"No man is an island, entire of itself . . . any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." (John Donne, Meditation XVII)
As part of the Armistice Centenary commemorations, I'm working with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra to create a new piece, Meditation (after Donne), which takes as its inspiration the massed ringing of bells as Armistice was declared. It's going to be a simple song for orchestra, with performers and audience surrounded by a constantly evolving tapestry of tolling bells created by live electronics.
We want to involve as many members of the public as possible in this piece, so we're extending an open invitation to people from across Scotland and beyond to send in recordings of their local bells to be included in the electronics part. You don't need any fancy equipment – even a recording from your phone would be welcome!
For more information, and to submit your bell recordings, please visit the project's dedicated website, ArmisticeBells.com.
Memory is the subject of this year’s BBC Radio 3 / Wellcome Collection mini festival, “Why Music?”. I recall as a young violinist that music seemed to embed itself in my fingers so that I never needed to learn to memorise, and never worried that I might forget in performance. Fast-forward a couple of decades (ok maybe a few decades) and I’m looping the first four bars of one of Kurtág’s Signs Games and Messages, desperately trying to alight on the correct continuation in the second phrase and wondering how many times I can get away with the repetition before anyone notices.
Since the start of the year, I have been working alongside the poet Frances Leviston to create a new piece combining words and music responding to the fascinating ideas coming out of the Horizon2020-funded PETMEM project. The first fruits of this will be performed on 15th October at the Wellcome Collection as part of their Why Music? festival, and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. The piece features harmonics and microtones and glissandi, partly because I like those things, and partly because they offer interesting ways to respond to some of the concepts at play in the PETMEM project. Memories and material under pressure and changing states of conductivity. Schubert is loitering in the background (and sometimes in the foreground).
I'm thrilled that my Piano Concerto, written for the SCO and Tom Poster, has been shortlisted in the Large Scale Work category of the Scottish Awards for New Music.
Last week I was in Glasgow and had a lovely conversation about my new flute concerto with Katherine Bryan and journalist Kate Molleson. You can read the interview by clicking here.
I'm delighted that Candlebird has been chosen as part of the PRS Foundation's Resonate programme – a partnership with the Association of British Orchestras and BBC Radio 3, which champions outstanding pieces of British orchestral music from the past 25 years and aims to inspire more performances, recordings and broadcasts of these works. This scheme will support a number of performances of Candlebird by my good friends the Aurora Orchestra in their 2017-18 season.
The lovely people at Faber Music keep a vast library of online perusal scores here. My new piano concerto - which was premiered at the beginning of October by Tom Poster with the SCO conducted by Thierry Fischer - is now available.
Last February I had a fantastic time with SCO Connect and Fife schoolchildren on a creative project based on Candlebird, my settings of poetry by Don Paterson. A film crew followed us around and they've made a neat little 8 minute edit of four or so days of improvisation, composition and performance. Take a look here.
Rehearsals for the new Piano Concerto begin next week, and I've written some words for the SCO website that they've labelled "Martin's Musings". I'm currently musing on how much longer I'm allowed to use that photo for - I think it was taken 13 years ago now. Eep.
The SCO has announced that Robin Ticciati will be unable to conduct the premiere of my piano concerto as he continues to recover from injury. Of course this is sad news - not least because Robin had requested this piece especially for him and Tom. But it is wonderful that Thierry Fischer has agreed to take on the concert at such short notice. As I may have said before: I can't wait!
Ever since I wrote it last year, I've been meaning to transcribe the clarinet part of my trio Visiones (after Goya) for violin. (This may be because I'm a violinist and I don't want the likes of Mark Simpson to be having all the fun.) There are range problems, of course, but after listening many times to Chris Stout's version of Eileen's Lament, in which he tunes the bottom string down to E - and playing in this tuning for a bit myself, I'm convinced it's a good solution. I don't think you can get away with playing particularly loudly on such a slack string, but when played gently it's wonderfully dark and strange. Plus, you get some fun new double stop harmonics possibilities that make a fine stand-in for clarinet multiphonics.
