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  • David Lancaster

Gentle in July

July started with a tremendous premiere of Gentle, given by Ana Beard Fernandez (soprano) and Zoë Craven (marimba) at the Late Music lunchtime concert on Saturday 4th. Of all the performances of my music, few have captured the emotional intensity as did this one; it was a performance I will remember for a long time. I had originally composed these three short songs for soprano voice and piano but when Ana asked me to provide songs for this concert I felt sure that they would transcribe effectively for marimba, and I now prefer this version to the original. I’m grateful to percussionist Janet Fulton who looked over my marimba writing before I handed the songs to the performers but cannot thank Ana and Zoë enough for their commitment to the music.

The words were originally by Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rumi (who I have previously set in ‘Fallen’ and ‘Hush’). Rumi was a poet, priest and scholar of Islam who lived in 13th century Persia and I am drawn to his words because he strives for economy of means but (and perhaps as a result of that) also because he leaves space for the music to speak between his words. The songs were composed in November of 2014 shortly after someone I knew had been the victim of a protracted and violent assault. As I was working closely with the victim at that time, the songs were a way for me to deal with the situation and to resolve some of the tensions and anxieties of that those dark days.

In other news, I have been commissioned to compose a piece for Farnham Band, now conducted by my old friend David Wright who I first met during my time as ‘composer in residence’ at Charterhouse in the 1980s; he was the then newly-appointed Head of Brass. At the time of writing I have just sent the preliminary sketches to David and I look forward to completing the music and revisiting old haunts when I attend the first performance in the Autumn. I have happy memories of Farnham and in particular the Redgrave Theatre for whom I provided a great deal of incidental music during the early 1990s.

In 1994 I wrote music for a production of Frank Wedekind’s ‘Lulu’ plays which were staged at the Edinburgh Fringe that year, in the adaptation by Angela Carter. I immediately knew that I wanted to develop that work into a complete, free-standing piece of my own but was somewhat overwhelmed by Berg’s opera and didn’t know how to move forward with my project until recently, and throughout 2015 I have been preoccupied with this subject once again. My new piece will be called ‘Pandora’ and is scored for solo soprano, actress and large instrumental ensemble with film and optional dance. The visual element is derived from the 1929 feature film ‘Pandora’s Box’ by GW Pabst and I have worked with film editor Paul Baxter to create five 3-minute montages which are to be projected during my score, which will last around 30 minutes. The only musical element to survive from that 1994 production is the plaintive ‘aria’ which Lulu sang on her first entrance; everything else is new. The spoken words are drawn from ‘Velvet Revolver’, a powerful prose poem by Amy Christmas which is set to music at the centre of the work and whose words are used to generate the remainder of the text. There are no immediate plans for a performance of ‘Pandora’ but I am exploring a number of possibilities and am hoping that it won’t be too long before it can be staged. Watch this space!

Finally, I was delighted to learn that my ‘Rough Cut’ for solo violin is to be published by University of York Music Press, following its first performance by Peter Sheppard-Skaerved last month. I’m now busy proof reading the score to ensure that the published version is free of errors, and have been discussing with Peter the possibilities of programming the work in future. I’m also considering expanding the solo line into a companion work for violin and string ensemble, an exciting prospect.

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