I’m just back from my first time at the proms and feel the need to write something about them more than just being a great experience.
My first impression of the hall itself was simply ‘wow’, it just seems right. Yes it is big but not too big, the misty blur that I get from large spaces (the Coliseum in Rome being the best example) didn’t happen, and because it is big I wasn’t expecting it to have such an acoustic. It took a few moments to get used to it but once I did it was perfect, quiet but perfect. When there I went to proms 45, 46 and 47 but am only going to comment on 46 in this entry and 47 on a subsequent one.
The opening to prom 46 with the Philharmonia Orchestra was Mosolov’s The Foundry (1927). Mosolov is a composer whom I have to admit I had never heard of but going on these 4 minutes of pounding industrial music. No don’t think Rammstein simply think the rhythm and sound of the machinery in a steel fabrication plant. There is no beginning to the piece, no tentative inroads on the silence that preceded it simply begins as if it has always been there grinding away or that someone has just hit ‘on’. The most spine tingling moments in the piece are when the 8 horns stand up (rather effective physical movement for the piece) and play a short melody over the incessant mechanical grinding of the rest of the orchestra. According to the programme notes by Andrew Huth The Foundry was meant as the opening to a now lost ballet consisting of a further three movements In Prison, At the Ball and In the Street. I can but hope that it is found at some point to hear what such music would lead into. Somehow I doubt it would be anything like the next piece of the concert, the UK premier and I believe only second performance of Arvo Pärt’s fourth symphony ‘Los Angeles’ (2008).
This piece is the reason I went to this prom and unfortunately it left me wanting and not in the way Pärt’s music usually does. For me Pärt’s music is the kind of music in which you sit in a darkened room, eyes closed letting it wash over you, ignoring everything. Kind of like lying on your back eyes closed in water and letting yourself drift. The piece is very typically Pärt, heavy on the strings, very slow and quite and uses his typical chord spacing to give a typical sound. Unfortunately that’s where it fell down on first listen; it was simply too typical. There was no sense of going anywhere yet no sense of languishing with intention it was caught somewhere in-between the two. Maybe on subsequent listens (at the moment its still available in BBC iplayer for 3 more days) it will be less tedious and I might pick up the drive behind the piece but for a first impression it wasn’t good.
The material did not seem to be strong enough to sustain the attention of the listener for such a long time and was in fact quite disjointed. The best example of this is after the opening section which is interrupted by the timpani comes a scale played in such a way to make me think it is a quote from a Philip Glass piece. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t but it seems so out of place with what has come before and what is still to come that it jars the ear and the mind. Even with this criticism there were moments of very beautiful music, specifically the warmth of the central section with pizzicato strings and marimba.
It was quite interesting to see Pärt pretty much run up to the stage, he is almost 75 yet he doesn’t seem like he is any older than 60 the way he moves!
The next piece was Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (1929-30) played by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. Its an odd piece that builds from a contra bassoon solo to an orchestral tutti before half a piano comes in. The build up is such that you expect a chord in the highest and lowest registers of the piano but this is impossible because it is only written for the left hand. This lack of the ability to use 10 fingers is due to the commissioner, Paul Wittgenstein, had lost his right hand during the war. Ravel attempts to create the impression of such a chord though but unfortunately Bavouzet ruins it because in the opening flourishes there were quite a few missed notes, this was the impression I had on the night and after a little bit of research (ahh the joys of iplayer and spotify!) my firs impress was backed up. This set up the tone for the rest of the piece, it didn’t quite feel right. It seemed more of an argument between soloist and orchestra than conversation. The orchestra’s rendition of the piece I cannot fault and in fact was so good that the mistakes and problems with the soloist were forgotten about to leave me with a very good impression of the work.
Finally was Scriabin’s The Poem of Ecstasy (1905-8), a piece that I knew existed but had never had the chance to listen to. Unfortunately I found it a little too romantic and long in its tendencies for my liking. This could have been because of the performance or the music itself but I felt it could have been a little shorter. That being said it was great to hear the great Albert Hall organ in the closing chords of the piece vibrating my seat even though I was in the circle which is an unbelievable feeling that cannot be reproduced by any recording.
This is the week of PLUG in RSAMD. Ten concerts in five days and most of the music being played are premiers by the composers within the composition department. I have two pieces being played both on Thursday. The first is ‘Silence, Imperfect Silence’ for odd chamber orchestra at 1pm. I say odd because its for flute, sax, 4 singers, 2 pianos, percussion, 2 violins and a viola. It would almost make sense if there was a cello to round it off but nope. The idea behind it is the undergraduates have a module called ‘Style in Performance’ and in their 3rd year they have to play contemporary music so some of the composition department. This then explains the reason for the odd ensemble. The instruments available were auctioned sorry faily divided between the composers and thats what I ended up with. Considering I wanted flute, sax, 4 singers, piano, percussion, violin, viola and cello I think I did pretty well. Some people didn’t get any of the instruments they asked for!
