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9.8.04

Sir Peter and Sir Harry

An article (How wonderful to see you, July 21) by Alexander Chancellor for The Guardian describes the end of a compositional feud. After 35 years of estrangement, following their experiences together as students at the Royal Manchester College of Music (see Ionarts posts from Manchester), British composers Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Sir Harrison Birtwhistle agreed to meet and be photographed together at Royal Albert Hall, where the annual musical concert series known as the Proms is taking place (until September 11), before the premiere of one of the latter's choral works. (Apparently, you can listen to the BBC Radio broadcast of the Proms over the Internet.)

Superficially at least, they do have a remarkable amount in common. Both were born in Lancashire in 1934. Both are from working-class backgrounds ("We are the only working-class composers," says Sir Peter). Both were huge admirers and close friends of Ogdon at Manchester (Sir Peter was best man at his wedding). Both are prodigiously talented composers who profess great admiration for each other's gifts (Sir Peter had come unbidden to the Albert Hall to hear Sir Harrison's new work). And both combine a private passion for writing music with a public commitment to musical education. In addition, they are both enjoying an orgy of celebration this year - at the Proms and elsewhere - to mark their 70th birthdays. But they are temperamentally very different. Sir Harrison is paunchy, laid back and sardonic. Sir Peter is wiry, eager, and permanently on the go.
Maxwell Davies has just been appointed as Master of the Queen's Music, and the following morning he went to Buckingham Palace to discuss his new position. Neither of them probably could have predicted, back in the 1960s, that they would both be such prominent composers now that they would meet again in the Queen's Retiring Room, where the monarch rests during intermission at Royal Albert Hall.

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