29 August 2018
Here are some great photos by Kinagram Limited of Ensemble Thing’s recent performances of Emily Doolittle’s opera Jan Tait and the Bear, which I conducted. In August we gave six performances of the piece at Summerhall, Edinburgh, as part of the 2018 Made in Scotland Showcase.
The production starred Catherine Backhouse as Jan Tait, Brian McBride in a multitude of roles, and Alan McHugh as the narrator. It was directed by Stasi Schaeffer.
The band, costumed and on stage throughout, also doubles as the chorus and has some tricksy singing passages and speaking roles to perform. August’s performances featured Alex South (clarinet), Aileen Sweeney (accordion) and Emily Walker (cello).
Made in Scotland supports Scottish artists to bring work to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and to take advantage of international opportunities received from performing at the festival. Since 2009, the showcase has featured over 200 shows.
8 August 2018
Following two previous appearances at the Made in Scotland Showcase at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (with 2014’s Replaceable Things and 2015’s Independence), I’m very happy to say that Ensemble Thing, the new music group I direct, will return to Summerhall as part of the Showcase to perform Emily Doolittle’s delightful opera Jan Tait and the Bear.
Jan Tait and the Bear had its origins in 2010 when Emily visited Shetland for the first time and wrote an opera based on the local tale of Jan Tait: when he is overcharged by an unscrupulous tax collector, Jan Tait strikes back. He is transported to Norway to account for his crimes before the king, but instead of meeting his fate, he meets a fearsome bear who needs Jan as much as Jan needs him.
Ensemble Thing premiered the work at the CCA, Glasgow, in October 2016 and we’re delighted to reunite our original cast and production team for this run of six performances in Edinburgh. The opera is directed by Stasi Shaeffer and stars Catherine Backhouse as Jan Tait, Brian McBride in a multitude of roles, and the show is narrated by Alan McHugh. It’s been great fun to revisit this work!
Ensemble Thing will perform Emily Doolittle’s Jan Tait and the Bear at Summerhall, Edinburgh, on 8th, 9th, 13th and 14th August 2018 at 1pm, and on 15th and 16th August 2018 at 10:30am. Tickets are available here.
6 October 2016
1 October 2016
Next week I’ll be conducting Ensemble Thing’s latest project, a new opera by Emily Doolittle called Jan Tait and the Bear. Based on a story handed down by oral tradition since medieval times, this new comedic chamber opera tells the story of Jan Tait, a rugged Shetlander who is always ready for an adventure. When he is over-charged by an unscrupulous tax collector, Jan Tait strikes back. He is transported to Norway to account for his crimes before the King, but instead of meeting his fate, he meets a ferocious bear who needs Jan as much as Jan needs him. This Ensemble Thing production features Alan McHugh (The Garden, Limmy’s Show), Catherine Backhouse (EIF, St Magnus Festival) and Brian McBride (Scottish Opera). Directed by Stasi Schaeffer, Jan Tait and the Bear blends truth, fantasy and rough, earthy humour and will appeal to both music and folklore fans of all ages. I’m very much looking forward to the performances.
Ensemble Thing perform Jan Tait and the Bear on Thursday 6th October (8pm) and on Saturday 8th October (1pm) 2016 at the Centre for Contemporary Arts, 350 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. Tickets can be purchased here.
9 November 2015
The recent performance I gave with Ensemble Thing at Sound Festival, You Can’t Get There From Here, was broadcast by BBC Radio Scotland as part of its Classics Unwrapped programme. The whole programme is now available on the BBC iPlayer and clips of the pieces can be heard on the Classics Unwrapped homepage.
5 November 2015
Back in August, I performed Independence by John De Simone with Ensemble Thing as part of the Made in Scotland Showcase at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. One of our performances, at Summerhall, was captured by director Sarah Hodgetts for her work-in-progress film about John and the personal stories behind his music. The video above is just a snippet from Sarah’s footage. The audio is raw and unmixed — and best listened to through headphones — but the film gives a good impression of what we were up to with Thing this summer.
22 October 2015
The end of the universe will be announced by bass clarinet and trombone duet. From Colin Broom’s piece for You Can’t Get There From Here.
21 October 2015
On Friday afternoon (23rd October, 3:30pm, ACT Aberdeen) as part of In Cahoots, Jenny Stephenson will perform a short recital of works for solo clarinet: my piece My Life in Ventriloquism alongside a recent work by Neil Tòmas Smith. My Life in Ventriloquism was originally written for Jenny back in 2012 and it’s been great to revisit the piece with her for this performance.
Friday evening (8pm, The Lemon Tree) sees the première performance of my new collaborative project with choreographer Lucy Boyes, Sandglass. The piece is based around the recollections and imaginations of people from Aberdeen, captured in recorded interviews and workshops conducted especially for this project. We hear the voices of older and younger residents as they discuss the cultural change to the city seen through their lifetime, encompassing the remembered past and the imagined future. Lucy and myself will be discussing this work in a Soundconversation event after the Friday performance and then again with Nele Hertling at the In Cahoots Dance and Contemporary Music Workshop on Saturday afternoon.