Anyway enough of that back to the gist of this post. So that piece is at 1pm on thursday and the other is at 7.30pm on the same day. The other piece is one you will have heard a lot about if you have been following this blog…. Its Dichroic Light on its second outing! It is once again played by Lydia Whittingham, my collaborator in the composition. If you want a taster of the piece before coming along you can listen to it on my website here.
Below I’ve embedded the full programme of the festival. I shant pick out certain concerts (apart from my own) to suggest you come to because from the rehearsals I’ve heard they are all going to be excellent! Tickets for all concerts in RSAMD are available from the box office. https://boxoffice.rsamd.ac.uk/peo/default.asp
Three months have gone by and not even one update, I feel ashamed of myself considering the amount that has happened.
October saw the continuation of rehearsals for the opera, there was quite a lot of stress and a few arguments that had to be calmed down but eventually it all worked well for the concert in November. Really happy with how Puddle Wonderful went and managed to get a, rather bad quality, recording of the last night which is up here. All four operas were well received, we didn’t fill the place but I think there was about 300 came over the three nights. The week after that the second Queen’s Composers’ Concert happened. The hall was about 3/4 filled (which again I was really happy with). Afterwards I got quite a few emails congratulating me on the concert. Again the performance of Untitled went really well, though up until the last two rehearsals it wasn’t quite coming together so I had to step in and flail my arms about in some kind of uniform pattern and tempo, this helped make it an excellent performance.
After this concert there was a rather large feeling of emptiness upon realising I had no planned performances planned. This swiftly changed when I joined, and was made secretary of, the Irish Composers Collective. Due to this group I now have a performance of Imagined Notes (22nd February) and of an as yet unwritten violin and cello duo on the 22nd of March both of which will be in the National Concert Hall in Dublin. Two days after the latter concert will be the third Queen’s Composers’ Concert, and the final one organised by me. For this concert I’m conducting The Space Within, a septet written last year for my final composition. It will be my last Composers’ Concert because as of September I will be in Glasgow Collage of Music studying MMus in composition. Finally at some point within the next few months I’ll be getting a performance of a soprano and guitar piece called Rain, with words by Edward Thomas, written for Becca Hopkins and Declan Keenan. Hopefully more concerts will come my way soon but I think thats a decent amount to be going on with. Though I’m starting to think of organising an ICC concert in Belfast before the end of the summer but that is still a very hazy idea.
I think thats a brief catchup of everything thats happened for anyone thats interested.
The last few weeks have been a little hectic, too hectic to post here. Mainly because of finishing off my septet The Space Within but its done and handed in. Would love to hear it played properly but don’t know if I’ll be able to organise it with the players I know. Its the first piece I’ve composed almost completely without a piano or Sibelius (only used either for a few chords) so hearing it on Sibelius and it almost being exactly how I imagined was amazing. The only problems were tempo markings but that isn’t that big a deal. But knowing my inner ear is developing is definitely a good thing to know. Also got my electro-acoustic piece handed in Machinist’s Visual Fallacy. This is my first piece to use c-sounds, takes a bit of getting used to but a really good tool to know. Will probably use some of the techniques in my acoustic pieces. In fact some electro-acoustic techniques inspired parts of The Space Within.
With The Space Within handed in I can now start properly on the opera. Met my librettist, James Johnson, on Wednesday to talk about some of the ideas I’ve got and how they fit with his libretto. Still haven’t written any music yet but I think the ideas will work, just got more research to do into them before I can write. It will be three singers Soprano, Mezzo and Alto though I cant find an Alto! (Anyone know a good one who would like to sing in an opera?).
As for the dates of the performance its provisionally 5th 6th and 7th of November. This is provisional but it seems a decent amount of time to get things finished, organised, advertised and rehearsed. The lineup of composers has been expanded to five: Me (Matthew Whiteside), Omar Zatriqi, Eduard Zatriqi, Conor Mitchell and the new addition Gareth Williams.
There should be a website up soon for SPARK with everyone’s details on it but here is a quick break done. Omar, Eduard and myself are all composers who are studying at Queen’s Belfast. Omar and Eduard are heading into a masters in composition I’m heading into my 3rd year, Conor Mitchell is a London based musical theater and opera writer and Gareth Williams is an Armagh born composer. As for the librettists James Johnson is a Queen’s graduate who has written a play for Tinderbox and Michael Shannon is currently studying for a masters in writing in Queen’s. Its an interesting mix of students and professionals, hopefully a good mix!
