October 24, 2019

Ever since wanting to be a composer I have always enjoyed that moment when you first hear the piece, with one or two exceptions that is! And as I approached a rehearsal of the City of London Choir last month in readiness for the recording of The Angry Garden with the RPO, it occurred to me that quite often I heard part of the piece for the first time from the outside of a building, while approaching it for the rehearsal. That first happened to me for an oboe concerto of mine, in early days when I was very unsure of myself and so I will never forget the oboist going through it in the distance and my relief and excitement of finding that it sounded like it should. For The Angry Garden, some 16 years after the premiere, I knew it would, but that thrill of hearing a piece that you have written from a distance will stay with me. It’s less bound up in the atmosphere of the concert hall, and it is partly because the composer isn’t present and involved.

Once in the recording, working in detail...

October 8, 2019

The 21st September 2019 was a date which brings to a close a recording project that has taken almost two years to put in place, and it is a privilege to have such people involved; the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, City of London Choir, conductor Hilary Davan Wetton, pianist Mark Bebbington, and four or the UK’s leading singers, Stephanie Corley, Marta Fontanals-Simmons, Ed Lyon, and William Berger.

Two works were recorded in the three sessions at Henry Wood Hall, in the morning a piece for piano and orchestra, under the title Silvered Night, and in the afternoon and evening sessions The Angry Garden, a work written and  premiered in 2002 to highlight the issue of global warming. Composed from a libretto by poet and author Simon Rae, it was first performed at St. John’s Smith Square in support of the World Wildlife Fund.

Taking the latter first, I was first drawn to the issue of the environment in the early 1970’s when I had a place to study with the scientist David Bellamy - I alway...

October 24, 2018

Within the Arts, the First World War is perhaps best known for the major poems and poets of the time, much of the horror and desolation conveyed through the most moving and evocative works, sometimes written within the War itself, and by those who were tragically killed. For various reasons, the effect on composers and composition is less clear, arguably it is a work written far beyond the War that had the greatest effect, Britten’s War Requiem, which was completed in 1962 and, incidentally, uses the poems of the War poet, Wilfred Owen.

But undoubtedly, composers were involved and affected by the War. John Francis, Vice-Chairman of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society will introduce the composer’s contribution in a separate talk during our Centenary Concert in Pimlico on the 30th. The courage of Vaughan Williams was monumental during this conflict. But pride of place in these few words should go to those killed: George Butterworth, who was shot and killed by a sniper in 1916; Rudi Stefan,...

September 19, 2017

As I sat in the sun outside my office last Friday I felt quite emotional with the CD launch today - it feels very much the end of an era; the end of a three-CD series, the end of the Darwin project that went from the Wigmore to Australia, and the end of all the negotiations, agreements and funding that put these things in place. 

The 15th September 2017 saw the release on CD of Age of Wonders, recorded by the Philharmonia with Stuart Stratford, conductor, Maya Iwabuchi, violin, and Tom Poster, piano. Written to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the piece begins for violin and piano (based on Darwin’s early life), evolves to a string quartet, The Beagle, then a work for string orchestra An Entangled Bank, and completes as a piece for full orchestra, Transmutations.

Perhaps because my first degree, and childhood love, was in science (Botany and Zoology) I had always intended for my second string quartet to be under the name of ‘Darwin’, but this was just something...

July 27, 2017

How does one recover from making a large-scale funding application, I find that there is little positive about that use of creative time? I think it lies with who you are; an organization, orchestra, festival, theatre, have specialists, people who are trained in the language, the mindset, they have an understanding of what lies behind a question, and most importantly of all, they are paid for doing their job. And if it it fails - an embarrassment, a blow to the self-esteem, perhaps a knowing or sympathetic glance from a colleague. But for the creator, the composer, things are quite different, they aren’t trained, they aren’t skilled, might not even be that literate, and of course, they aren’t paid. Sometimes I think one ought to be able to make a quick application for funding for making an application.

So when I look at the prospect of making one, the first thing that is looked at is how much work and how long will it take to get the rejection, and how much creative time is lost. The be...

January 31, 2017

Some months back I went to a meeting of administrators, connected with the commissioning of new works. One speaker said something which I have given a good deal of thought to as on reflection I think it was a very important point. It was said, ‘there is a right time to collaborate’. Certainly true, but putting it a slightly different way, ‘there is a right time to write a work’, and it was the latter that has kept me thinking.

This is because, for me, when considering what to write, the background to the work plays an important role, particularly if a new work is to be inspired by a contemporary event. This in itself requires particular consideration as almost every day there are events that might be a suitable inspiration to a piece of music, but it is essential that the event has some broader significance, a longer legacy than just its temporary impact.

My first string quartet, under a subtitle of Robben Island, was an ideal inspiration, because what lay behind it, the breakdown of apa...

November 22, 2016

Although it is a  subjective opinion, I have never regarded myself as a ’modern’ composer, or I should say, a composer of particularly modern-sounding music. I did once receive a response  from Classic FM to say that the music was "too modern" for their station, but not really writing with ‘that modern sound’, which sometimes seems to me to become a stylised modernity, I have always felt that the music I write falls in the middle of the spectrum. In saying that, I am full of admiration for the complexity of some modern classical music, the trouble is that when listening, if I am struggling with it, then how does that music reach a wider audience? Or perhaps it doesn’t matter if it does. I remember going to hear a friend of mine playing a new concerto a few years back, really tough on the ear, and although undoubtedly it would have made more sense on further listening and study, the question really was, could I be bothered to do so. On similar lines, when I was just starting t...

September 8, 2016

Of all the main elements that make up a piece of classical music, melody, harmony, rhythm, etc, I am inclined to say that for me, the most important is form, the overall plan. It has a greater importance because it gives so much to what we are experiencing on the journey through a work, and what we are left with after listening, the impression, the after-feeling. 

However, to get to that emotion after a work has completed, whether it is sadness or joy, contemplation or exhilaration,  it isn’t of course just dependent on those last couple of minutes, those last few bars, it is the grand scheme. But once that decision on a period in a work has been made, ending or elsewhere, then I find that the other musical elements follow to create that impression. It is for that reason that the quality of my first draft is so poor, frightening if someone was to think that was what I had intended, but through the many edits and revisions, some fifteen in all, the piece gradually rights itself, or perha...

August 12, 2016

The CD of music from my opera Jesse Owens, together with some preludes for piano are to be released shortly by Stone Records. This will be the second in a series of three, the first CD being released in January 2016. It has been somewhat strange how the music has evolved since its conception, firstly written as an opera, then modified as a song cycle (The Sharecropper’s Son), completing with Incidental Music from the Opera Jesse Owens, for full orchestra. It is the incidental music, and a collection of the songs, arranged for soprano, baritone, and piano, which will be on the new CD. 

I found the story of the iconic athlete Jesse Owens ideal for an opera, it encompassed so many of the elements needed for such a medium. It was originally conceived for the London Olympics of 2012 and I would have to say that the two years of writing marked the most desperate period of my writing life. Shortly after completing the work, the company for which I was writing the opera collapsed the proje...

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