Symphony No. 1 (1997)


  • 44
  • 3(picc.).3(e.h.).3( perc(4) cel. harp strings


Score Excerpts

Sound Samples

  • KIev Camerata Orchestra – Virko Baley, conductor

Program Notes

Lento misterioso; Poco allegro
II Lento e sostenuto
III Scherzo
IV Moderato

Symphony No. 1 was written during 1996 and 1997. It structured in a four-movement form, a compositional challenge to myself, and a conscious acknowledgement of the world from which it stems. I have a deep love for the twentieth-century symphonic tradition, from the work of Mahler at the beginning of the century, continued by Shostakovitch, and more recently by Holmboe, Tubin, Pettersson, Lutoslawski and Schnittke — an eclectic group, to be sure, but all with an interest in the large-scale structures, the development of motivic relationships, and the creation of an organic wholeness which is at the core of symphonic thought.

This work was commissioned by Virko Baley for the Kiev Camerata Orchestra, with financial assistance from the Canada Council.


MATTHEWS Out of the Earth.1 Symphony No. 1; Virko Baley, cond; Therese Costes (sop); Kiev Camerata; TNC CD-1415 (65:21)

This disc is my introduction to Canadian composer Michael Matthews (b. 1950). His harmonic idiom has much in common with the later works of Peter Maxwell Davies, particularly in pieces like his long and powerful second and third symphonies, with which Matthews’s Symphony No. 1 (1996–97) has a good deal in common. Tonally based, the harmony is quite dissonant. The melodic aspect has a French quality (the scherzo practically quotes Messiaen, for example). For all that, Matthews’s sense of rhetoric and form is comparatively conservative—one will not find the sort of complexity or exploration of uncharted realms that makes Elliott Carter’s contemporary Symphonia so thrilling. Matthews’s Symphony No. 2 has been performed in Canada since this recording was made in 1999, and one hopes that it is on the agenda of TNC. The First certainly deserves the widest possible hearing and would be a terrific addition to the growing number of big symphonies from North America that have finally been making serious headway into the contemporary orchestral repertoire. The present performance, recorded by the Ukraine-based Kiev Camerata, here expanded to full symphony orchestra size, seems resplendent and is extremely well recorded. While elsewhere I come down fairly hard on Virko Baley’s skills as a composer, I have no complaints whatsoever about his skills as either a conductor or as an A&R man.

It has been suggested that the future of concert music lies in linking like-minded souls around the world to form a new, perhaps even more vibrant, audience. If that’s the case, then this project stands out as a monument to this new era. Within this global context, Michael Matthews can claim citizenship of a new music world. Not only has he lived in many different parts of the globe, including Pakistan, Korea, the Caribbean and several different parts of North America, he also continues to work with musicians around the world. This project combines his talents with those of the American composer/conductor Virko Baley, with Therese Costes, a vocal soloist from Canada, as well as with musicians from Ukraine, creating a virtual international concert hall. Unlike the recently popular post-modern composers, Michael Matthews has crafted a musical world melding a vast array of ideas together to form a new aesthetic. His music is at once grounded in the past, and without being self conscious, allows the musical ideas to find a new frame of reference that is at once familiar, but also original.