1 February, 2005

A unique collaboration between science and music makes a return to the Royal Festival Hall on Saturday 30 April as the Antarctic Symphony, by acclaimed British composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, is performed in the final concert of a festival devoted to the Master of the Queen’s Music as he reaches 70.

Antarctic Symphony (Symphony No 8), commissioned jointly by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the Philharmonia Orchestra (PO) in 1997, with additional funds from the South Bank Centre, is a sequel to Vaughan Williams’ Sinfonia Antartica. This time it will be performed with images including footage shot during the composer’s visit to the frozen continent with BAS in 1997, creating a multimedia experience for the audience.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies in Antarctica 1997
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies in Antarctica 1997

Sir Peter said,

“The Antarctic Symphony reflects my experiences in one of the world’s last great wildernesses. I was greatly influenced by my encounter with scientists searching into ways in which the Antarctic will change our environment over the coming centuries — some of the scientific processes I learned about have engendered purely musical processes. The new symphony also reflects my experience of Vaughan Williams’ Sinfonia Antartica, at its first performance in Manchester by the Hallé Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli in 1953. The new work opens, and is punctuated by the sound of breaking ice — heard as the British Antarctic Survey’s Research Vessel James Clark Ross broke through the frozen sea, on its way south.”

Sinfonia Antartica originated from the 1948 film, Scott of the Antarctic starring (Sir) John Mills. The Philharmonia Orchestra performed the music for the soundtrack. The film and its associated music was, for many people, the first introduction to the awe-inspiring beauty of the frozen continent and the heroic endeavours of a tragic expedition.

Director of BAS, Professor Chris Rapley, said,

“This commission is as seminal as its predecessor — this time drawing public attention to the important scientific achievements of the late 20th Century and the aspirations for the 21st. Antarctica may be remote geographically but it plays a central role in the functioning of our planet.”

This symphony has aimed to fuse the worlds of science and the arts and is symbolic of the indivisibility of Antarctica as a component of the Earth system, and its extraordinary character and beauty. It is the first time that BAS and PO have collaborated to reach beyond their traditional audiences.

Full concert information as follows:

Saturday 30 April — 7.30pm, Royal Festival Hall

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies conductor

Håkan Hardenberger trumpet

  • MAXWELL DAVIES Mavis in Las Vegas
  • MAXWELL DAVIES Trumpet Concerto
  • MAXWELL DAVIES Antarctic Symphony (Symphony No. 8)

Presented in association with SBC

Tickets start at £6 and are on sale from the Royal Festival Hall Box Office, tel: 08703 800 400. Full festival information and online booking.


Issued by the British Antarctic Survey Press Office.

Contact Athena Dinar tel. (01223) 221414, email amdi@bas.ac.uk or

Linda Capper tel. (01223) 221448, email lmca@bas.ac.uk



Maxwell Davies spent a month at BAS Rothera Research Station in Antarctica in 1997/8 living with scientists and support staff. Read his Antarctic diary

A Maxwell Davies study afternoon with special emphasis on the Antarctic Symphony will take place in the Chelsfield Room at the South Bank Centre on Sunday 17 April, 2.00 – 5.00pm. Tickets can be purchased from the RFH booking line as above.

The footage to accompany the performance feature stunning images by BAS cameraman Pete Bucktrout, as well as other footage underlying the pressures on the continent and our world from human activity. The footage has been edited by multimedia professional Mike Newman.

The Antarctic Symphony was premièred at the Royal Festival Hall on 6 May 2001. The recording can be purchased by download or custom compilation CD at

Picture editors:

Spectacular footage and stills of Sir Peter were filmed during his visit to Antarctica. Press copies are available from the BAS Press Office as above.

British Antarctic Survey is a world leader in research into global issues in an Antarctic context. It is the UK’s national operator and is a component of the Natural Environment Research Council. It has an annual budget of around £40 million, runs nine research programmes and operates five research stations, two Royal Research Ships and five aircraft in and around Antarctica. More information about the work of the Survey can be found at: www.antarctica.ac.uk

The film Scott of the Antarctic was produced by Ealing Studios in 1948. The score was performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Ernest Irving.

One of the world’s great orchestras, the Philharmonia Orchestra celebrates its 60th Anniversary in 2005 at one of the most exciting times in its distinguished history. The eminent maestro Christoph von Dohnányi has been the Philharmonia’s Principal Conductor since 1997, and under his leadership the Orchestra has been at the helm of British music life, recognised for its innovative approach to residencies in London, the UK and abroad, as well as to education and audience development.

As well as its position as Resident Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in London, the Orchestra is celebrating the 10th Anniversary of its Residency at Bedford Corn Exchange, its eighth year as Resident Orchestra of De Montfort Hall in Leicester, its fifth year as Orchestra in Partnership at the Anvil in Basingstoke and the second year of its new relationship in Bristol with Colston Hall, St George’s Bristol and Watershed.

The world’s most recorded symphony orchestra, the Philharmonia has won several major awards during the past few seasons, and has received unanimous critical acclaim for its innovative programming policy and its commitment to performing and commissioning new music. As well as CD recordings for all the major record companies, the Orchestra regularly records television and film soundtracks, and broadcasts in the UK and worldwide, particularly on Classic FM, as Classic FM’s Orchestra on Tour. To find out more – visit the website: www.philharmonia.co.uk.