Monthly Archive: March 2010

The art of bowing

Posted on Saturday, March 27, 2010

From my post over at the CompositionToday blog:

I still find it a quiet source of pride how few composers are ready for that moment in the spotlight, we emerge tramp-like and awkward - the epitomy of uncool, uncommercial - we come on stage in our un-ironed jackets, or with a sock still stuck in one trouser leg. Then we scurry across the stage as quick as we can, not knowing where to put ourselves, and take an awkward bow. There's an interesting paradox in the way so many composers are so unnatural on the stage: we spend our entire lives trying to create something that is after all intended for performance 'on the stage'. We are aware of the finest, subtlest details of how certain effects in our music will come across - we can subdue an entire crowd, get them laughing or crying with our notes; and yet when we have to present ourselves in person on the stage we are likely as not to stumble on the steps before we even get there...

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Joana Carneiro; Ghent; John Adams in cartoon

Posted on Sunday, March 21, 2010

Yesterday I went over to Paris to meet up with my friend the wonderful soprano Jessica Rivera who was singing - with her usual effortless grace and expressivity - in John Adams's gobsmackingly beautiful opera A Flowering Tree, conducted by the incredible force of nature that is Joana Carneiro. I'd heard lots of great things about this young conductor who was Esa Pekka Salonen's assistant at LA Phil and recently took over the reins at the Berkeley Symphony, but nothing prepared me for what she's really like. I don't think I've ever experienced such power and energy combined with nuance and control from a conductor. She's an amazing life force and is without any question in my mind destined for the absolute peak of the profession. An amazing concert all round.

And tomorrow I'm back on L'Eurostar. This Tuesday sees the Belgian premiere of Gumboots performed by Eddy Vanoosthuyse and members of the Brussels Philharmonic in the historic city of Gent (or Ghent depending on your preference).

Speaking of John Adams, I was the book shop the other day and saw a kids introduction to classical music. Alongside Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, to my delight the book included this page:

"John Adams is the odd one out in this book. Why? Because he's still alive!"

The book by the way is Naxos's My First Classical Music Book.

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Tallis: If ye love me arrangement

Posted on Thursday, March 18, 2010

The day before my last trip to NYC Andrew Cyr from Metropolis Ensemble told me he was putting together a benefit concert for Haiti and would I like to contribute something new. Andrew's plan was to have smaller groups of players performing, but then bring them together for one piece (mine) at the end. I basically had less than 24 hours to put something together, but I didn't want to let Andrew down - but what on earth to do. The fact that it was a Valentine's Day event was a pretty important signpost, and after rapidly rejecting a few ideas I remembered a beautiful choral peice by Thomas Tallis that I had come across a few weeks before, called 'If Ye Love Me' - the title was appropriate! The text and the music spoke not just of love but of comfort, and these seemed entirely the right role given the event.

So with a little super-fast editing, arrangement was made, score and parts were created and I hopped on the plane to New York. Unfortunately because my flights were already booked I couldn't adjust them to stay a few more days to see the concert, but Metropolis do such an amazing job of filming and archiving all their events that the lovely video that has just come through captures the event tremendously well.

Oh and in case you were wondering what's going on in the opening violin solo, I instruct the violinist (the incredible Kristin Lee) to serenade the audience moving around between phrases.

The concert raised over $6,000 for the cause.

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Repeat Performances

Posted on Monday, March 15, 2010

As any composer will tell you, a premiere is an honour, but a far greater one is to have a second or third performance. It's not just the fact that someone has liked your work enough to do it again, it's also your own mental state, which is completely different once the anxieties of the premiere are out of the way. It's a different experience altogether - at a premiere the slightest variation away from your mental image of the piece causes convulsions of panic - whether the difference is caused by the performer or by your own mistake - and in fact, working out whether the problem is yours or the performer's is one of the chief causes of stress. But on a repeat performance that stress is reduced by a hyperbolic amount. And as time goes on if you're lucky enough to have still further performances, it reduces pretty much to zero. Indeed, you often hear older composers talking or reacting to their own work as if they were pieces by some other, long-gone composer, which in a sense I suppose they are.

Well all this is by way of pointing out that two of my recent pieces have entered into the blissful phase of life whereupon the number of performances they have received can no longer be counted on one hand; indeed, Gumboots, my Clarinet Quintet, will soon have had more than the total number of digits of any kind a person has. Forthcoming performances include later this month in the beautiful town of Gent in Belgium by Eddy Vanoosthuyse, clarinet, soloists of the Brussels Philharmonic; by ACJW on tour in Europe, and a repeat performance by the St Lawrence Quartet with Todd Palmer at the Spoleto Festival. The other piece is my solo harp piece Caja de Musica, which, thanks to the love and nurturing offered it by the indefatigable Bridget Kibbey is now approaching its 10th performance since its premiere last year. This month she plays it over in California, and later in May in John Zorn's The Stone in NYC.

On a separate note, I attended the John Adams concert at the Barbican a few days, where, alongside the European premiere of City Noir and other delights, there was a wonderfully foot-stomping performance of the Stravinsky Concerto for piano and winds by pianist Jeremy Denk. Jeremy has the most fabulous, if slightly too infrequently updated blog - he doesn't post often, but when he does they are most splendid.


The Sacramento Bee has a nice write up on Bridget and her forthcoming performances.

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Musical Times articles

Posted on Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Some of my old articles from The Musical Times have come to light, so I thought I would post them here in case they are of use to anyone.

Source and Sorcery - a look at Stravinsky's The Fairy's Kiss
The Manic Mechanic - The Music of Conlon Nancarrow
Challenging the System - Birtwistle's Panic
The Tongue Free - George Benjamin's Three Inventions

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