Night Sky Partials

I’m very excited to announce that my piece Night Sky Partials for SATB acapella chorus will receive two performances this Summer. The first will be at Victoria Hall in Sheffield in a concert which I’ll be able to say more about in a future blog post. The second will be in Tuscany, sung by members of the Fox Valley Voices for whom the piece was written and directed by myself.

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The original version of this piece was for female voices (SSAA), and was written for my partner Emily Needle as a Birthday gift. Over Christmas I had the opportunity to revise it for SATB acapella chorus and expand on ideas in the first version.

I’ve included the programme note and text below:

This piece takes its name from the title track of an album by Freelance Whales, an American indie rock band whose lyrics (similarly to the text of this piece) explore dreamlike explorations of nature and the universe.

Text (extracts from Constellations by Ian Pindar, Nocturnes by Will Kemp and Wild by Ben Okri):

A summers day of images,
a field of fire.

The blue, beautiful morning.
The morning so clear.

The world is rich, with great love un-found,
set it free.
River, flow to the sea.

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(Working with the Angeli Che Cantano on the original version of the piece in 2013)

 

Wentworth Cantata

I was very excited and proud to be involved in a concert back at the beginning of October with local volunteers, in celebration of a very beautiful landscape and its design.

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http://www.wentworthcastle.org/whats-on-at-wentworth-castle/

I was commissioned by the Wentworth Castle Heritage Trust’s community’s officer Peter Clegg, to produce my piece Wentworth Cantata. The commission was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the CB300 festival. It was premiered at Wentworth Castle on the 16th October as part of the Voices of the Landscape project in collaboration with the Barnsley writers and the Penistone Poets.

The concert itself featured a storyboard of wonderful poetry and narrations, punctuated by extracts of my score for bass guitar and bass voice.

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My ideas for Wentworth Cantata began as visual sketches rather than musical notation. An interest in the Capability Brown inspired modelling of the landscape and the architecture of the building itself led me to an alternate way of displaying material for the performers.
The score consists of lines and shapes traced directly from large scale maps of the area surrounding Wentworth Castle. The performer is free to create their own journey through the hypothetical landscape using the 14 ‘micro’ pieces which can be manipulated in various ways and played in any order.

Just as the architecture of the building is made up of multiple wings which were built at different times over recent centuries, several of the sections are taken from musical works of the past which correspond to the dates of the buildings. The voice part consists of both spoken and sung material in ballad form which gives a narrative consistency to the work. I commissioned the text from John Anstie (https://poetjanstie.wordpress.com/) who was also the vocalist for this project.

You can see the individual fragments from the various compositions labelled adjacent to each module on the score, as well as an example of how the landscape is abstractly translated onto the page.

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Future extensions of Voices of the Landscape will hopefully include more performances at Wentworth Castle itself (perhaps in the gardens… weather permitting!) a published book containing poems from the project along with my score and finally, a project involving the software ‘Google Maps’ to pin audio to areas of landscape for the public to explore digitally.

This project was hugely rewarding and being able to stand beside my work after the concert rounded off the achievement.

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Photo credit: Emily Needle

 

Kinetic

Next Wednesday, a concert at the Wonder Inn will showcase the music of myself and two other composers from the RNCM (Aled Smith and Caroline Bordignon). The organiser is Shaun Davies and more information on the event can be found via the link below:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1195190737229213/

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I’m very excited that the programme of my work will consist of three pieces that have been recorded but never performed live. One of my earliest works and a piece for solo piano will be also be revived alongside these premieres.

Ephemeris for solo piano (2012) and I and II from Five Pieces/Colour in Water (2016) – performed by Daniel Portal:

In Ephemeris, my main aim was to fuse two contrasting sets of material to see how they ‘interacted’ with each other. The first consists of angular, arpeggiated motifs which continually jolt the mood and texture. The second is developed through a process of interval expansion from a single 6 note motif, and a steady pulsating passage of crotchets evolves in several interweaving voices into larger body of material.

I and II are miniatures from a larger set of works written in 2016. The first is a disarming simple melody, leading into the more agitated fiery qualities of the latter piece.

A Monologue in Five Short Sections for solo bass clarinet (2014) – performed by Joshua Warhurst:

This short piece treats the instrument as a skittish and capricious individual, whose thoughts are explored (as the title suggests) through an internal monologue. The material constantly alternates between volatility and fragility.

Interjections for saxophone quartet (2012) – performed by the Jabeliah Saxophone Quartet:

Interjections consists of a musical gesture gradually breaking down into staggered entries across all instruments. Once set in motion, the breakdown process appears uninterrupted as one by one the performers cease to play and the music gradually ‘fades’ to nothing.

I hope to see you there!

