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Auguries for orchestra

I wrote “Auguries” for the London Philharmonic Orchestra as part of their Leverhulme Young Composers’ Scheme 2012/13. It was premiered at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London.

While writing the piece, I found myself obsessing over an eight-note melody that I couldn’t get out of, or move on from, in any way except to repeat it, again and again. In the end, my inspiration for how to proceed came from William Blake’s poem ‘Auguries of Innocence’, and its opening lines “To see the world in a grain of sand/And heaven in a wild flower”. Rather than moving away from my initial idea, I saw it as the seed which contained all the musical material that I needed for the rest of the piece. As the melody repeats, it accrues extra layers surrounding it, growing in complexity until it is lost in the layers of melody that surround it.

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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!

Airs untwine

Airs untwine is a piano piece (or a set of piano pieces) I wrote last December as a Christmas present for my Granny. It’s based on a couple of very simple premises – a sequence of slow chords, and various iterations of a three-note broken chord. In each successive movement, the music deviates or ‘untwines’ from the original a little more.

I set myself a couple of challenges with this set of pieces – firstly, to write something that would be playable by an amateur pianist, at least for the first couple of movements! And secondly, to write something that stuck closely to a single idea yet was constantly re-assessing it. The music moves slowly, but (I hope!) just enough to keep interest and make you want to find out what happens next.

 

Here’s a recording of the piece played by my good friend Jason Anderson, at a recent gig with Sudden Junction. Enjoy!

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.

Hidden Steps

Hidden Steps was written in March 2012 for a mixed octet of players from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and premiered at the Guildhall School as part of the Brett Dean Total Immersion Day.

When planning this piece, I got a simple progression of two three-note chords stuck in my head that I just didn’t seem to be able to break away from. While I began by sketching other ideas, I was continually drawn back to these two chords until eventually I gave in and decided to make the whole piece about different ways or combining and expressing the relationship between them. The initial bustling texture passes pitches around the ensemble before longer, more extended lines begin to emerge. These fast-moving figurations and slower chorales are played off against each other, with various instruments taking solos, before the texture thins out to solo piccolo. The two chords move downwards in a sequence before the music briefly and finally breaks out of this material into a kind of irregular and frantic dance.

Many thanks to all the fantastic musicians – you were brilliant and a pleasure to work with!

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.

Making noise and talking

Making noise and talking was the result of a month-long collaboration between the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the London School of Contemporary Dance. It was performed at The Place Theatre on 30-31 March 2011.

Choreographer: Anne Marie Kristensen
with creative input from the dancer
Composer: Peter Yarde Martin
with creative input from the musician
Dancer: Michael Kitchin
Double bass: Laura Murphy
Text: Peter Yarde Martin