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.
21 March 2018
In celebration of Claude Debussy, who died one hundred years ago this week, the University of Glasgow is holding a memorial concert this Thursday, 22nd March at 7pm. The performance includes Debussy’s three completed sonatas from Six Sonatas for Diverse Instruments, a projected cycle of pieces that he was working on at the time of his death. The University has commissioned new works from composers Adam Gorb, Martha Sullivan, Gregor Forbes, Etienne Kippelen, Gary Carpenter, Drew Hammond and myself, each scored for the proposed instrumentation of one of the unwritten sonatas. My piece, Correspondence, is a short meditation on how technological advances in the previous century have seemingly contracted time and distance. It’s scored for the unusual combination of oboe, horn and harpsichord with samples from recordings of Debussy playing his own compositions.
The Claude Debussy In Memoriam concert will be performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra chamber players at the University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel, 7pm Thursday 22nd March 2018. The event is free and unticketed.
21 September 2017
On Friday 22nd September, Red Note Ensemble will perform a new work of mine, Limnology (Slims River), at the Lammermuir Festival. There will be two complete performances in the afternoon, one in the 2:30pm concert and one in the 4:15pm concert at Eastfield Farm, Whittingehame, and I’ll also be introducing excerpts from the piece at Tyninghame Village Hall at 12 midday.
I wrote the piece about the once-mighty Slims River in the Yukon, Canada, which disappeared in just four days in Spring 2016. The glacier that fed the river had receded and suddenly its meltwater could only flow into the Alsek River, leaving the Slims to run dry. This act of “river piracy” was the first to be attributed to man-made climate change.
Limnology is the scientific study of inland bodies of water. Drawing on the acoustic techniques used by scientists to measure water flow, this piece is a reflection on the study of rivers, their place in our culture, and the changes they portend.
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.
14 August 2016
For the next 29 days, you can catch a preview of a short piece of mine, Lament, from Robert Irvine’s new Delphian CD Songs and Lullabies: new works for solo cello, courtesy of BBC Radio 3’s Record Review programme. Those in the UK can listen to the programme on iPlayer.
16 April 2016
My new work for solo cello, Six Maps of a Fragile Landscape, will receive it’s first performance at this weekend’s Loch Shiel Spring Festival. Supported by the Hope Scott Trust, the piece uses the metaphor of different map scales — large-scale and small-scale — to explore an imaginary landscape. This first performance will be given by Robert Irvine, alongside works by David Fennessy, Duncan Strachan, James MacMillan, Sally Beamish and more.
Robert Irvine will perform Six Maps of a Fragile Landscape at 1pm, Saturday 16th April 2016 at Acharacle Parish Church, Acharacle. Proceeds for this concert go towards UNICEF.
24 November 2015
Here are some excerpts from my recent work with Lucy Boyes, a dance/music piece called Sandglass. Sandglass was commissioned by Sound Festival and DanceLive and had its first performance in October this year at The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen. The work is based upon a series of interviews and workshops conducted for this project in Summer 2015 in which people of Aberdeen discussed past, present and predicted cultural changes witnessed over their lifetimes in the North East of Scotland on land and at sea.
19 November 2015
Last weekend I took part in Enterprise Music Scotland’s Creative Exchange with Red Note Ensemble at Crear on the west coast of Scotland. I was joined by fellow composers Shiori Usui, Chris Hutchings and John De Simone, all of whom I’ve known for many years.
Crear is in a beautiful part of the country where the sky and light are constantly changing. The rehearsal room at Crear has floor-to-ceiling windows with stunning views of the Isle of Jura. Our stay coincided with the arrival of Hurricane Abigail which limited the amount of time we spent exploring the surrounding area but gave us a good excuse to sit in front of Crear’s open log fire. At night we were surprised by clear skies and an impressive view of the Milky Way.
I spent most of the weekend completing a short solo work for Red Note cellist Robert Irvine (more on that another time) who was joined by violinist Tony Moffat and violist Jessica Beeston.
On Sunday morning, having completed the cello piece, I wrote this little ditty:
18 November 2015
You are invited to ANTHEM!, a workshop about protest and song. Join composer Thomas Butler to collectively create and perform a single new protest song, written by the group, for the group, on a subject dictated by the group. The session is open to all: no previous experience of songwriting or musical performance is required! Bring your voices, bring your words, bring your anger.
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.
3 November 2015
Sandglass, my new dance/music work with choreographer Lucy Boyes, had its first performance on Friday 23rd October at The Lemon Tree in Aberdeen as part of Sound Festival and DanceLive. Here are some photographs of the performance, given by Lucy, Mhairi Allan and Robbie Synge with lighting by Francis Stevenson.
Images courtesy of Hannah Imlach.