Last Thursday pianist Charles Owen — ‘one of the finest British pianists of his generation’ according to Gramphone magazine — premiered my new set of miniatures, ‘Approach‘, as part of a wonderful programme of Liszt (St Francis of Assisi Preaching to the Birds) , Ravel (Miroirs) and Wagner/Liszt (Isolde’s Liebestod, S447) in a lunchtime concert in Leicester.
Part of the International Festival of New Music Concert Lunchtime Series, the performance was held in the beautiful New Walk Museum, on a fantastic Steinway, surrounded by paintings.
My miniatures — Approach, Between the Reeds, Flicker, Spark, Element, Flight and Green Deva I and II — were composed earlier this summer, most of them especially for this concert, and Charles played them as beautifully as I had envisaged. There was a full house for the concert, with the audience and festival staff all incredibly welcoming both to their much-loved Charles and to me. A very happy day!
An online review gave a very positive report of both Charles’ concert as a whole and Approach, saying of Charles’ performance of Liszt and Ravel that “there seems such a complete confidence in the playing that it simply demands that the audience listens to music of this period afresh. The result for me was that this was one of most bracing concerts it has been my pleasure to experience in recent years.” While initially concerned about how my piece might follow the Ravel, the reviewer concluded: “However, gradually I found myself attracted by what I can only describe as the modest effectiveness of each piece. Unlike some contemporary composition, the music needed no decoding and, what was more, became more memorable as it progressed, culminating in a piece entitled Green Deva 1 and 2, the twin inspiration for which was Indian music and a painting by the composer’s father. In the end the music fully justified its place in the concert. Even a culminating fine performance of Liszt’s transcription of Wagner’s Tristan Leibestod failed to expunge it from the memory.”
In October I spent a great week back at Cosy Nook, the cottage where I had spent the Wild Plum Arts residency in the summer. I was very grateful to the Britten-Pears Foundation for giving me the opportunity to continue working on my oratorio in the peaceful surroundings of the Red House grounds. Given this week of solitude and uninterrupted work time, I made very good progress.
I recently scored a new short film, I do not Want to Smoke, by filmmaker Steven Sheil, who worked with medical historian Anna Toropova from the University of Nottingham on the script. This fascinating Welcome Trust funded film is based on a script for a Russian medical film from the 1930s which was initially intended to show how hypnosis could be used to cure people from the urge to smoke.
The film called for solo piano music for its score, which ranged from minimalist to Russian nationalist influenced. I asked the fantastic Kamilla Arku to record the piano part.
I was thrilled to have a couple of cues from my music to Seahorse played on the Mark Kermode show last Saturday, 7th September. He played and discussed A Positive Result and The Long Wait, which were written for two separate scenes dealing with Freddy’s pregnancy tests. Mark Kermode hosts a fantastic show on Scala Radio, all on film music, and I made some great new discoveries.
The show is available to listen online for a few more days here and my cues are about 12 minutes in, although I have to say I was pretty chuffed to hear at the start of the programme “I’ll be playing music from Bernard Hermann…Mica Levi and Tara Creme”
Seahorse, The Man Who Gave Birth had a UK-wide cinema release at the end of August, with many screenings accompanied by Q+A from the filmmakers. The audience reception has been incredible.
On September 10th the film was broadcast on BBC2, again with fantastic responses from viewers and many pick-of-the-days from media. It is now available to watch on player.
In August I spent a wonderful week staying at Cosy Nook, a lovely cottage on the outskirts of Aldeburgh built in the grounds of the Red House by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears for their housekeeper when she retired. I was here thanks to an amazing composing residency, hosted by the wonderful Wild Plum Arts, who had been asked by the Britten Foundation to run a summer of composing/writing workshops.
I took my Joan of Arc oratorio and made great progress, finalising the structure, paring down text and forming musical ideas for a couple of scenes.
There were two other composers and a composer/writer duo, and it was great to hear about their projects. We were lucky enough to have lovely weather, so every day I took a break with a run or swim, and while days were our own to work, we met together for dinner. These were provided by Wild Plum Arts’ Lucy Schaufer and Christopher Gillett, who as well as being amazing cooks were wonderful hosts and company. They invited various guests to join us on some nights, and it was great to meet Harriet Wybor from PRS, Sarah Bardwell from Britten Foundation, James Murphy from Royal Philharmonic Society and music expert/presenter/lots more Katy Hamilton.
It was such a treat to get this uninterrupted time to work on this composition and I am so grateful to Lucy and Chris for all their hard work and support.
Great news from Poland! My Friend the Polish Girl has received the Grand Prix at this Film Festival for debut films. A massive and deserved well done to directors Ewa Banaszkiewicz and Mateusz Dymek who were there to pick up their award, and also to Michal Dymek who picked up best cinematography. Next stop for the film is a UK release from July 19th.
Seahorse had full and enthusiastic audiences for its European premiere screenings at Sheffield Documentary Festival last week. It was great to travel up to watch the film — including q+a with director Jeanie Finlay and film’s subject Freddie McConnell — where I enjoyed a few days watching documentaries and attending talks. Other highlights included American Factory and audience award winner For Sama, as well as a talk with the legendary Werner Herzog. Seahorse is currently showing in New Zealand, and will screen in London on July 16th.
I’m delighted to have been selected by Wild Plum Arts for their Made at the Red House residency in Aldeburgh this summer. The Britten Pears Foundation invited Wild Plum Arts to host the residencies for composers and writers at their four cottages and Red House.
I will be staying in Cosy Nook – the cottage built by Britten and Pears for their housekeeper – and working on my oratorio about Joan of Arc. We are provided breakfast and lunch to eat in our cottages, and in the evening we all meet to share an evening meal. The peaceful surroundings and simple structure without distractions will give a wonderful chance to concentrate on my piece, which I am basing on the transcripts from Joan of Arc’s trials.
What a treat! I can’t wait to get stuck into the project and I’m very grateful to Wild Plum Arts for the opportunity.
Exciting news that the documentary feature I scored, Seahorse, is to receive its world premiere in competition at Tribeca. Directed by Jeanie Finlay and produced by Andrea Cornwell for BBC Storyville it is “one trans man’s pioneering quest to fulfil an age-old desire: to start his own family. This is the story of the dad who gave birth.”
It was a great pleasure to work with Jeanie on this documentary, which I scored for strings, piano, accordion, guitar and electronics.
Editor Alice Powell, executive producers Charlie Phillips at Guardian and Orlando von Einsiedel at Grain Media, Sound Designer Pip Norton.