December 2020: on the 5-6 December the Nottingham Forum for Artistic Research (NottFAR) are hosting a symposium in which I’m giving a paper on Dance Maze.
December 2020: on the 5-6 December the Nottingham Forum for Artistic Research (NottFAR) are hosting a symposium in which I’m giving a paper on Dance Maze. I’ll talk about the role Tom Johnson‘s book Self-Similar Melodies (and his music) played in helping me re-work the piece from a piano solo to a duo for trumpet and piano. It’s great to see these kinds of symposia proliferating in the UK and beyond with music practitioners bandying together to share ideas and advocate for the research value of their work. Practice as research in music is a contested topic with its proponents and detractors, but for artists working in (UK) universities understanding and gaining confidence in talking about their work in research-friendly terms is essential. Most importantly, though, such an approach can help catalyse new ideas and personal paths for exploration.
November 2020: on the 25th I am taking part in the launch of Composing the Historical. This is a collection of interviews with myself, Judith Weir (CBE), Shirley Thompson (OBE), Roxanna Panufnik, Ed Hughes, Evelyn Ficarra, Rowland Sutherland, Kerry Andrew and Martin Butler
November 2020: on the 25th I am taking part in the launch of Composing the Historical. This is a collection of interviews with myself, Judith Weir (CBE), Shirley Thompson (OBE), Roxanna Panufnik, Ed Hughes, Evelyn Ficarra, Rowland Sutherland, Kerry Andrew and Martin Butler that explores composers’ experience of writing through the past – using models from history not to evoke nostalgia (or not only that) but to circle back to the present. The interviews (that include scores and audio recordings) will be published online in REFRAME, the University of Sussex’s journal for research into media, film and music. The project was instigated by Ed Hughes, Professor of Music at the University of Sussex, and someone I have known for many, many years (in fact we had the same piano teacher when we were kids in Southampton in the 80s!). I enjoyed being interviewed by musicologist Mimi Haddon back in the summer of 2019 and talking about the borrowing practices that have come to play such a large part in my recent music. Mimi and I discussed JPR, Tänze and Distant Beauties as well as Christian Wolff, Webern, nostalgia and ruins.
November 2020: I’m six weeks into a sabbatical from the University of Surrey
November 2020: I’m six weeks into a sabbatical from the University of Surrey. I’ve now got the time I need to complete my project with cellist, Madeleine Shapiro, and to get underway with (who knows, even complete) a piece for guitarist, Katalin Koltai, which is going to be based on Bartok’s folksong transcriptions. I’ve also been virtually resident in the Hugh Hodgson School of Music at the University of Georgia courtesy of Professor of viola, Maggie Snyder and composition lecturer Dr. Emily Koh. Despite the limitations of Zoom I’ve enjoyed talking to faculty and students about collaboration, revision/reworking and borrowing. My final session is on 6th November, three days after the US Presidential Election…! Finally, pandemic permitting, I’ll be presenting a paper at the inaugural Midlands New Music Symposium in December that explains how I’ve used the techniques and music of Tom Johnson to rework my piano piece, Dance Maze.
July 2020: my chapter ‘Collaboration and the Practitioner-Researcher: A Composer’s Perspective’ has just been published in Artistic Research in Performance Through Collaboration edited by Martin Blain and Helen Minors and published by Palgrave Macmillan.
July 2020: my chapter ‘Collaboration and the Practitioner-Researcher: A Composer’s Perspective’ has just been published in Artistic Research in Performance Through Collaboration edited by Martin Blain and Helen Minors and published by Palgrave Macmillan. The chapter details my collaboration with trumpeter Simon Desbruslais on Albumleaves for trumpet and string quartet during 2013. I use methods borrowed from autoethnography (recalling key moments, epiphanies, from life or work situations and situating these within a particular culture) to look back over the collaboration and draw out the ways in which my actions may be understood as part of my coming to terms with the demands of the academic research culture in the U.K. For anyone interested in pursuing artistic research in a university or any artists currently working in university departments I hope the chapter proves to be both honest and helpful. I also discuss the music of Albumleaves, in particular the way I employ indeterminacy. I would like to thank Martin and Helen for their assiduous editing and, particularly, Simon for commissioning the piece and being such a willing collaborator and research subject.
June 2020: the Virtual Ukulele Ensemble’s first three videos of movements from Shadow Variations are now on YouTube.
