I’m in the process of making a chamber orchestra version of the clouds flew round with the clouds,a short piece originally for cello and electronic sounds. This is for a nonclassical concert on 15 April with Southbank Sinfonia conducted by Gerry Cornelius at Ambika P3. The concert is dominated by new and recent music by Gabriel Prokofiev alongside various other interesting pieces. There is a full programme and more information here.
My piece was originally written as a gift for Oliver Coates’ 30th birthday and was released on his debut album with PRAH; the beautiful and evocatively titled Towards the blessed islands. The piece is a gradually transforming opening two bars of Chopin’s Nocturne in B Major (Op.62 No.1) performed by Lívia Rév (thanks to Hyperion for letting me use this short sample) and a cello part that evolves, in three sections, from solo line to four part chorale (with the help of a curved bow).
I’ve never orchestrated an existing work before. I’m taking some pleasure in exploring new changing parameters for the orchestra part to compliment the gradual transformations in the original and in trying to find an equivalent sound in the orchestra for the to the extreme retuning of the cello. I’m also enjoying a score that, given it’s an adaption of a solo cello line, has some of the simplicity and transparency that characterises much of the chamber orchestra music I love (that’s the aspiration anyway).
While it’s on my mind I thought I’d relink a video recording of Olly playing the original live in Manchester back in 2013.
And share the poem that provided the title:
The Pleasures of Merely Circulating by Wallace Stevens
The garden flew round with the angel,
The angel flew round with the clouds,
And the clouds flew round and the clouds flew round
And the clouds flew round with the clouds.
Is there any secret in skulls,
The cattle skulls in the woods?
Do the drummers in black hoods
Rumble anything out of their drums?
Mrs. Anderson’s Swedish baby
Might well have been German or Spanish,
But that things go round and again go round
Has rather a classical sound.
There are so many things in the festival I want to shout about; music by Harrison Birtwistle (who is visiting the festival for three days); concerts by Distractfold; ACM; ddmmyy; a wide range of music performed by, in particular, RNCM and Manchester University Students; and two short concerts by my group the House of Bedlam (I’ll post on that early next week). However, as I have curated the opening weekend (and thanks to festival director Clark Rundell and RNCM artistic director Michelle Castelletti have had extraordinary free rein) so I thought I’d write a bit about this here.
The things going round my head when I was thinking about the programme was how I might interpret the name of the festival, which has traditionally focussed on all kinds of new and recent concert music, what I really mean when I refer to ‘a composer’ and that the RNCM, somewhere with a great deal of vital new music, has a platform to explore some compositional and performance extremes.
The relatively new Vonnegut Collective is performing in the 8pm slot on the Saturday. I’m enticed by a new music collective that started when two BBC Philharmonic instrumentalists (Gary Farr and Gemma Bass), experts and obsessives in new music and new sounds, spent their rehearsal breaks exploring free improvisation.
I sincerely hope this catches on…
They collaborate with the composers they work with (who usually perform with them) and bring together improvisation, composed music, devised music and conversation about music. This is the case at NMNW; Tullis Rennie and Cath Roberts join the collective as composers and performers alongside performance of music by Cornelius Cardew. They are also performing a short work by Gavin Osborn in the Lecture theatre three times at 12pm, 12.20 and 12.40 to very small audiences for an intimate concert experience.
At 4pm the Junior RNCM, whose new music concerts always showcase such good playing and writing, are staging a deliciously ambitious concert. Taking over the concert hall they start with a large-scale open scored piece, gradually downsizing through more conventional ensembles and notation to end with a short work for solo wheelbarrow. As you do. I can’t wait.
And later on, as it’s Saturday night, there will be a couple of RNCM bands playing in the bar. It’s after the Big Band concert so Harry Fausing Smith, playing with his band Pope Vivian, have promised some connection to jazz. Last time they provided some music at my request (for a Decontamination concert) it was a short barrage of unapologetic noise (go on – have a listen). I’m rather glad that, deep down, I don’t really know what to expect.
Sunday is a rather different and stared, for me, thinking about two works by good friends that I find extremely exciting. The first is Matthew Sergeant’s[Kiss] – a live solo violin work that lasts between 4 and 6 hours. The second is Nina Whiteman’s (I believe on-going) collection of overlapping works of variable duration The Astrolabe Series. I am personally inspired by these ambitious, deliriously (in some respects) impractical pieces was desperate to see them/see them again.
The day begins at 11am with a short round-table discussion with some of the composers about the perception of time in music chaired by expert-in-the-field Dr Michelle Phillips. The music starts at 12 with not only Matt’s [Kiss], but also a new very long video installation of Ian Vine’s, a performance of a recent work by RNCM undergraduate composer John Uren (an hour of piano and electronics) and RNCM students performing one of Morton Feldman’s late monoliths Crippled Symmetry.
At 5pm, in straightforward stark contrast (and inevitably containing a number of straightforward stark contrasts), is a concert dominated by miniatures featuring new minute-long pieces by fifteen RNCM staff members, some early James Saunders and pieces by RNCM undergraduate Michael Brailey and former head of composition Anthony Gilbert. I’m a simple person and, to be honest, was initially motivated by wondering if the two less-than-twenty-second movements in Tony’s Six of the Bestiary (which I love, refer to when teaching and have listened to countless times) would sound different to me after hours of Feldman, Sergeant, Vine & Uren. I also really wanted to hear James’ 511 Possible Mosaics. Given that each one is eighteen seconds long it seemed impractical to travel to New Zealand for the premiere back in 1999.
