September 2022: I am delighted that the Delta Saxophone Quartet are performing Damascene Redux again in their concert The Steve Martland Story as part of the York Late Music series on the 24th of this month.
September 2022: I am delighted that the Delta Saxophone Quartet are performing Damascene Redux again in their concert, The Steve Martland Story, as part of the York Late Music series on the 24th of this month. The Deltas first performed the piece back in 2014 and I’ve been angling for that sometimes elusive second performance ever since. The concert is a prelude to a possible recording project which makes it all the more exciting.
I am honoured that the piece is part of a programme dedicated to Steve Martland, a vibrant musical personality within British music as well as a dedicated teacher and someone whose premature death was a great loss to contemporary music in Britain. I met Steve a few times when I was playing in Icebreaker in the early 90s and his abrasive, rebellious image was belied by a gentle, warm personality. At that time I latched onto the rhythmic energy and drive of Steve’s music but as my own musical tastes have shifted it is the seemingly deliberate awkwardness of the music, the disorientating use of odd repetitions and the debt to 16th and 17th century British composers that interest me.
Steve’s approach to assimilating and reworking earlier music has some connection with my piece on the programme. Damascene Redux takes reworking as its starting point in two ways: the music is a transcription of a Syrian lute improvisation and the Redux version is one of three arrangements of this material, the other two being From the Arabesque (2005) and Damascene Portrait (2012). The earlier versions, like Steve’s music, are as precisely notated as Western notation permits but Redux builds on the interest in indeterminacy and controlled improvisation I have been developing for the past 12 years or so; the piece is reduced to a single melodic line in the score which is passed around each sax in turn with the remaining players instructed to improvise an accompaniment that either reinforces or contradicts the lead part. The Delta’s first performance of the piece is here (in two versions – rehearsal and concert).
July 2022: later in the month I met up with two thirds of Trifarious (Tim Redpath and Rachel Calaminus) to work on a duo project. We made some recordings, shot a promotional video and worked on a Louis Couperin transcription.
July 2022: later in the month I met up with two thirds of Trifarious (Tim Redpath and Rachel Calaminus) to work on a duo project. We made some recordings, shot a promotional video and worked on a Louis Couperin transcription. I’m keeping the project under wraps to an extent (sorry!) but it involves the multimedia presentation of some seriously reworked classical music by composers who are not household names; the style of their music, though, should sound familiar. This is one of several projects that are underway, all of which need funding, so we are still at the beginning of a long road.
July 2022: I had a great three days recording with Tim Redpath, Rachel Calaminus and Nicola Meecham aka Trifarious laying down Consort Music and Two Tributes and a Dance.
July 2022: I had a great three days recording with Tim Redpath, Rachel Calaminus and Nicola Meecham, aka Trifarious, laying down Consort Music and Two Tributes and a Dance. These days I prefer working with musical friends as much as possible; these great musicians are people I’ve known for some time now and they have supported my music generously with their skill and musicianship. Recording is always stressful and tiring so it really helps when you can relax and socialise between sessions. After many sweet treats, cups of tea/coffee and several (!) takes we produced some pretty good results – judge for yourself when we release the CD.
June 2022: the Journal of the Royal Musical Association (vol. 147, no. 1) contains my article ‘One into Three: Context, Method and Motivation in Revising and Reworking Dance Maze for Solo Piano’.
June 2022: the Journal of the Royal Musical Association (vol. 147, no. 1) contains my article ‘One into Three: Context, Method and Motivation in Revising and Reworking Dance Maze for Solo Piano’. The article discusses how I used techniques found in the music and writings of Tom Johnson to rework a solo piano piece into a duo for trumpet and piano. I list the Tom Johnson sources for each technique I use, give some examples from the score (comparing the two versions of the piece) and place my music and ideas in the context of other composers’ work as well as scholars writing on revision and reworking. The article is part of a larger roundtable collection conceived and edited by Simon Desbruslais (who premiered the duo version of Dance Maze) and featuring contributions from David Maw, Charles Wilson and Edwin Roxburgh with an introduction by Simon. I am hugely grateful to Simon for seeing the commissioning, editing and publishing processes through to completion over a number of years. My contribution can be found at here and Simon’s introduction is here. The two main versions of Dance Maze discussed in the article can be found on the eponymous CD.
