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.
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 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.