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Peter Boyer records his Symphony No. 1 with the LPO for Naxos

February 5, 2014

by Peter Boyer

Peter Boyer

The Naxos release of my recording with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, featuring my Symphony No. 1 and four other works, represents a personal milestone and the culmination of a long journey of composing, planning, and collaboration. I’m pleased that Naxos has invited me to share some behind-the-scenes perspectives about this project, as its composer and conductor.

As an avid collector of classical recordings, I’ve been a great fan of the Naxos American Classics Series since it was launched some 15 years ago. The shelves of my personal CD collection contain dozens of Naxos American Classics titles, from American titans of earlier generations such as Ives, Copland, Barber, Hanson, Schuman, and Bernstein; to some of the most significant living American composers such as Corigliano, Bolcom, Schwantner, and Adams; to the next generation of gifted and prolific composers such as Daugherty, Danielpour, Fuchs, and Higdon (to name just a few). I’ve admired this series both for its ambition and for its high quality of performance and production—which has grown more impressive each year, with leading American conductors such as Leonard Slatkin, Marin Alsop, and JoAnn Falletta making regular contributions. I think it’s fair to say that, taken as a whole, no single series of recordings has done more to demonstrate the breadth, diversity and vibrancy of American classical music.

So for me, as an American composer and conductor, it is an honor to have my work included in the American Classics Series for the second time. My first recording in the series was my large-scale work Ellis Island: The Dream of America (8.559246), recorded with the Philharmonia Orchestra under my direction at Air Studios in London, and with a cast of renowned stage and screen actors, directed by Martin Charnin, recorded in New York. It was deeply gratifying to me that Ellis Island, released in 2005, was nominated for a GRAMMY® Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition (and in fact, the recording to which it lost was William Bolcom’s monumental Songs of Innocence and of Experience, the American Classics release which swept that year’s classical GRAMMY® Awards). Ellis Island has received over 150 live performances by more than 60 orchestras in the last decade, and I attribute its substantial performance record in no small measure to the Naxos recording.

Following the recognition of the Ellis Island recording, I began to contemplate a second recording of my orchestral works in the American Classics Series, and a few years later, I approached Naxos Chairman Klaus Heymann about this prospect. I was delighted that he was interested in such a project, and over the course of several years, as various possibilities with orchestras in several countries were explored and ultimately failed to materialize, his interest in my music did not waver. In my view, this strong interest of Mr. Heymann’s in a broad variety of repertoire, and particularly that of living composers, is one of the key factors which has led to Naxos’ success. For me personally, his commitment was critical, as without the prospect of a wide international release, it would not have been feasible to bring this recording project to fruition.

The London Philharmonic Orchestra is one of the world’s finest orchestras, and I’ve been aware of their recorded legacy for many years. In addition to the LPO’s significant body of classical recordings, I was profoundly impressed with their studio work on Howard Shore’s Oscar®-winning scores for The Lord of the Rings films, recorded between 2001 and 2003. In my view, Shore’s three LOTR scores represent one of the greatest achievements in film music, and the LPO’s consistently superb work in recording those scores contributed a great deal to their success. This was one of the key reasons why I had long hoped that I might one day have the opportunity to make a recording with the LPO.

As it turned out, the pieces of my recording puzzle finally fell into place in the early summer of last year. I was delighted that the LPO were receptive to my proposal for a recording project, and here I should take the opportunity to thank Ruth Sansom, Andrew Chenery, and especially Graham Wood of the LPO for their attention to the project’s many details. I was aware of British producer Tim Handley’s work through many Naxos recordings (including the multi-GRAMMY®-winning Bolcom Songs mentioned above), and knew of engineer Jonathan Allen through his many credits on both classical and soundtrack albums, including the recent film adaptation of the musical Les Misérables. I’d not worked with either of them previously, but happily both were receptive to the prospect of my project. I’d hoped to make the recording at historic Abbey Road Studio One, where I’d recorded my debut album as composer and conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra back in 2001.

