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First Impressions

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 on a new work, as we did on the 21st September with Silvered Night (piano/orch.), there is a much more personal evaluation and analysis of whether it works or not; not only the melody, harmony, rhythm, orchestration, and balance at any one moment but the overall form, tempi, drive, texture, energy, atmosphere, and goodness knows what else. When the piece is first being put together, it is easy to fall into a cycle of insecurity, and worse, only to be lifted gradually to a more practical and less emotional state of whether the right thing at any one moment was done. I guess this reveals more about me than composition in general, but suffice to say that oneself is by far one’s harshest critic, questioning, challenging, blaming, reluctant to commend, while underneath you sort of know you did OK.

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