March 2022: after being postponed at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, York Late Music finally presented the complete 100 Second Songs project performed by Anna Snow (soprano) and Kate Ledger (piano).
March 2022: after being postponed at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, York Late Music finally presented the complete 100 Second Songs project performed by Anna Snow (soprano) and Kate Ledger (piano). Developed by Dot Dash Music (Hayley Jenkins, David Lancaster and David Power) 100 Second Songs commissioned composers from around the world resulting in 35 miniature songs. The kaleidoscopic programme is designed to provide a resource for other performers to draw on and it comprises a fascinating set of responses to a wide range of texts from self-penned or self-compiled, to specially commissioned, to poetic classics. My own contribution, Berceuse 1917, sets words by Robert Macfarlane writing about the First World War poet, Edward Thomas. 100 seconds is only one possible length for my own piece and I have also heard it in a version lasting six times that, i.e. ten minutes.
The full list of composers and their songs (as programmed by Anna and Kate on 5th March 2022) is:
Emily Doolittle Nicely (Erik Satie); Roger Marsh Non So (Gaia Blandina); David Lancaster Court (John Goodby); Nick Williams BFILLSU EIMST (Sandra Alland); David Power Song for Louis Wain (Stephen Meek); Peter Moran Busted (Christian Bök); Anthony Adams The Grasses of the Garden; Lara Poe Winter Seclusion (Kobayashi Issa); Steve Crowther Die Maske des Bösen (Brecht); Rob Fokkens Numbers; Piers Hellawell Wind Bag; Morag Galloway Manifold; William Rhys Meek The Kingfisher (Stephen Meek); Chris Warner Closer then Ever; Sadie Harrison I am in love with every star in all the galaxies (Shaykh Muslih Al-din Sa’di); Alison Williams I Shall Go Back Again (Edna St. Vincent Millay); Judith Hayes Buried Love (Sara Teasdale); James Else My River (Emily Dickinson); Mark Slater Against the Land (Iris Murdoch); James Cave Downgrade from Triple-A/Hopeful (Caleb Klaces); Tom Armstrong Berceuse 1917 (Robert Macfarlane); Angela Elizabeth Slater Space Between; Heyley Jenkins To My Cyst (Carole Bromley); René Mayoral To clean your head; Flora Geißelbrecht Karotten (Mascha Kaléko); Kerry Andrew Blackberry (George Bowering); Emily Levy born hyphen deceased (Rose Drew); Erik Branch The Bleeding Hand (Robert Herrick); Martín Loyato Bugia Più Efficiente; Thomas Crawley The Poppy (Jane Taylor); James Williamson Cradle Song; Anna Disley-Simpson Mother Moon; Benjamin Tassie Salvage (Jacqueline Saphra); Tarik O’Regan When I Go Away from You (Amy Lowell).
Here is the 100 second talk (!) I gave at the concert: Berceuse 1917 is based on the work of Edward Thomas (1878-1917), a British rambler, writer, poet and soldier. I don’t set any of Thomas’ words, instead I use text from Robert Macfarlane’s book The Old Ways which includes a fictionalised account of the last months of Thomas’ life on the Western front. Both piano and voice are derived from Chopin’s Berceuse, the former taking slices from each bar and the latter using the opening few notes of the tune. To give you a flavour of Thomas’ work, here are two miniature poems that seem sadly appropriate to the moment [the Russian invasion of Ukraine began just over a week prior to the concert].
The Cherry Trees
The cherry trees bend over and are shedding
On the old road where all that passed are dead,
Their petals, strewing the grass as for a wedding
This early May morn when there is none to wed.
In Memoriam (Easter, 1915)
The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.
York Minster rose window by ©lablaika/123RF.COM
January 2022: I took part in a festival of research with the guitarist Katalin Koltai mounted by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Surrey.
