Spring & Summer Projects

It's proving a delightfully busy few months ahead, including new commissions from Bath Festival, CBSO, Live Music Now and 'Ghost Songs' for Mark Padmore and Morgan Szymanski commissioned by St Endellion Festival.

Mark Padmore

Mark Padmore

MAY

19/5: 6pm, Bath Abbey
Bath Festival - Party In The City
New commission created with children from 3 schools & artist Edwina Bridgeman

25/5: 6.15 Symphony Hall Birmingham
CBSO Planets (Main Hall pre-concert performance)
New commission for CBSO players and 7 Birmingham schools inspired by Holst's Planets suite.

JUNE

May-June: Go Figaro! at Iford Arts
Project based on Barber of Seville
(23rd June: final day peformances at Iford)

22/6: The Riverfront, Newport
Operasonic: Newport Legends mini-opera performance
with Clytha Primary School and director Hannah Noone

from 28/7: Menuhin's Violin Installation with artist Heidi Hinder 
Commissioned by Live Music Now
Supported by a £15,700 grant from Heritage Lottery Fund

Image by Heidi Hinder

Image by Heidi Hinder

JULY

7/7: Wesley Chapel, Harrogate
Early Stroll Songs at Harrogate International Festival
Performance of Early Stroll Songs with Ian McMillan, Martin Le Poidevin and Amanda Cook.

28/7: Lunchtime concert, St Kew Church, Cornwall
Mark Padmore & Morgan Szymanksi at St Endellion Festival
New commission from St Endellion Festival of Ghost Songs, with texts by Charles Causley.
Supported by Arts Council England and Sound and Music's Francis Chagrin Award

  

Writing Early Stroll Songs

We're now getting itchingly close to the first performance of my new collaboration with poet, BBC broadcaster and Barnsley's chief raconteur Ian McMillan.

As I write, singer Martin Le Poidevin and guitarist Amanda Cook are preparing this 13-song cycle to burst forth, blinking into the lights of St George's next Tuesday like a rare vulnerable creature.
The short songs are all settings of 1, occasionally 2 tweets that Ian tweeted over the past 4 or 5 years: His 'Early Stroll' poems.

Commissioned by Martin with support from Arts Council England, I wrote the songs over the summer, settling into a pleasing routine of completing 1 song each day, starting early (6am-ish) getting down a rough hand-written version by mid-morning. We have selected a series of tweets that mapped a full year, from Autumn to Autumn, each one referencing something of the season, a Santa-hatted hairdresser, and abandoned fridge full of pink blossom, summer heat.

I'm used to writing for voice and piano. Classical guitar is very different. The shapes of chords work differently, the sound is so much more fragile and brittle, which suits the spareness and dry humour of the texts. The emotion is beneath the surface, fleeting and beautiful. Last week a player described my music as "well-ventilated". I've always strived for an airiness and a vulnerable clarity in my music. Acoustic guitar and human voice naturally have those qualities.

I have tried to find a different sound and character for each song (apart from the first and last), using different techniques on guitar: layers of harmonics, squeaky slides along strings, thick strummed chords and scurrying patterns. 

Various musical themes emerged through the cycle: A repeated note getting faster and slower represented birds; an aching 3/4 theme as Ian talks of his parents' headstone and nagging memory. One song (taking the cue from a house called Graceland) is a shameless homage to the opening of Jailhouse Rock...  Worryingly, I suspect Martin will need little encouragement to channel the spirit of Elvis.

If you are anywhere near Bristol on Tuesday 11th Oct you must come along to hear Ian McMillan present the first performance at St Georges, Bristol. It's going to be quite marvellous. Huge thanks to our supporters: ACE, RVW Trust St George's Bristol and our stupendous Crowdfunders.

Woolf Letters Film

I am working with mezzo soprano Siân Cameron and pianist Nicki Rose to create a new song cycle using Virginia Woolf's letters to her sister Vanessa Bell. These beautiful letters - some of the finest ever written - reveal a fascinating sibling relationship of creativity, humour, passion and emotional complexity.

Our challenge was to find a sound-world and voice for Woolf's words. Woolf describes her own writing as pouring a "jug of champagne over a hairpin". Her words demand intensity and simplicity: Truthful, focussed lines of melody poured over with rich resonances and fizzing colours.

Early on we worked on casting the relationship between singer and pianist as that of Virginia and Vanessa. Their musical ideas respond, intertwine, support... "infuse souls" (a description from Woolf's final diary entry). This is perhaps most evident in the beginning of the third song: 'A Dancing Light' where piano and voice notes arise and disappear into one another.  

We were awarded a grant from Arts Council Wales and a Chagrin Award from Sound and Music to create and document three initial songs from the song cycle. We are now looking for funding to complete the 30-minute cycle setting letters written throughout Woolf's life.

Here is the film by Alex Bull, featuring performances from Siân and Nicki and discussions about the project.

Contemporary Music Title Generator

Composers, struggling to find that all important title for your piece of contemporary music?
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Contemporary Music Title Generator

Created with help from Niels

Woolf Letters songs now released on soundcloud

I'm delighted to release the recordings of three songs from my new song cycle Woolf Letters. Written for mezzo soprano Siân Cameron and pianist Nicola Rose.

Virginia Woolf wrote many letters throughout her life to her sister, the acclaimed painter Vanessa Bell. Here are three songs from a new song cycle using these incredible letters. They give an intimate insight into one of the most creative minds and famous sibling relationships of the 20th century.
1. 'As A Writer': Woolf frequently used Vanessa's art as a metaphor for her own work. Here she describes the writing process as feeling beauty "which is almost entirely colour", condensing ideas like pouring "a large jug of champagne over a hairpin".
2. 'Nessa and Duncan': A brilliantly teasing letter in which Woolf imagines a scene at Vanessa and Duncan Grant's home as they discuss her recently published novel To The Lighthouse (clearly nervous of their judgement!)
3. 'A Dancing Light': Part of a letter of 1937 written soon after the death of Vanessa's son Julian in the Spanish Civil War.

Recorded by Rhys Maslen at St Augustine's Chapel, Bristol
Developing this first part of the project has been generously supported by Arts Council Wales and Sound and Music.
Texts used with generous permission from the Society of Authors www.societyofauthors.org

Woolf Letters

I am working with singer Siân Cameron and pianist Nicola Rose to create a new song cycle for voice and piano setting the letters of Virginia Woolf to her sister, the painter Vanessa Bell.

We were awarded funding from Arts Council Wales as well as a Chagrin Award from Sound and Music to develop this project.

The song cycle examines their relationship both as sisters and as artists. The letters are astonishing. Written throughout her life, they range from jealously intimate, hilariously sardonic, to expansive and poetic. Woolf uses Vanessa's personality and artistic achievements as a foil to examine her own writing.

Mezzo Soprano Siân Cameron [photo: Maximilian van London]

Mezzo Soprano Siân Cameron [photo: Maximilian van London]

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Having worked on some of the songs in Cardiff we will be filming and recording the initial material in July, with film maker Alexander Bull.