A Pocket Book of Dances/Dance the World Over!

The London Philharmonic Orchestra commissioned me to write a short piece and a children’s song for their BrightSparks Concert, an educational concert aimed at children aged 7-11. The concert was themed around different types of dance, so I wrote a piece that took the form and characters of a Baroque dance suite [Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue], and chopped them up and condensed them into a three and a half minutes. The result is a piece that moves between brass fanfares, woodwind flourishes and jagged string melodies, before the echoes and fragments of a final jig enter towards the end.

The kids who came to the concert also spent a couple of weeks learning my song “Dance the World Over!”, which is all about the different kinds of dance to suit different moods and times. They had a lot of fun moving and singing to the music!

Dreamsongs for Wind Quintet

The excellent Carter Quintet recently gave the London première of some of my Dreamsongs for WInd Quintet, a set of seven miniatures based on titles and lines from American poet John Berryman’s 77 Dream Songs. I used these as a way into writing for wind quintet, an ensemble that requires a great deal of attention to bring together the very disparate sounds  and demands of the instruments in a way that is musically satisfying.

They opened with the snorting ‘Stimulant for an Old Beast’, before playing ‘Flying boy in mountain air’ and ‘Times of galaxies fleeing’, an exercise in stasis followed by an exercise in movement, especially of tempo, which is constant flux.

Update

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything up here, and it’s been a busy few months. At the start of the year I made a 20-minute collaboration with choreographer and all-round great friend Anne Marie Kristensen, called ‘I only me’ – it was performed in various versions at Rich Mix, Resolution! 2012 Festival and then in a concert of all our own stuff at St. Peter’s Notting Hill. In March I got to work with some BBC Symphony Orchestra players, writing an octet that was performed as part of their Total Immersion series, and was recorded at Maida Vale for broadcast at some point. Recently I’ve been writing a few pieces for the excellent Arnold Camerata, who are going to be performing new versions of ‘Three Lines from Comus’ and ‘Still Turning’ together with a new wind quintet piece, ‘Seven Dreamsongs’, which is pretty cool.

My main thing on at the moment is my ensemble Sudden Junction, made up of a group of friends and excellent musicians from the Guildhall – we’re performing a whole range of music from renaissance dances to electronica, jazz and a few cheesy pop numbers, together with some originals and whatever we feel like. Our first gig as part of Notting Hill Mayfest was awesome, as much fun as music should be, and we’re performing again at Fix Coffee in Whitecross Street on the 9th July at 7.30. Check out our website at www.suddenjunction.com.

In the meantime, here’s the first movement of ‘I, only me’ for guitar and harp, played by Maria Camahort and Ching Man Ho.

Still turning

An ensemble for clarinet, french horn, marimba, accordion, harp and double bass offers lots of different sounds and colours, and I was keen to exploit these by writing a piece that gave each instrument soloistic material at some point: flashy virtuosic leaping around in the clarinet, long and sustained melodies in the horn, quick stabs and runs in the marimba and double bass (often pizzicato), and twinkly stuff in the harp and accordion. It’s written in a kind of passacaglia form which takes the fanfare-like opening as a theme which is manipulated through the rest of the piece.

Ear creatures

This piece for solo trumpet and live electronics is a kind of suite with lots of small sections, each exploring the relationship between acoustic and electronic elements in a slightly different way. At first the electronics are accompanying the trumpet, but gradually take on more life and interest of their own, until by the end the two elements are completely indepedent.

The electronics are all produced on the fly, based on what the trumpet is playing – the programme has lots of feedback loops built into it, which means that the output of the electronics is more often than not a kind of controlled chaos. Writing it felt like I was trying to train the programme, to harness it to produce the sounds I wanted, so that the piece feels to me like a procession of small sound-animals, each interacting with the trumpet in a different way – hence the title Ear creatures.