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Monthly Archive: May 2008


Heath Quartet

Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2008




Some mediums are clearly harder to write for than others; for me, the String Quartet is probably the hardest of them all. I know many composers feel the same, for a mixture of reasons -

  • for composer who like colour (tick) the palette is extremely limited, especially as post-Bartok, almost (note **almost**!) any unusual colour you can think of has been done to the point of cliche

  • all four instruments demand, I mean really demand, equal treatment. For composers who like a healthy dose of um-cha (tick) or walking-bass (tick) the danger of having your cellist walking out on you are very real - more than that, using the cello as a bass instrument in this way really doesn't sound that great most of the time. It's not without reason that interplay and discussion of four equal partners has become the definition of a good quartet

  • historically, at least since Haydn's time, composers have written their most intellectual music for the medium. There's a huge weight of history bearing down on you shouting 'WRITE GREAT MUSIC ONLY FOR ME'. Indeed, a violinist in a quartet I worked with recently told me he saw it as his mission as a quartet player to 'save high art' - Yikes! I'm scared!

    As far as this last point goes, I love intellectual music - Berg is one of my favourite composers - but I think it was something of a coming of age for me when I realised I'm not really an intellectual composer. I think as soon as I started writing operas I realised I was much more interested in, well, whatever the opposite of intellectual music is - music that's just music, music that moves you in some way, makes you dance, sing, cry, whatever. At least for now I think that's much more what I need to focus on.

    So, earlier in the year Lake District Summer Music Festival commissioned a quartet from me for this year's festival, to be played by the exciting young Heath Quartet (pitcured above). After quaking in my boots for some months, when I finally got down to work on the piece it went really surprisingly smoothly. The key decision for me was that these would be a series of 'dances' in the Baroque sense. They would start in one place, explore the possibilities therein and stop. No Beethovenian developments, no 'musical philosophising' if you like. And that did the trick. I wrote five dances, each about 3-4 minutes long, and I'm really excited to hear them at the festival in August. They're called Dances for Oskar.




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    Musical Clowns

    Posted on Friday, May 09, 2008


    Some great violin playing from Wilbur Hall in this video. Hall's version of Pop Goes the Weasal seen in this clip was apparently the inspiration for the 3rd movement of Oliver Knussen's Violin Concerto (not that you can particularly hear the influence, mind). I love the way he keeps hitting an out of tune note, and then doing a quick open-string re-tuning, very funny.



    Also check out this arrangement of 12th Street rag for 'collapsable trombone' and 'stereophonic bicycle pump' (it gets going after the first 40 secs or so)





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    Meet the Composer Gala

    Posted on Wednesday, May 07, 2008




    This May 28th Meet the Composer Foundation is holding a gala dinner in honour of world-renowned soprano and great muse of composers, Dawn Upshaw. I'm thrilled that Dawn requested a piece of mine to be played at the event, and delighted that my friends at Metropolis Ensemble have agreed to help out - all very last minute - and perform a specially arranged version of Three Pieces from Piosenki with the adorable Melissa Wegner and the charming Kyle Ferrill (;

    This annual event organized by Meet the Composer honors a prominent American artist. The benefit committee includes Esa-Pekka Salonen, James Levine, Robert Spano, Osvaldo Golijov, John Adams, among others.

    Dawn was involved in the original Carnegie Hall commission of Piosenki, and has recently been incredibly supportive of my music, commissioning Bird for her students on the Graduate Vocal Arts Program at Bard College, NY and scheduling performances of Piosenki herself in the fall (of which more soon).

    More details about the gala...

    Listen and learn about Piosenki...



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    Bird pictures

    Posted on Thursday, May 01, 2008


    I've finally managed to get some stills from the DVD recording of A Bird in Your Ear, a selection below:





















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    Satie's Tennis Ball

    Posted on Thursday, May 01, 2008


    Mike and Metropolis perform Tennis from Sports by Satie arranged by me.







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