Onto other stuff. The next Queen’s Composer’s Concert will be on the 25th of November in the Harty room. I’ve managed to organise a group of players for a yet to be writting piece of mine. Sometimes I dont know which is harder getting the players or writing the music either way I’m half way there. Think I’ve mentioned this in a previous blog but I’m heading over to York to hear Beyond the Tone being played at Creating New Music Communities. I’ve somehow managed to become the Northern Ireland contact for the event and I’ve promised a larger piece for next years event.
Finally a slightly sour note. A few months ago I entered SPNM’s call for scores with my Quartet No. 1. Got word back this week that I didn’t make it into the short list. Ach well theres always next year.
This week has been an amazing, though stressful week. Monday and Tuesday was preparing for the Queen’s Composers’ Concert on Wednesday final rehearsels, getting programs printed and all that kind of stuff. The concert on Wed was a great success, 64 people turned up to it! Also got multiple emails and people saying well done about it. The whole concert was recorded so will have a new excelent quality version of my Quartet No. 1 on my site by Monday also possibly might have links to the other peoples pieces as well for anyone thats interested.
The atmosphere after the concert was great as well with people hanging about for at least 30mins after (much to the porters annoyance).The Head of School has also said it should become a fixture which was the intention anyway. The next one will probably be late November, early December so piles of time to organise it and more importantly write some music!
The other great thing about this week, last night we (SPARK opera company) got £5000 funding to put on the 4 short operas! This was £1000 more than we asked for, its not the full amount that we need but its definitely a massive start. Winning the money is all doesn to Kate Guelke and Marianne McKnight but I think having abotu 20 of the company there helped as well. We have got a venue organised for November time, again piles of time to get it sorted and thankfully for this one all I have to do is write the music. It will be an interesting experience but it is happening!
Oh yes theres also piles of uni work to get done over Easter. Going to be really busy for the next few weeks and months :):).
Had my first rehearsal yesterday of Quartet No. 1 went really well, really happy with the players I have :). Though one of them couldn’t make it, he was flying over the Irish sea at the time so a decent enough excuse. Really happy with the way the rehearsal went, the players seem to have a good grip of it so feeling a lot better with the concert looming in 12 days….12 days?!!! Have more rehearsals planned but still 12 days?!!?!
Got a bit of advertising done for it though, www.cmc.ie have it on their site and getting some posters made up to put around Queen’s and maybe Belfast in general. Might try and get some flyers put into the newly referbished Ulster Hall, which looks really really good! If you get a chance go and have a look about, it is still the Ulster Hall but a lot more vibrent seating plan makes a lot more sense as well. Anyway getting side tracked… need to do some more advertising for the concert some how, would like a decent amount of people to come along to it. New music needs to be heard no point playing to an empty hall. Any suggestions on advertising anyone?
Surprisingly almost finished the draft of my septet and what’s left to do I know exactly where its going to go so shouldn’t be too long before doing the final version.
As for the other pieces, well they are getting done slowly but surely, I think.
Deadlines are starting to come closer so really need to seriously get them
The concert is going ahead, not sure on time yet but it will be the evening of 1st April in the Harty Room in Queen’s. So far the line up is a Piano trio by Piers Hellawell, a Piano Duet by Eddie Zatriqi, a septet by Omar Zatriqi, a quartet by Daniel Barkley, and two trios by Joel Cathright and myself. Might change a little before then but I dont think by much.
At long last getting “Beyond the Tone” played on Tuesday by the artists in residence. The workshop was supposed to be in the afternoon but performers being who they are decided to get an early flight home meaning its now first thing in the morning! Still its a performance and so I should have a recording up by Tuesday evening *fingers crossed*.
Also have started making arrangements for putting on a concert on the 1st of April with bits of work from other composers in Queens and one of my lecturers (Piers Hellawell) which should be interesting if it all works out. So far there is going to be a Septet, piano duet, piano trio, a quartet and two trios maybe a little more depending on composers.
Also got more info on the short opera I’m meant to be writing. Had a meting with everyone on Monday and its looking very promising, the librettists ideas are really interesting. Looks like the opera needs to be almost finished by august to be performed in a festival but under the understanding that it is a work in progress and finished for September for an actual performance. There are 4 of us each writing a 10 min opera, Omar and Eddie Zatriqi, Connor Mitchell and myself.
I think thats about all the interesting stuff for now.