Monthly Archive: October 2013

British Composer Awards

Posted on Thursday, October 24, 2013

I'm delighted that The Firework Maker's Daughter has been shortlisted for this year's British Composer Awards

My old prof. George Benjamin is also on the shortlist for his Written on Skin, which I wrote about here after attending a dress rehearsal for George's masterpiece during rehearsals for my own show.

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Passion and laughter

Posted on Saturday, October 19, 2013

Rehearsing with San Diego Symphony

October has been a trully amazing month for me, (and it's not over yet!) It started in San Diego with performances of Night Parade by the San Diego Symphony. I arrived at the first rehearsal with some trepidation, as orchestras can be a bit surly when it comes to composers, but there was a great atmosphere from the beginning and a real sense of enthusiasm towards getting their teeth into a new work. One of the players even thanked me for not being 200 years old!

Attempting and failing to surf in La Jolla

It was also a big deal for me, as this has been something I've been gearing up for for some time now - a main season orchestral commission; only this wasn't just main season, it was the first piece of the season, and the first ever notes the orchestra will play at Carnegie Hall (later this month), as well as in Beijing as part of their first ever tour.

(Strictly speaking it may not be the first notes they play at Carnegie, as during the San Diego performances, the evening began with the Star Spangled Banner in a powerful new arrangement. I enjoyed the anthem, but it certainly doesn't lead to the ideal atmosphere in the room to plunge into a new piece, especially one with a mysterious and atmospheric opening like Night Parade. It made me think it would be fun to try to write a piece in a series of movements, each of which destroyed the atmophere for the next. The whys and wherefores of how and why music does this are more of an art than a science, and a large part of what makes a good concert programmer. For example, on the other side of the coin, one of the best pieces of programming I have seen in recent years was the Britten Sinfonia's concert under Thomas Ades, featuring his Violin Concerto amongst other things earlier this year. The concerto is a wonderful, but fairly intense and disonant work, but we were led up to it, like a series of circles spiralling inwards, via Couperin's Les baricades misterieuses, followed by Ades's delightful arrangement of the same work; onwards to Ravel's lush Le Tombeau de Couperin (with heavenly solos by Nick Daniel); round to the more quirky and pointilist world of two lesser known Stravinsky pieces before finally arriving at the Concerto. I have never felt more successfully primed and in the right mood to hear a piece.)

But digressions over, the orchestra knocked Night Parade out of the park, and I can't wait to go back and hear them in the great Stern Auditorium at the end of the month.

On stage with San Diego Symphony

The '5', full of mid-Californain emptiness

Next I took the long drive up to Berkeley (a drive of supreme contrasts, miles and miles of clutter and mess in LA, followed by miles and miles of absolutely nothing in the plains of mid-California) where Kelley O'Connor and Robert Spano gave the premiere of That Time with You. I thought of Kelley's rich, dark and luscious voice when writing the songs, and together with Glyn's extraordinarily poignant and beautiful lyrics, we seemed to find ourselves well matched and in a good place. It was also great to meet and work with Robert/Bob, although none of us enjoyed the evening before the premiere, when momentarily leaving his bag on the street outside the home of composer Gabriela Frank, Bob returned to find it had been stolen, complete with all his music and fingerings for the concert. Some heroic Kinkos work from the two leading ladies (Jessica Rivera was also performing in the concert) was all that separated us from disaster.

Rehearsals with Kelley O'Connor, Jessica Rivera, Bob Spano and Gabriela Frank

As I mentioned last time, this piece also comes to Carnegie, to Zankel Hall on exactly the same day as Night Parade. Post-Berkeley and for purely artistic reasons, the order of the recital has now changed meaning it should be comfortable for me to listen to the Symphony performance, before joining the recital downstairs for the second half. Fingers crossed! Details of Kelley's concert here

A blurry shot of the Berkeley concert


Next I headed to the East Coast to hook up with the Silk Road Ensemble and Yo-Yo Ma, as they geared up for their 15th anniversary celebration concert at Carnegie, where it was my privilege and honour to close out the show. The 'preview' took place upstate in Wheaton College and was one of the most intense and exciting concerts I've been to in a long time. The Silk Road Ensemble is pretty epic and full of energy in any event, but put them up close in an intimate little new England church, and pack that church with an extremely enthusiastic and excited crowd....well, it really did feel like the roof might come off. This was followed the next day by my debut at Carnegie's main stage which was everything I could have hoped for.

The Silk Road Ensemble at Carnegie Hall

The heart of the Silk Road Project is of course Yo-Yo himself, and I got to spend a little time with him in a way that perfectly summarises why he is such an inspiration to so many people. Our first chat, during a rehearsal in Wheaton led us almost instantly to discuss the very heart of the issue of what the purpose of my/our music is - is it 'personal' - to which at first I said no, I don't write a sad piece when I'm feeling sad; but then after some discussion realised yes, to the extent that it is an expression of my 'world view' with all the thoughts on connecting to nature and physicality that I go on about in these pages. Speaking of which, how nice to get some recognition of this in the NY Times review which said
"the physical and spiritual worlds..collided, to vibrant effect, in David Bruce's "Cut the Rug"

The idea of the physical and spiritual worlds colliding is pretty much exactly what Yo-Yo and I were discussing, and are a lovely way of expressing what I try to achieve - so for once, the review was bang on!

But when he's not being movingly thoughtful, provocative and engaging, Yo-Yo really knows how to goof around. He must be one of the world's leading experts in putting people at their ease. He is overall, a great reminder that passion and laughter are two sides to the same coin.

With Yo-Yo Ma and clarinettist Kinan Azmeh


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