June 2020: the Virtual Ukulele Ensemble‘s first three videos of movements from Shadow Variations are now on YouTube. Theme in the Form of Chorale and A Simple Quartet can be found here, Curve 1 here and Curve 2 here. Huge thanks go to Samantha Muir for coaching the players and editing the videos as well as the players themselves for their time and enthusiasm. One thing that has become very obvious during the Covid-19 lockdown is the huge amount of time and effort behind the scenes to make online performances work. This means it is not easy to churn them out – we still have seven pieces to record but hope to have more available soon.
May 2020: for the last month I’ve been working with a new ukulele ensemble on Shadow Variations.
May 2020: for the last month I’ve been working with a new ukulele ensemble on Shadow Variations. As most of the world remains in lockdown players are working in isolation and sending in audio files to Samantha Muir whose idea the ensemble was. We’ve just completed editing together Theme in the Form of a Chorale and A Simple Quartet and plan to complete the full set of ten pieces, then do an online performance with video of the kind that have become so familiar (and often moving) during the coronavirus pandemic. The ensemble comprises players in the United States, Europe and Australia and includes teachers, workshop leaders, ukulele specialists, composers and retirees. For around a decade now I’ve been composing scores in which performers have broader creative agency but this is one of the few occasions on which the potential of these kinds of scores has been realised. I must thank Sam for her leadership and enthusiasm that is giving people the confidence to experiment with the music. Watch (or listen to) this space for the results!
April 2020: just completed the second of two pieces for York Late Music. It is a piece for the Elysian Singers setting Emily Brontë’s ‘No coward soul is mine’
April 2020: just completed the second of two pieces for York Late Music. It is a piece for the Elysian Singers setting Emily Brontë’s ‘No coward soul is mine’ to form a pairing with David Power‘s setting of the same poem. It has been a rewarding project that has allowed me to draw on the knowledge of medieval music I developed whilst teaching a new module at the University of Surrey last semester. I noticed that David had avoided setting the three verses of the poem containing specifically religious references and this allowed me to draw on plainchant (from the 2nd Vespers service on Whit Sunday) as the material for my piece. I also use David’s striking setting of the opening line of the poem (that has a very biting quality), contrasting it with a parallel setting to the antiphon ‘Hodie compléti sunt’ (The days are complete). Quite when this piece is going to see the light of day is another matter – at the time of writing coronavirus has laid waste to the UK’s classical music calendar for the foreseeable future. And my first piece for this year’s festival, Berceuse 1917, has met the same fate I’m afraid. I’m hoping I’ll be able to post news about both performances before too long.
March 2020: just before the coronavirus mayhem took hold I organised a half day event on musical revision at the University of Surrey.
March 2020: just before the coronavirus mayhem took hold I organised a half day event on musical revision at the University of Surrey. Myself, John McGrath, Jeremy Barham and Chris Wiley talked about compositional strategies, David Lynch, Gustav Mahler revising Beethoven, and revisionism in musical biography respectively. The day featured performances from Katalin Koltai, Jane Chapman and Sam Cave. My paper focussed on the relationship between a group of pieces that revise and rework Divertissements for harpsichord and electric guitar. The latest iteration of the piece was performed by Sam and Jane in the evening – very successfully!
February 2020: delighted that Samantha Muir is giving the UK premiere of Shadow Variations at the University of Surrey.
Shadow Variations for ukulele(s) was commissioned by Sam and received its world premiere in Australia in August 2019. It is an ensemble piece but very flexible in format; Sam is taking advantage of this and playing it as a solo interspersed with movements from her own piece, Theme and Variations on the Dowie Dens of Yarrow, upon which my music is based. There will be some re-arrangement necessary involving collapsing two parts into one – I look forward to hearing how this turns out!
January 2020: I am working on a short song for soprano Anna Snow and pianist Kate Ledger.
The song (as yet untitled) is part of the ‘100 Second Song Project’ devised by composer David Power. It premieres at York Late Music on 4th April 2020. I draw on materials from Chopin’s Berceuse and Robert Macfarlane’s book The Old Ways, in particular the final section that is a recreation of the last months in the life of the English poet, Edward Thomas. Both singer and pianist are presented with the music in grid form (10 x 10 with each cell a second long), allowing it to be realised in multiple directions.