Score and parts available from Faber Music - contact email@example.com
It's been mentioned to me that it's a little odd that there is no audio on this site. I've taken care of this anomaly now, with Candlebird linked via Spotify. I'll add more clips of other works in the coming months as they become available. There are also some exciting recording projects in the pipeline...
I'm delighted that the Locrian Chamber Players are performing Visiones (after Goya) on August 26th in the dramatic venue of Riverside Church, Upper Manhattan. Wish I could say 'hope to see you there', but an impulse trip across the Atlantic isn't an option for me right now...!
I'm busy writing concertos at the moment. If you take a look at the recently-announced 2016-17 seasons from the SCO and the RSNO you'll see why. It's a special pleasure to be writing for two dear friends I have known for many years: Tom Poster (piano, with the SCO) and Katherine Bryan (flute, with the RSNO).
Also announced this week: a second run of performances of Visiones, premiered at last year's Aldeburgh Festival. The fantastic young ensemble Dark Inventions are presenting the piece as part of their 'From Score to Sound' project on 9th, 17th and 24th April in York, Huddersfield and London.
After the premiere of Psalm at the Royal Academy of Arts, Edmund and I had a chat about the piece and his work and my work and white and Celan and the creative process and took questions from the audience and things like that. It was recorded, and now it's a podcast. It's super-rambly. The discussion begins four minutes in. Enjoy!
Fresh from their tour of Scotland, High Heels and Horse Hair have produced a short video taken from their Nocturnal concert in the beautiful Cottiers Theatre. Gives you a small sense of the atmosphere created by their playing and Kai Fischer's lighting design in this fantastic space. The opening sounds in this clip are from my Nocturne; other music heard is by Biber, Bach, Beamish, Weir and Schnittke.
There are also some still images from their performance on Alice and Sonia's website.
This Friday's episode of Artsnight (11pm, BBC2, 20 November) is presented by Edmund de Waal, with whom I had the great pleasure of working on Psalm. Before the premiere last week I was interviewed for the programme, relating my work to Edmund's practice, and white (of course), and Celan, and memory, and the wonderful Aurora Orchestra, who performed my piece. I may have been cut from the final edit, but perhaps I'm still there. . . tune in and find out!
High Heels and Horse Hair aka Alice and Sonia keep a blog for their various projects. I've written a short post for their upcoming Nocturnal tour, looking at my piece, Nocturne, and the joys(?) of working at night.
What is the sound of white?
Edmund de Waal, the ceramic artist whose eloquent porcelain installations are inextricably bound up with this colour, asks the question early in The White Road, but offers no answer.
I am no synaesthete; I am no more able to respond than de Waal. In any case, the question is, strictly speaking, nonsensical. But it is an intriguing proposition. If we could hear the colour of milk and snow and clouds and sunlight, what music would it make?
Over strong coffee on a grey London morning in early January, Edmund asks me to do just that.
image credit: Fran Pickering
Music should be theatrical. No, scratch that: music is theatrical, and I'm always excited by concerts that exploit this. Aurora Orchestra are a great example, and so are High Heels and Horse Hair, who have developed a programme of new music and old united by nocturnal themes, combined with lighting design by Kai Fischer. My Nocturne is featured, alongside a commission from Judith Weir, and music by Sally Beamish, Schnittke, Bach and Biber. I'm really looking forward to taking a trip back home to see it.
I've spent the past few months in a porcelain world, on the trail of Edmund de Waal's 'kind of pilgrimage', The White Road. His art and writing, alongside his passion for the poetry of Paul Celan, formed the backdrop for my new piece, Psalm. It's been commissioned for the Aurora Orchestra's On White festival, a fantastic series of concerts they're producing with de Waal, which also includes Zender's arrangement of Winterreise, a particular favourite of mine.