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.
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.
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.
Kamilla Arku premiered my Suite for Prepared Piano, volume 1 as part of her repertoire of new music on February 5th. The concert, which also included music by Lainie Fefferman, George Walker, Tania Leon, Virginia Seay and Lowell Liebermann, was part of the Borough New Music series, and also raised money for Music for Liberia. It was a wonderful concert and Kamilla played beautifully.
I have recently completed my Suite for Prepared Piano, which I’d started during a weekend in composing isolation at The Tractor Shed before Christmas. The preparation for these pieces is fairly light — brass bolts are inserted between 14 strings, creating bell-like tones; blue tack is laid on several others, giving a plucked, stopped sound; most other notes sound as normal. The nine movements come to around 15 minutes, each one lasting between 45 seconds and several minutes.
I was lucky enough to have the wonderful pianist Kamilla Arku record the suite on a lovely Bluthner at Alice’s Loft studio. Engineering at this beautiful space were owner Denise Mangiardi, engineer Joe Wensley and assistant Antonio, who not only did a fantastic job but made the whole experience relaxed and enjoyable.
Kamilla will be performing this Suite next February in a concert series in London, so watch this space….
The choir I run, The Boiler House Singers, will be performing our winter concert on 3rd December at 5pm at the lovely Prince pub in Stoke Newington, London N16.
Featuring guest musicians, Christmas cheer and the legendary audience singalong, this is one not to be missed!
We will be performing some of the repertoire we’ve learned this year, plus some Christmas numbers. There will also be a shortened version of my choir composition ‘Star’ – a world premiere in fact!
Upstairs at the Prince pub – 59 Kynaston Rd, Stoke Newington, London N16 0EB
I’ve just spent a great few days in the Sussex countryside, composing some short pieces for prepared piano.
Screws and bolts inserted into the strings create bell-like sounds, accentuating the piano’s harmonics, and blue tack deadens the tone, making for a very percussive sound.
There was no wifi or mobile signal which was very refreshing and I got lots of work done! I’ll be back next weekend to complete the set of short pieces.