June-July 2023. It was lovely to return to the Music and/as Process conference a decade after my last visit.
June-July 2023. It was lovely to return to the Music and/as Process conference a decade after my last visit. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since I presented back in 2013: my own academic career, the research group itself and the state of practice research in academia have all evolved. Ma/aP now appears more diverse and wide-ranging with a marked emphasis on projects situated both inside and outside the academy engaging with music in a swathe of sociocultural settings. Practice research has established a stronger footing in academia, at least in the UK, although it remains depressing how often University senior research managers need to be reminded that there are outputs in research other than those involving the written word churned out in journal articles. I feel more sure of myself as a practitioner-researcher these days, of how I want to present my work and the function of research and writing within my various compositional projects.
The theme of this tenth anniversary conference was ‘making music together’. My paper, Together Apart: Collaboration, Distributed Creativity and Technology in a Transatlantic Musical Partnership, discussed The Gramophone Played – my ongoing project with cellist Madeleine Shapiro – and the ways in which the heavily technologically mediated aspect of our collaboration (we have met in person only once in the eleven years we have been working together) has affected the ways in which we have worked on the music and, indeed, is reflected in the music we have produced. I should actually have used the phrase ‘our paper’ because Madeleine contributed significantly to the content in the shape of audio reflections on our joint work that I was able to integrate and respond to; she also joined delegates and myself for a live Zoom Q&A from New York.
March 2023: up in York with pianist Jakob Fichert to explore a collaging project incorporating Dance Maze. Jakob played on the eponymous CD recorded in 2017 that involved two versions of the piece with piano – Dance Maze Variations (the original version dating from the early 90s) and Dance Maze Duos (a 2017 re-working for piano and trumpet). Jakob and I are now working on a ‘composed programme’ that aims to ‘suture in’ a number of other pieces to Dance Maze’s discreet sections.
March 2023: up in York with pianist Jakob Fichert to explore a collaging project incorporating Dance Maze. Jakob played on the eponymous CD recorded in 2017 that involved two versions of the piece with piano – Dance Maze Variations (the original version dating from the early 90s) and Dance Maze Duos (a 2017 re-working for piano and trumpet). Jakob and I are now working on a ‘composed programme’ that aims to ‘suture in’ a number of other pieces to Dance Maze‘s discreet sections. I arrived in York with very little in the way of concrete ideas apart from using Copland’s Variations as one of the collage elements and a bunch of possible techniques for segueing from one piece to another. What was heartening was the ease with which Jakob and I quickly assembled a host of pieces to work with and then found felicitous connections between them. Having worked with Jakob on the CD I wasn’t surprised at the ease with which he was able to connect pieces and to negotiate the many routes we worked out through the material. We aim to continue developing our collage over the summer, ‘road-testing’ it with some informal domestic concerts before rolling out a complete version at concerts in York and Surrey universities and, subject to our promotional flair, other festivals and concert series across the UK. My interest in the ‘programme-as-collage’ stems from the recycling and self-borrowing techniques that have been a feature of my music since JPR in 2015. I have become increasingly keen to explore the boundaries between arranging and composing as well as ways in which classical music can be presented in more innovative formats such as the programme without breaks described above.
The pieces Jakob and I collaged with (apart from my own) were: John Adams Phrygian Gales and American Berserk, Bela Bartók Four Dirges, William Byrd The Bells and one of his many fantasies from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, Aaron Copland Variations, Steve Crowther Piano Sonata No. 4, Hans Werne Henze Theme and Variations, Franz Liszt Angelus and Sunt Lacrimae Rerum, Max Reger Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Bach.
Early in 2023 I received a text from Margery Baker, conductor of the Wymondham Youth and Pulham Village Orchestras, to the effect that Bounce (a piece dating all the way back to 2004) is to be played again in August as part of the orchestras’ 40th anniversary celebrations. News like this is always really uplifting to hear as repeat performances, particularly of orchestral pieces, are rarely easy to come by.