January 2022: I took part in a festival of research with the guitarist Katalin Koltai mounted by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Surrey. It was the first outing for music from a piece provisionally entitled Bartókiana (after Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana) that presents a series of transcriptions, pastiches and other responses to folk arrangements by Béla Bartók. The piece is being written specially for Katalin and a new guitar that she has designed and had built as part of her PhD with the International Guitar Research Centre (IGRC) at Surrey. The instrument has metal strips built into the fretboard that allow magnetic capos (also developed by Katalin) to be placed on each string thus easily altering their pitches and, in effect, creating an entirely new tuning. Reconfiguring what the late guitarist Roland Dyens called the ‘lungs’ of the guitar brings a new flexibility for guitarists and composers interested in transcription. Bartók never wrote for the guitar and his musical language is not naturally ‘guitaristic’ but the new instrument and capo system Katalin has developed now bridges the gap between the guitar and Bartók’s chromatic, dissonant idiom. In the presentation Katalin discussed the capo system, how it works and how it facilitates realising Bartók on the instrument; I talked a little about my compositional process so far, the challenges I was facing and my attitude to musical borrowing (tending towards homage rather than parody or distancing).
December 2021: an interesting exploratory day with viola da gamba consort, Fretwork, and trumpeter Simon Desbruslais working on ideas for a new project.
December 2021: an interesting exploratory day with viola da gamba consort, Fretwork, and trumpeter Simon Desbruslais working on ideas for a new project. I’m going to be a little noncommittal about what it really involves but we were experimenting with ways of combining my existing piece Albumleaves (for trumpet and string quartet) with Fretwork’s existing 17th and 18th century repertoire. The day involved finding ways of intervening in the music to allow old and new music to fit together seamlessly. Suffice to say some attempts were successful and others not! More to follow I hope…
December 2021: I gave a talk to an audience of composition students studying music for film, the stage and the concert hall at the University of West London.
December 2021: I gave a talk to an audience of composition students studying music for film, the stage and the concert hall at the University of West London. This was something of a trip down ‘memory lane’ because UWL (or Thames Valley University as it used to be known) was where I first started my teaching career, first in adult education, then A Level, then finally as a part-time lecturer working with undergraduates and masters students.
Given the title of the talk and the fact that I am hardly a household name, I decided to take a broad approach that introduced me and my music as well as giving some sense of the context in which I compose. So, I started with my background at York, played some early(ish) pieces and then went on to discuss my music of the last decade or so alongside the pleasures and pressures of working in a university. I finished by discussing some of my ideas around musical borrowing in recent projects, namely The Gramophone Played and Brontë Antiphons.
I had a thoroughly enjoyable ninety minutes; I have to confess this is partly because I like talking about my music but it was as much to do with the attentiveness and engagement of the students who asked me a good number of questions and appeared un-phased by the range of music I played them. Huge thanks to Simone Spagnolo for inviting me and Litha Efthymiou for hosting me so hospitably, i.e. taking me to the pub afterwards!
You can view a 45 minute extract of the talk here.
October-November 2021: I’m ‘Composer of the Month’ on the York Late Music blog. Expect some insights into the compositional process and desert island discery!
I was asked by Steve Crowther a few weeks ago to respond to some questions for the York Late Music blog. In my responses I set down some insights into how I compose and the way my music has changed over the last decade. The theme of borrowing that I touch upon is becoming a major concern of mine and all my current as well as future projects use it in some way. This is no less the case in Brontë Antiphons which is the piece that is premiering soon – on November 6th with the Elysian Singers. I’m very intrigued, and not a little nervous, to hear how this piece turns out; it’s very austere in structure with the opening stanzas presented in alternating settings that borrow from David Power’s version (part of the commission was to pair with an existing work) and Whit Sunday antiphons respectively. I hope this dual setting creates a suitable sense of ritual rather than sounding over-extended – I guess I’ll find out soon enough!
PS: the concert came off very well indeed and all the composers were excellently served by the Elysians and their conductor Sam Laughton. What’s more the whole programme was sensitively reviewed by Martin Dreyer, available here.
Autumn and Spring 2021-2: at last some real live performances in front of actual audiences!
Autumn and Spring 2021-2: at last some real live performances in front of actual audiences! The Late Music concert series based in York have been supporters of music by me and many others for years so it is great to see them bouncing back after the pandemic. Their 21-22 season includes lots of new music performers from the well known to the newly established. I’m represented on 6 November (Elysian Singers) and 5 March (Anna Snow and Kate Ledger).