Celebrations of John Joubert's 80th birthday last year have helped to put this neglected Birmingham composer back on the musical map, with a major commission for the Three Choirs Festival, writes Christopher Morley.
With three major new works premiered during 2007, John Joubert's 80th birthday year has helped to inject a new momentum into his composing career.
When the South African-born composer, who has lived in Moseley for more than half his life, reached this landmark last March a year-long celebration spread outwards from Birmingham, where a small group of enthusiasts acted as catalysts, to the rest of the country and beyond.
It was dubbed "Joubertiade", after the musical evenings devised around the music of Schubert, which had been called "Schubertiades", nearly two centuries ago.
Interrupting him as he worked at his composing desk, I ask Joubert what last year had meant to him.
"Well, I think it meant, really a whole lot of things, I suppose. Difficult to know where to start," he answers. "I think it meant that it was a wonderful opportunity of getting through to an audience. I like to feel my music communicates with an audience, and this seemed to be a wonderful opportunity of getting through a lot of pieces, a lot of very different and contrasted pieces, to a real audience of music-lovers who like going to concerts.
"So that was the first sort of thing, I think. The other thing was, it was really just an opportunity to have some premieres, including three major first performances during the year, so that was very valuable for me and for my morale as a composer.
"But mainly I was so moved and impressed by the enthusiasm and interest shown by the people who were actually putting it on. Not just the performers, but the people behind the scenes who'd been organising the event, which was an amazing feat, I think."
The three major first performances were the complete version (after Part I in 2000, at Birmingham Cathedral) of Joubert's Wings of Faith, a wonderful New Testament oratorio which has aroused immense enthusiasm after its premiere from Ex Cathedra and the CBSO, Jeffrey Skidmore conducting, at Birmingham Oratory; the Oboe Concerto, a piece which captures the character of the instrument so perfectly, premiered by Adrian Wilson and the Orchestra of the Swan under David Curtis at last year's Lichfield Festival; and Five Songs of Incarnation, structured around the beginning of the Gospel according to St John, and premiered by the Choir of New College, Oxford, at Birmingham Cathedral.
In fact, the Five Songs were to receive no fewer than three subsequent performances from three different groups during the next three weeks, including a BBC broadcast. I point out to John how rare this accolade is nowadays.
He laughs, with a chuckle that gives the effect of tectonic plates moving many miles below the surface. "Yes, well, that was one of the big things, indeed."
Another major work that immediately secured repeat performances for itself is the Oboe Concerto, to be given next week in Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon.
As a result of last year's busy interest in John Joubert there is now a healthy clutch of CDs of his music available on record-shop shelves, including an attractive double-CD compendium on the SOMM label, sponsored in part by Birmingham City Council in honour of the region's greatest living composer. There is also a CD "single" from Lyrita of his early Symphony no 1 from 1955, performed by the London Philharmonic under Vernon Handley.
Has last year's Joubertiade led to a permanent quickening of interest in John Joubert's music?
"I think it will do. It will take a little bit of time to percolate through, in the way that a lot of things are arranged a long time ahead, but it's early just to say what effects a thing can have, but it has already put me on the - well, I should say 'back' on the map, and that's a very hopeful thing."
And are there commissions in the pipeline?
"The thing I'm working on at the moment is a result of the Joubertiade festival. It's a large-scale choral work with full orchestra, commissioned for the 2010 Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester, and it will be an English Requiem. Not a liturgical Latin one, but rather like an English version of the Brahms German Requiem.
"In other words, carefully chosen words, all of which have some bearing and some interpretation on the idea of death, and have a message, I hope, for the people who are left. That arose, really, out of the Joubertiade
experience, and I think perhaps, bearing in mind my age, it's quite a good time to be writing it! I've got quite a long way with it now."
The texts have been chosen by Nick Fisher, former chairman of Birmingham Bach Choir and immense enthusiast for choral music, after hearing the Brahms Requiem In New York.
"He came back very impressed with the work and the performance, and he asked me if I'd be interested in writing a similar work, only in English, and on a similar sort of basis: that's to say, reflections on death as expressed through scripture, and so it's not in Latin, it's based on the official modern Anglican translation of the Bible, and other works chosen by Nick."
One exciting spin-off of the Joubertiade was the discovery of King's Norton Parish Church as a concert venue.
I went there early last October for a chamber music concert given by the Le Page Ensemble, featuring the first Birmingham performance of Joubert's In Retrospect for string quartet, and found the church warm, comfortable, and possessed of a clear and supportive acoustic.
I suggested to Canon Rob Morris, rector of the church, and husband of Joubert's cellist daughter Anna, that it would make a comfortable home for a slightly-out-of-town concert series - with good parking facilities, too.
"I think it's a splendid idea," agrees Joubert. "The only problem is, it's got a very nice acoustic, very nice atmosphere, but it hasn't got a piano. But otherwise, I think it's a splendid idea, yes!"
* Virginia Shaw is soloist in John Joubert's Oboe Concerto, with the Orchestra of the Swan conducted by David Curtis, at Birmingham Town Hall on March 18 at 7.30pm (0121 780 3333) and at the Civic Hall, Stratford-upon-Avon on March 19 at 7.30pm (01789 207100)