 

Exposure

On Monday the 14th November, Aaron Breeze performed a unique piano recital which included a work of his own, as well as new compositions by myself and two other composers from the RNCM.

http://www.aaronbreeze.com/events

At the tail end of last year we were commissioned by Aaron to write pieces in response the theme of ‘exposure’, which has inspired a large amount of his recent compositional output. As you might expect, this led to three quite different interpretations of his ideas, all of which contributed in their own way to the concert experience as a whole.

My piece (the fifth piece from Five Pieces/Colour in Water) explores the idea of the performer being ‘exposed’ through the use of both live and pre-recorded speech during performance, as well as a large amount of interpretive freedom within the score itself. The central premise of the work is to explore connections between pastiche cabaret and my own material using a modular system which allows the performer to freely navigate the given material, as well as allowing for passages of improvisation to take place in between the written notation.

Whilst grappling with these modules, Aaron also has to speak fragments from a text that I commissioned especially from Jim Carruth, a highly regarded Sheffield based poet. I asked Jim to write this poem at a time when I was about to move to Manchester and start my studies at the RNCM. It seemed a fitting text for this project in order to expose some of my own feelings through the performer alongside that of their own.

A pre-recorded electronic track accompanies the piano with a looped version of the text so that as the electronic version of Aaron’s voice becomes louder, his live speech begins to match with electronic track and more of the text can be understood by the audience.

There is a link to a video of the performance below, and an audio recording on my Soundcloud page. I encourage you to listen to the other three pieces in the playlist as they are all fantastically written and performed!

Premiere (13/10/16)

I have just uploaded the recording of my recent orchestral piece to my Soundcloud page. I would like to say a huge thank you again to the Royal Northern College of Music’s very own Brand New Orchestra and conductor Tom Goff for performing my piece so brilliantly.

It was also a great privilege to have the piece critiqued in a masterclass given by the celebrated British composer Tansy Davies who had a festival of her music put on at the RNCM this last week.

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Mantle

Tonight in the RNCM concert hall the Brand New Orchestra will performing my new piece Mantle, inspired by an artwork of the same name by the award-winning artist Alan Michelson.

The installation, which now stands in the Virginia State Capitol gardens, only existed as a prototype in July 2015 (shown below). I came across whilst being shown around the Capitol building and whilst the end product was left to the visitors imagination, the scale model was labelled with a description of the projected work from the artist himself:

“[Mantle] requires the visitor to neither look up nor look down, but invites one to enter— from the east—and participate in it. It is not conceived as a static monument to be venerated but an active one to be experienced by moving off the everyday grid and into the American Indian circle.”

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Visitors are invited to take part in the installation by walking through the four ornate spiralling elements of its structure which lead eventually to the ‘infinity pool’, a place of calm and serenity. Since I could not experience this for myself at the time, I began to imagine what my own journey would be. I meditated on walking amongst the trees and the winding walls decorated with native plant life and shells. This hypothetical stroll through the installation acted as a catalyst for the first ideas for my short tone poem.

The repeated tutti F# chord in the piece symbolizes the hypnotic ringing of bells from a tower which stands on the hill above the installation. The music gradually unfolds in various layers of sculptured texture and harmony that are held together by the gentle pulsation of an old melody, Earth My Body. This melody would have originally been heard played on Native American flutes that are tuned to minor pentatonic scales, giving them an ancient and haunting quality of sound.

The lyrics to this chant (in English) are;

Earth my body, Water my blood, Air my breath and Fire my spirit –

 

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More information about Alan Michelson’s artwork can be found via the link below.

http://indiantribute.virginia.gov/monument.html

 

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Crimson Verse

I am thrilled that John Holland-Avery and Hector Leung will be giving a third performance of my piece Crimson Verse tomorrow at the Royal Northern College of Music as part of John’s final recital (Mmus).

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The piece sets an extract (shown below) from a text by Paul Adrian called Kiyōko and the Maple, a tragic myth which tells the story of a young poet who in an attempt to win the affection of his love, paints Japanese characters or ‘Kanjii’ onto the bustling leaves of a maple tree. Unimpressed with his efforts, the Shoguns daughter casts him aside and he retreats into exile. Towards the end of the piece the characters can be heard coming to life in the voice as the trees leaves are read.

Crimson Verse was premiered as part of the Leeds Lieder festival on the 2nd April 2016 by John and Hector, a concert which featured works by other conservatoire composition students from across the country (http://leedslieder.org.uk/).

Text:

‘For three days Kiyōko lived in the red maple

It swelled across the shoguns garden

Ink-stone wet with mist or spit

He painted a single dark character on each leaf

 

Until the tree was one shuffling poem of love for the shoguns daughter

They sat an hour reading the tree

A thousand poems came and went’

–          Paul Adrian

 

 The words spoken at the end of the piece translated from Japanese Kanji are;

Fire (火)

Water (水)

Wind (風)

Wisdom (年)

Light (灯)

Renew (改)

Happiness (晰)

Clarity (幸)

 

You can hear a recording of the piece below, taken from an RNCM composer’s concert on the 15th March 2016.