The music of Vaughan Williams first spoke to me as an undergraduate at Cambridge when I sang in a performance of A Sea Symphony. I was obsessed by that arresting opening - a brass fanfare followed by the Chorus exultant opening "Behold the Sea Itself". Now, 40 years later, it is the last movement with its rapturous quality that grips me. The quiet epilogue "O farther, farther, farther sail" is quoted by the composer at the end of his ninth and last symphony, ending a symphonic journey of epic proportions.
I am deeply grateful to David Whelton and the Philharmonia for their invitation to conduct this complete cycle of his symphonies at the Royal Festival Hall during 2008 - the 50th anniversary of Vaughan Williams' death. It is a series we have been planning for almost a decade. We will also play many of the symphonies in venues from Truro to Leicester. The centrepiece of this series will be two performances of his visionary opera The Pilgrim's Progress, which I have just conducted at the Sydney Opera House - the power of this music gripped performers, audience and critics alike and was rapturously received.
The nine symphonies were written in a span of 55 years of the 20th century, with the last five composed during the last 20 years of his life. Each inhabits its own sound world (ever more adventurous) and culminating in the exotic percussion used in the Eighth Symphony.
The image, current when I began my career, of Vaughan Williams as a conventional English pastoral composer, is swept aside by music that is full of passion yet combined with a fervent spiritual quality.
Please join the Philharmonia and me in this unique symphonic experience.