Cheshire composer Edward Gregson's command performance

PUBLISHED: 09:10 18 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:32 20 February 2013

Edward Gregson

Edward Gregson

Edward Gregson deliberated before accepting a commission to write a new work to complement Mahler's sixth symphony. But after his initial doubt, the Cheshire-based composer could not turn it down<br/>WORDS BY JANETTE SYKES<br/>PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS

Manchester, it seems, holds a magnetic attraction for prolific composer Professor Edward Gregson.

He first came to know it at the age of 16, enjoyed some of his formative musical experiences there, then returned to become principal of the Royal Northern College of Music in 1996.

Now his long association with the city is about to be further cemented as part of a six-month celebration to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Gustav Mahler - bringing together the BBC Philharmonic, the Halle, The Bridgewater Hall and the Manchester Camerata.

Edward, who lives in the tranquil Cheshire hamlet of Pott Shrigley, has been commissioned to write a new piece - Dream Song - to be performed by the BBC Philharmonic before Mahlers Symphony No. 6 at the Bridgewater Hall in March, during Mahler in Manchester, which runs from January to June.

There are a number of synergies that have made the experience very interesting, he reflected, in the specially-converted music studio at his attractive home. I was born in Sunderland, but because of my fathers job as a Salvation Army minister, we moved on every three years.

When we came to Manchester in the early 1960s, I did A-levels at the Central Grammar School, and had some of my most memorable musical experiences at the Free Trade Hall, where I heard my first Mahler symphony and attended Halle concerts conducted by Sir John Barbirolli.

I was also a regular at Manchester University Chamber concerts, and learned so much before going on to study at the Royal Academy of Music and teaching at Goldsmiths College in London. It all came full circle in the mid-1990s - when I returned, it felt like coming home.

Edward, his wife Sue and sons Mark (41) and Justin (39) initially settled in Wilmslow, but when planning for his retirement and their children had left home, the couple decided theyd like to live in the country. Sue found the perfect cottage in Pott Shrigley, and they set about transforming it into their dream home in 2004.

By the time Edward left the RNCM in 2008, he and Sue were finally free to concentrate on their various interests, including walking their dogs Bridget Jones, Rosie and the appropriately-named Figaro - on the Middlewood Way, by the Macclesfield Canal, and in Lyme Park and the Peak District.

The nice thing about living here is, its not just a pretty place, added Edward. Its a very friendly village, and a very easy, natural way of life. We go to many concerts in Manchester, yet we also have beautiful scenery on our doorstep.

Eating out is also a pleasure at restaurants in Alderley Edge and Prestbury. Particular favourites nearer home include the Windmill Inn at Adlington and the Swan at Kettleshulme.

Given their relaxed lifestyle, its no surprise that, when Edward was approached by the BBC Philharmonic to write a new work to complement Mahlers 6th, he had some initial reservations.

I was in two minds, to be honest, he recalled. Normally, if an orchestra commissions a piece, they leave it to you, but I knew that this work, though original, would need to pick up on the thematic ideas and motifs in what has come to be known as Mahlers tragic symphony.

Mahler believed that the symphony should be like the world and should embrace everything encompassing the whole range of emotions and experiences of life - so he painted on a huge canvas. Then when I really thought about it, the more exciting the prospect began to appear.

The result is a 22 minutes long work for a large orchestra, dramatic in both structure and content. I have used some of Mahlers ideas, but it is very much my own. I have used his fate motif, but in a different way, because I didnt want my piece to be as fate-ridden as his.

I have also drawn on Almas theme, inspired by his wife, in a totally different way, near the end. My work ends on a peaceful, rather than a tragic, note. I have tried to do something different emotionally, and Ill be very interested to hear what feelings the piece evokes.

I feel content with it, and I hope people will enjoy it, especially when they reflect on it after hearing Mahlers 6th. And its very exciting to be involved in this six-month collaboration, which has echoes of Manchesters landmark tribute to Shostakovich in 2006. Were so lucky because the cultural life here is so interesting and innovative, with lots of risk taking. Its the most exciting city, musically speaking, outside London.

Mahler in Manchester runs at The Bridgewater Hall from January to June 2010. The BBC Philharmonic and the Halle between them will perform all of Mahlers symphonies, and each one is partnered by a world premiere. The BBC Philharmonic perform Dream Song on March 27th. For further details visit

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