Early in 2023 I received a text from Margery Baker, conductor of the Wymondham Youth and Pulham Orchestras, to the effect that Bounce (a piece dating all the way back to 2004) is to be played again in August as part of the orchestras’ 40th anniversary celebrations. News like this is always uplifting to hear as repeat performances, particularly of orchestral pieces, are rarely easy to come by. Bounce was commissioned by Making Music as part of their Breakout scheme that paired professional composers with amateur ensembles up and down the country. A successful relationship with an amateur performing organisation involves skill and sensitivity on the part of the composer and open-mindedness and a little risk-taking on the part of the performers. I’ve had mixed experiences in this arena (with faults lying in both camps) but the WYO/PO collaboration was one of the best and this was down in no small part to the skill, energy and enthusiasm of Margery Baker, a musical whirlwind dedicated to grassroots orchestral music-making in East Anglia. The title of my piece is a light-hearted nod to Margery’s conducting style that is one of springy, alertness.
I am making a few minor changes to Bounce in advance of the latest performance. I first pulled out the score and listened along with some trepidation – coming face-to-face (or ear-to-ear) with your twenty years younger musical self can be unnerving – but the piece stands up okay and with a snip here and there I’ll be very happy to hear it once more. What the recording also revealed was how well the orchestras coped with the challenges of the score, some of which I would be loath to write again, for example rather fussy variations of immediately repeated material that can act has unhelpful music ‘tripwires’ for amateur musicians. Still, under Margery’s direction I know I’m in very safe hands.
February 2023: Katalin Koltai premiered two pieces from my ongoing Bartókiana project at the Budapest Music Centre. The concert included talks by Katalin, myself and David Gorton with the latter two simultaneously translated into Hungarian. The pieces Katalin premiered were my transcription of Bartók’s Romanian Christmas Carols and Flute of the Slovak Shepherd from For Children.
February 2023: Katalin Koltai premiered two pieces from my ongoing Bartókiana project at the Budapest Music Centre. The concert included talks by Katalin, myself and David Gorton with the latter two simultaneously translated into Hungarian. The pieces Katalin premiered were my transcription of Bartók’s Romanian Christmas Carols and Flute of the Slovak Shepherd from For Children. Bartókiana is composed for the ‘Ligeti Guitar‘, an instrument designed by Katalin that uses magnetic capos in order to independently adjust the pitch of the guitar’s open strings. The capos provide the guitarist and composer with the ability to radically transform the open string ‘background’ of the guitar and can permit all sorts of new chord spacings and textures. This having been said, the capos are tricky to navigate for the non-guitarist particularly when trying to mediate between their affordances and another composer’s music. There are times I have used magnet settings that have proved to be redundant or asked for changes, particularly when Katalin is still playing, that have proved impractical. This partly explains why Bartókiana is proving such a long-running project – the piece was begun in earnest in 2021 and I am still deeply involved in it, currently reworking several of its component pieces. Once completed Bartókiana will consist of ten transcription of various kinds covering Bartók’s folk arrangements from each geographical area he collected in including North Africa and Turkey. Bartók’s musical personality and technique are, of course, formidable and I have had to work hard not to let his style overwhelm my own, hence the number of revisions made so far. Bartókiana is very much a work in progress but I’ll get there.
February 2023: the Delta Saxophone Quartet gave Damascene Redux another outing as part of the University of Kent’s lunchtime concert series at Fergusson Hall. This was followed by a workshop with music students.
February 2023: the Delta Saxophone Quartet gave Damascene Redux another outing as part of the University of Kent’s lunchtime concert series at Fergusson Hall, Canterbury. This was followed by a workshop with music students. As I’ve previously noted it is has been some years since DSQ premiered Damascene Redux – a ‘free’ version of Damascene Portrait in which the four parts are reduced to a single line of melodic incipits that the performers freely extend and improvise around – so, avoiding clichés about busses, it’s been great to have two performances so close together (the only problem has been my inability to attend either!). I hope the students enjoyed the workshop – the quartet seem to to have had the measure of this piece ever since the first rehearsal and I’m sure they were able to pass this on to the participants. My hope is that the score is amenable to fairly novice improvisers and experienced ones; the structures it offers can be both a prop and also a challenge to allow the ideas to evolve as they will whilst respecting the composed sequence they follow.
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.
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