In planning the recording, I came to discover that there was a single day on which the LPO, Abbey Road Studio One, Tim Handley and Jonathan Allen all happened to be available: 17th June, 2013! At that point, the date was only a few short weeks away; but sensing that the stars were aligning, I reconfirmed Mr. Heymann’s interest in the project for Naxos, and pulled the trigger to proceed.

My plan for the recording was that it would include five of my works totaling nearly an hour of music, with the centerpiece being my first symphony, which had been premiered just weeks before (by the Pasadena Symphony in southern California, where I reside). There are few orchestras in the world that could record nearly an hour of music which they’d never before played, in three sessions over a single day and evening, and do so at a consistently superb standard of playing. The LPO is such an orchestra. Though conducting them for nine hours over an eleven-hour span to record this entire album was exhausting, it was also exhilarating, and undoubtedly one of the most memorable musical experiences I’ve ever had.

There is such a collective virtuosity among the LPO players, and also a warmth and eagerness to collaborate which I found deeply gratifying. A few musicians in particular whose contributions should be noted include violinist Simon Blendis (who served as guest leader), flutist Katie Bedford, oboist Christopher Cowie, horn player John Ryan, trumpeter Paul Beniston, pianist Catherine Edwards, timpanist Simon Carrington, and percussionist Andrew Barclay. I’m deeply grateful to them and to all of their colleagues in the LPO for applying their collective talents to this recording of my music.

The schedule required to accomplish this recording within the available time and budget meant that we had to proceed at a very brisk and carefully controlled pace. Extensive playbacks were a luxury that for the most part could not be afforded; and so, after hearing an initial playback (of my work Festivities) early in the morning session to judge general balances, I left the technical work of recording to Tim Handley and Jonathan Allen, and we proceeded to “rehearse/record” our way through all of the music, adhering strictly to the plan that Tim and I had crafted to ensure that we’d cover every bar. The LPO played gloriously, and though on average we did three “takes” of each musical passage, often the first takes were of sufficiently high quality to be released on a recording. (In typical studio recording fashion, all of this would later be assembled carefully in post-production.)

A great deal of the music on the album is very demanding on the brass players—especially as it includes three fanfare-driven works composed for celebratory occasions—and the LPO brass consistently did themselves proud. By contrast, it was particularly gratifying for me to conduct the more lyrical sections of the music. Perhaps the most memorable moment was the first “take” of the 11-minute Adagio third movement of my symphony, in which we read it through without interruption, from the first bar to the last. In several places, the sheer beauty of the LPO’s playing just took my breath away as a composer, and I had to remind myself to be a conductor, and stay focused on what was coming next!

I’ve not spoken here in much detail about the music itself, as I have done so elsewhere. Detailed program notes and background about each of the works on the album can be found here.

In addition to the audio recording which is the ultimate outcome, I’m grateful that the visual aspects of these recording sessions at Abbey Road Studios were captured by photographer Benjamin Ealovega and video producer Simon Wall of TallWall Media. Both Ben and Simon are passionate about what they do, and I think that shows very clearly in their work. Here on this web page, one can see some of Ben’s terrific photos, and watch the video produced by Simon, which together provide a real sense of the “behind-the-scenes” experience of making this recording. I’m grateful to them for documenting this milestone in my life as a musical artist, and thereby allowing Naxos listeners to share in that experience.

This project was supported in part by Claremont Graduate University, including funding provided by the Helen M. Smith Chair in Music.

For more information about Peter Boyer, please visit

Peter Boyer at the entrance of Abbey Road Studios
Peter Boyer conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra
The LPO’s double bass section
Simon Blendis & Peter Boyer
Tim Handley & Jonathan Allen
Tim Handley marking Peter Boyer’s Symphony No. 1 score
Tim Handley, Peter Boyer & Jonathan Allen
Photos courtesy of Benjamin Ealovega

Peter Boyer Biography & Discography

London Philharmonic Orchestra Background & Discography


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