Updated: Aug 11, 2020
The lockdown has proved to be a difficult time for all musicians, particularly for freelance performers, and the members of bands and choirs unable to work together. The impact on composers (who often work alone, in any case) has been significant for different reasons. All performances of my pieces since mid-March have been postponed or cancelled, and the uncertainties surrounding concerts have meant that performers, venues and festivals have been reluctant to make any firm plans for the future. Commissions have all but dried up, and the all-important deadlines - which provide so much motivation to get pieces finished - have also disappeared. But most of all, I miss the interaction and discussion with other musicians that takes place in planning meetings and rehearsals, and in the ‘post mortem’ after performances, when so many ideas are nurtured and developed.
So I was very pleased to hear from the Sharon Canavar and Craig Ratcliffe – from the prestigious Harrogate International Festivals organisation - with the idea for a new piece; put simply, they wanted a short, fanfare-like composition for brass and percussion which could be recorded remotely by many players, locally, nationally and worldwide, that could be re-assembled in the studio to make a ‘live’ performance. Local brass bands would be contacted, and trumpet virtuoso Mike Lovatt - a good friend of the Harrogate festival - had very kindly agreed to record a solo track. We chose the title Eclipse to represent the idea that the Festival couldn’t take place this year – the concert halls, theatres and community venues had ‘gone dark’ – but that next year, the light would return and the Festival and all its bright lights could resume. I wrote quickly and in fact the piece was finished in just under a week. Oddly enough, I had previously composed a fanfare for a ceremonial occasion at the university, which had been cancelled due to the Covid-19 crisis, so I was able to draw upon and develop some of the rhythmic ideas from that piece in Eclipse. It isn’t really a conventional fanfare, and I suppose there’s a hint of melancholy which reflects the current mood, but the ending is triumphant, and I hope that will serve us well when this piece is performed live, in front of an audience, when the Harrogate International Festival returns in 2021.
More than 120 people, including musicians from Opera North, West End musicals and the RPO have recorded tracks, along with brass players from Qatar, Canada, US, South Korea and New Zealand, and most of our local brass bands and orchestras. It will be released during the ‘HIF at Home’ online festival, and available on the Harrogate Festival’s website from the end of July 2020.