Nina Whiteman takes centre stage with Trio Atem in the 7pm concert, which culminates in a 30-minute (and to date largest) version of her Astrolabe Series. I’ve lost track of exactly what’s happening in this piece, which is spatialised around the vast canvas of the RNCM’s opera theatre, but I understand the trio is augmented with 17 extra performers, there are pieces that include multiple double basses, multiple flutes and live electronics. The trio also get to showcase their more usual practice with works by Elizabeth Ditmanson and Grace Evangeline Mason and, excitingly for me because it has been a while since he has written for his own trio, a new work by Gavin Osborn.
The weekend rounds off with the fifth in the Decontamination Series. I was thinking of this concert as something that might untangle the threads of the weekend and the overlapping pieces of Nina’s new work(s). So here we have pop singer/songwriter, storyteller, troubadour and Manchester cult favourite Aidan Smith shuffled with the Solem String Quartet’s return to the series, the latter playing music by their own violist Ali Vennart, the rarely performed in the UK (and frankly f*****g awesome) Hell by Liza Lim and an extract from Henri Duttieux’s ravishing Ansi la nuit; a modest tribute to a great composer in his centenary year. There are so many good songs of Aidan’s but I have a particular soft spot for The Merry-Go-Round of Abingdon Town partly because of a great version I heard him do at a gig a couple of years ago and also because I grew up near Abingdon and know it well.
So yes, this is essentially a protracted advert, but with good reason. I’m more than chuffed that there are performances of pop music, jazz, improvisation of various kinds, new concert music, 5 hour+ violin works and installations, pieces that last 15 seconds, explorations of modular practice, and so much more all strangely and varyingly connected by the North West of England and, most importantly, a love of musical exploration.
And to anyone involved in making new music you can imagine the number of people involved who have given so much of their time and energy far beyond what can realistically be afforded or fairly expected. So share this, shout about it, come along and, I hope, have a flipping fantastic weekend.
Below is the complete score and recording of a recent work for solo flute written for Kathryn Williams. This is a recent live performance recorded at Manchester’s International Anthony Burgess Foundation.
The piece is essentially in progress and is eventually intended as part of a substantial set.
The starting point for the piece was a conversation and some ideas surrounding Dalcroze. The pieces will all be based on techniques and ideas inspired by Dalcroze and movement.
The centrepiece of this short concert is Coates’ and Lek’s collaboration from earlier this year. Here Lek uses video game software to imagine a future in which the Royal Academy of Arts in London has been sold off as a privately owned luxury estate accompanied by a soundtrack by virtuoso cellist Oliver Coates and a voiceover of a found text from Russian Tatler magazine, translated into Mandarin by Joni Zhu. You can watch and hear this extraordinary piece of artwork here however the soundtrack and, potentially, the visuals themselves are tailored for each performance.
Joanna Bailie’s 2014 work Trains takes us on a fantastical journey by meticulously blending the her field recordings of trains with sounds from the live cello. As the processing and cello exposes more tangible pitch content the original field recordings are masked and well-known ‘found’ material from the cello cannon is revealed. The result is understated, surprising and ravishing.
Kottos, Xenakis’ 1977 monolith for solo cello, is a piece of immense physical energy . The music evokes the fantastical imagery suggested by the title, Xenakis write in the score ‘Kottos is one of the three Giants (Sons of Ouranos, the Sky, and of Gaia, the Earth). Each one had a hundred arms and fifty heads. They were the allies of Zeus in his fight agains the Titans that were eventually defeated; allusion to the fury and the virtuosity necessary to the performance of this piece.’
German conceptual artist Hanne Darboven’s Opus 17a forms part of her Mathematical Music output. Systematically controlled numerical data, prevalent in her installation work, informs the organisation of this characteristically uncompromising minimal music.
I’m very happy that my new solo flute piece The dance along the artery is going to be premiered by flutist extraordinaire Kathryn Williams at the 2nd International Dalcroze Conference tomorrow alongside a second performance and her presentation of a joint paper partially on the process of writing and collaborating on this. Rather dauntingly this piece is being premiered alongside Kathryn’s interpretation of Brian Ferneyhough’s monolithic solo flute work Unity Capsule.
The piece marks the start of a collaborative project exploring how observing and learning about The Dalcroze Method might inform an approach to composition as well as examining how Kathryn has employed the method in complex repertoire and music than has elements of parametric decoupling.
The piece has, at its core, a very simple physical limitation; it only features fingerings that either use all the fingers, all the fingers of the left hand, all the fingers of right hand or no fingers at all. This has led to a surprising palette of pitches (more, given the range of harmonics and some multiphonics, than I might have expected initially). As part of the trajectory of the piece it has been fun to have some sections in which Kathryn has to battle with the instrument to pick out potentially problematic pitches, and at other points allows the fingering, embouchure, dynamic and embouchure indications to suggest the pitches (which are not specified).
It has, in some respects, been (for me) a refreshingly different approach to writing a short piece and I’m looking forward to being able to post a recording soon and developing the set and the related writing.
Ahead of The House of Bedlam playing at the Sandbar for Tom Rose and Jack Sheen’s ddmmyy series a week today here is an extract from a new track. This is the opening of Rta in its electronic form – next week it will be for flute, clarinet, guitar, cello as well as electronic sounds.
It’s always a pleasure bringing the group together and I’m also chuffed we’re playing, for the first time, Small brown spots by David Fennessy.
Also looking forward to Laurence Crane playing his own music with Michael Perrett.