we do that, because of that occasion,” Constantine says.

To conduct and record each man’s work, Constantine says, was “enormously satisfying. I can’t tell you what this year’s been like for me. It’s really (he sighs) the cherry on the cake, in many ways.

“People need another recording of the ‘Enigma Variations’ like a hole in the head, there are so many great recordings out there. But I wanted to do it. I wanted to present it in a way to contextualize it differently. … I didn’t want to just fill up the disc. I wanted a reason why.

“There are two pieces there; two composers there who were almost direct contemporaries. They were almost three years apart in age. They came from pretty meager beginnings. They both worked incredibly hard. They both had a sense of aspirations.”

Now, over 100 years since their most productive times, what would each man say about being reunited?

“Elgar wouldn’t have given two hoots,” Constantine says. “And Chadwick would’ve said he didn’t give two hoots.”

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Conductor