On Saturday afternoon (24th October, 1pm, ACT Aberdeen) I’ll be conducting Ensemble Thing for the first performance of an interesting and original project called You Can’t Get There From Here. Arising from a residency at Cove Park, YCGTFH is a collaborative project between six Scottish composers – Francis Macdonald, Sonia Allori, Colin Broom, Drew Hammond, John De Simone and Oliver Searle – where each composer’s work was edited and re-written by all the other composers in sequence. The resulting scores are fascinating, surprisingly distinctive and perhaps proof that good art can be made by committee! The band’s been sounding great in rehearsals, too.
23 August 2015
In the third I’LL CADENCE WHEN I DIE! show from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, John De Simone talks about his work Independence, an exploration of cultural and political identity in Scotland from his perspective as an English-born Scottish-Italian whose grandfather, John McCormick, was instrumental in founding the Scottish National Party.
23 July 2015
Here’s a trailer for a production I’m involved in at the Made in Scotland Showcase at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. The music is by John De Simone and the group is Ensemble Thing. Performances are at 11:20am on 18th, 20th, 22nd and 23rd August at Summerhall and tickets are on sale now!
25 May 2015
I’m looking forward to working on Ensemble Thing‘s production of John De Simone’s Independence as Musical Director this summer. The performances will be part of the prestigious Made in Scotland Showcase at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, a curated programme of 21 productions encompassing theatre, dance and music. This is the second year Ensemble Thing has been part of the line-up having presented Replaceable Things — which featured music from myself and John — in 2014.
As the title of John’s work suggests, it was written amidst the debates leading up to last year’s independence referendum in Scotland and was premiered on the night before the vote. It was a privilege to work on one of the few (the only?) musical works to directly and artistically address issues surrounding the referendum. Despite the wealth of indyref-related discussion across Scotland, including several high-profile contributions from other artforms (including the National Theatre of Scotland’s The Great Don’t Know Show), the world of (broadly-defined) “classical” music generally stayed tight-lipped and unresponsive to the issue. Those composers who did speak out tended to do so through the press rather than through their work. John’s piece tackled the issue head-on.
Now, whilst preparing for these new performances of Independence away from the excitement of the referendum, I am struck by just how unpolitical the work is. The first performances were very much of a moment but the strength of John’s work lies in its questioning of personal and cultural identity rather than in the tub-thumping of a political cause. Yes, the work is political (isn’t everything?), but it’s not polemical. Instead, John uses autobiography to explore how we construct our own identity. In spoken-word interludes between movements, John considers how his upbringing and family history has helped create his identity: he’s a Scottish-Italian who was born and raised in England, his grandfather was instrumental in the founding of the Scottish National Party and John considers himself Scottish despite speaking with a broad English accent. Musically, the piece includes elements of Scottish trad music (some of it composed by John’s forebears) tinged with a post-minimalism picked-up during years spent in the Netherlands. Can one really speak of possessing a true national identity when one’s influences, outlooks and personal history are so… international?
Ensemble Thing perform John De Simone’s Independence at Summerhall on 18th, 20th, 22nd and 23rd August 2015 at 11:20am. Tickets (£10/£8) are available here.
24 September 2014
Here are two new videos from performances of my work that have taken place this year.
The first is two extracts from Elbow Room, the piece I wrote as part of my Sound and Music Embedded Residency with the Red Note Ensemble. The piece explores the psychogeography of cites: how we affect them, and them us, and tells the story of the real mid-twentieth century plan to demolish Glasgow and replace it with a high-rise concrete utopia.
The second video is a complete movement from Replaceable Parts for the Irreplaceable You which was performed by Ensemble Thing as part of the Made in Scotland Showcase at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This particular movement, Instructions for Curing the Human Heart, comes at the very end of the work which is concerned with what it means to be human in a world inundated with machines.
Both videos were filmed at Summerhall in Edinburgh by the lovely folk at Dotbot.
20 September 2014
I spent this week with Ensemble Thing, producing their preview performance of Independence by John De Simone.
The work explores the cultural identity of its composer, a half-Scottish / half-Italian raised in England but now resident in Scotland, whose grandfather was a founder of the Scottish National Party.
After rehearsals at the RCS, the performance took place at the Old Hairdresser’s in Glasgow on the night before the independence referendum.
The work blended electronic bagpipe drones, traditional Scottish tunes and John talking about his family and their role in the SNP. It was all held together by some great playing from the band.
Like the referendum itself, we had a pleasantly large turnout!
The piece will be performed again at the Sound Festival on Saturday 1st November at 1pm in Aberdeen Art Gallery. Like the independence debate itself, this isn’t over!
16 August 2014
Here’s a little interview from Summerhall TV: John De Simone and myself discuss Replaceable Things, Ensemble Thing’s Made in Scotland Showcase performance, which receives its final outing at the Edinburgh Fringe tomorrow (Sunday 17th August), 11:35AM at Summerhall. The performances have been great so far, we’re all sad the run isn’t longer!
6 August 2014
Ensemble Thing’s new show Replaceable Things opens next week at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The show features John De Simone’s Panic Diary and my Replaceable Parts for the Irreplaceable You. I’m really looking forward to this. Catch it when you can — there are only three performances! Friday 15th – Sunday 17th August, 11:35am, Red Lecture Theatre, Summerhall, Edinburgh.