This opera lark is a weird thing. When I was writing Puddle Wonderful I talked to the librettist, James Johnson, he wrote the words, I wrote the music, there was a bit of tooing and froing between us while I was writing, it was handed to the players, conductor and director and it happened. Yes there were arguments, people annoyed at decisions that they weren’t happy about but everyone was there to do their thing as best as they can which sometimes is beyond the understand of the other people trying to do their thing, hence the arguments, but everything came together and the evenings it was performed I and everyone else couldn’t have been happier.
This time it’s completely different. Not that everyone isn’t trying to do their thing to their fullest, they are, there are just less people involved. The first performance had the ensemble, singers, conductor, director, lighting tech, marketing person, composer and librettist, this time there is the ensemble, singers, conductor and Jason, Thom and I trying to fill in for all the other rolls. So completely different and a little more weight on our inexperienced shoulders.
Today I am talking to my singers about blocking. This is something I’ve only every experienced once before, during the first performance, and it mostly consisted of me sitting at the back of the room watching and occasionally saying “yea that seems grand” because I really had no idea what was going on. This time I have to talk to the three singers about what I want it to look like, Barbara Walton, Catrin Pryce-Jones and Claire Thompson all have more experience in this area than I do! The other interesting/worrying thing is that Musa doesn’t have a stage – it is a bar/restaurant. This means I can’t simply borrow ideas from other shows I’ve seen “I want you to act like they did in act 1 of X” I have to do everything from scratch.
After a few hours of thinking, sketching and writing I’ve come up with an outline of actions, movements and general placement in the room of the singers for each bit of the piece. I’ve also solidified the characters of the singers. You might think that that should have been done long ago but because the singers are three strands of the same person they don’t have definite characters in the text, it is their movements that will give them shape. My worry with what I have come up with is that there is too much and it won’t be physically possible to do what I’ve been thinking in the time constraints of the piece but I’m hoping that the singers experience will help when I sit down with them later.
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 :):).
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.