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.
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.
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
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
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.
Woolf Letters Commission
After a successful R&D project supported by Arts Council Wales and PRSF, the rest of my Woolf Letters song cycle is now being commissioned by Lana Bode and Emma Sutton (St Andrews University) as part of their 'Virginia Woolf and Music' project supported by AHRC. The complete song cycle will be first performed on June 17th at the 2016 Annual Virginia Woolf Conference at Leeds Trinity University by mezzo Siân Cameron and pianist Nicki Rose.
Ian McMillan collaboration 'Early Stroll Songs'
I'm writing a song cycle commission for baritone Martin Le Poidevin and guitarist Mark Willcocks setting words by Ian McMillan (poet and presenter of BBC R3's The Verb). The songs will be setting Ian's Early Stroll tweets ... becoming the world's first twitter song cycle! Ian, Martin and Mark will present the new song cycle at St Georges Bristol on October 11th, alongside John Rutter's Shadows, Dowland songs and Ian's poetry performances. The project is supported by Arts Council England.
The Hidden Valley in Bristol with Juice Vocal Ensemble
Operasonic and I are producing 3 performances of the new version of my opera The Hidden Valley at St Georges in June / July, along with a big education project with Bristol Plays Music across Bristol. We've been offered a generous grant from Arts Council England, but need to raise some match funding. We are launching the Hidden Valley Crowdfunder this week!
Sarah Newbold commission
The brilliant flautist Sarah Newbold (Orchestra of St Martin in the Fields & New London Orchestra) has commissioned a piece for her flute, viola and harp trio to be performed alongside Debussy, Bax and Mozart later this year.
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.
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
We had a cracking session recording and filming 3 songs from Woolf Letters - a new song cycle for mezzo soprano Sian Cameron and pianist Nicki Rose. We filmed in the beautiful Chapel at St Monica's in Bristol with film maker Alexander Bull and sound recordist Rhys Maslen.
Here is an audio teaser and photos:
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.
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.
New tracks from project with Concanenda choir. Supported by Arts Council England and Bliss Trust / PRSF.