Before we get too far into 2017 I would just like to record my sincere thanks to all of the fantastic performers who sang, played and conducted my music last year and who made 2016 such a very special year for me.
It started in Copenhagen in early February, when the Danish Radio Vocal Ensemble – an astonishing 20-strong choir of superb singers) gave three stunning performances of my Apocalypse under the direction of Robert Hollingworth. The first was in the studios of Danish Radio but the others were in the magnificent baroque setting of Christian’s Church, using dramatic lighting and electronic sounds to complement a thrilling programme – the result was breathtaking. Apocalypse is a huge piece and it was so rewarding to hear such meticulous, expressive and dramatic performances.
Later in February, Peter Sheppard Skaerved gave the London premiere of Rough Cut at Wilton’s Music Hall, another superb venue which was completely sold out for the evening concert. Peter’s fluent and sparkling performance was exactly as I had imagined the work; he perfectly captured not only the contrasting characters of the music but also the capricious manner in which they suddenly jump from one to another.
The Albany Piano Trio gave a sensitive and well-crafted premiere of my Hiraeth in May as part of York’s Late Music concert series. Like Rough Cut, the music jumps from one type of music to another in a seemingly unpredictable way, and the trio captured that sense of instability. And in the long, lyrical coda section Gemma Sharples’ violin was sublime!
Also at Late Music, in July, the Orichalcum Brass Quintet presented the first performance of Breathless, a new piece inspired by the work of sculptor Cornelia Parker; the second movement was, like the sculpture which hangs in the V&A, an elegy for the perceived passing of brass music, but the first movement is much more vigorous and energetic. Trumpeters Anthony Thompson and James Stretton moved away from centre stage to play antiphonally from the transepts of the church: a spine- tingling moment! Their programme also included my earlier quintet, Jump, which provided an encore for the evening.
My colleague at York St John University Victoria Carpenter showed me her translation of an epic poem about the massacre at Tlatelolco (1968, in Mexico City), a text which featured three distinct voices, each telling their own version of events. In spite of its great length it cried out for a musical setting: I wrote for soprano (Anna Snow) with cor anglais, bass trombone and marimba, plus child flautist, and it was performed during York’s Festival of Ideas. Anna and the ensemble gave a committed and sustained performance which held attention throughout. Sadly the audience was very small owing to a mix up of dates, but 2018 will be the 50th anniversary of the massacre and I am confident that it will be revived and play to bigger audiences!
In the autumn of 2016 The Fairfax Trio (soprano, flute and piano) gave a series of recitals around Yorkshire and they chose to include several of my pieces in their programmes: Gentle (sop and piano version), Another Field (sop and flute) and some of the new Trakl Songs (trio) which I had composed especially for the tour. The tour extends into 2017 with concerts in York and Wakefield Cathedral, so I am looking forward to those concerts.
Granny Green is a fabulous folk group from Glasgow, comprising trumpet, accordion and tuba. They don’t restrict themselves to Scottish music and (perhaps because they are all conservatoire trained) they are not afraid to experiment: we heard a beat-boxing tuba, for example. I was commissioned to compose a piece for them to play with the Orichalcum Brass Quintet – a sort of ‘battle-of-the-bands’ in a single piece of music. In late November it was performed at the stunning Victoria Hall in Settle (another old music hall, like Wilton’s) along with Breathless, which received a second performance in that concert.
I’ve been a fan of Juice Vocal Ensemble for some time now, so I was very excited to learn that they would be including my Confound Winter as part of their Snow Queens programme in London, in early December. Thanks to Google Maps (not!) I missed the rehearsal but needn’t have worried of course, the trio gave such a nuanced and expressive performance which perfectly captured the meaning of Tess Kincaid’s atmospheric poetry: beautiful sounds indeed!
Also during 2016 the CD of Strata was released in the recording by the Brno Philharmonic conducted by Mikel Toms, and Rough Cut was published by University of York Music Press. Oh, and I completed my PhD in Composition following a viva with Gavin Bryars and John Stringer; huge thanks and gratitude to my supervisor Prof. Roger Marsh.
For many people 2016 will be remembered for the loss of some very prominent musicians, which included David Bowie and Pierre Boulez of course. I would just like to remember two others who taught me: I attended Peter Maxwell Davies’ composition classes at Dartington Summer School for several years and benefitted hugely from his genius, although I was possibly not sufficiently prepared to learn from him at that time and would give anything now to be able to put back the clock. And Michael Antrobus, who also passed away in 2016, was a superb trumpet teacher and musical guide during my A level years: Mike steered me through some challenging times and opened my ears to all sorts of new and unfamiliar musics.
2017 has a lot to live up to! But in addition to the Fairfax concerts I am looking forward to hearing Rosalind Ventris playing my Downie Nocturnes for the second time, and working with Peyee Chen and Kate Ledger on some new songs for Late Music in May (which were inspired by my visit to Auschwitz in January 2016). Having pieces performed by my own students is something I value above almost anything else and so I am really looking forward to hearing Francesca McDonald performing my (very early) After Ophelia in her January recital at YSJ, and hearing Jess Spafford, Amie Robertson and Lauren Mahon singing my songs; later in the year I will be working with the YSJ Big Band on a new piece too! And there are several other performances, recordings and collaborations in the pipeline…
So thanks again to everyone who performed my pieces or who supported my work in any way during 2016. I raise a glass to you all! x