Many seeds that were planted during the first lockdown and tended in subsequent periods of isolation are now bearing fruit.
The six composers on the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) Panufnik Scheme had only just started their course when the initial stay-at-home orders were given: plans were adapted rather than shelved, and the result is a series of short ensemble pieces.
LSO players recorded the works at Henry Wood Hall, with composition director Colin Matthews producing remotely via video call. The newly released Six Degrees Of Separation (NMC DL3046) is a testament to those challenging conditions, with works such as Emma-Kate Matthews’ Remote Overlap providing a musical response to the changes in communication and connection.
Like many others, I found the second – or was it third? – lockdown particularly testing and have tried to suppress recollections of it; so much so that I had almost forgotten contributing to Birmingham Contemporary Music Group’s online performance of Roddy’s Reel back in the depths of last winter.
The work, by Harrison Birtwistle, is scored for bass clarinet with “audience participation”. Under careful instruction, onlookers are asked to clap and vocalise, evoking the soundscape of Raasay, the Hebridean island where the composer lived in the 1970s.
Getting an audience to make a noise at the right moment is tricky at the best of times – conducting via Zoom added another layer of complexity.
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The 2009 piece was recorded (“Please mute everything except your claps,” begged conductor Melvin Tay, as conversations about supper plans and appraisals of our percussive abilities echoed into the ether) and recently broadcast on the New Music Show (Radio 3).
Second City celebrated composers with links to the Midlands, including Joe Cutler – head of composition at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire – and his former student Charlotte Bray.
The first – and, quite possibly, last – performance of Roddy’s Reel featuring online audience participation closes the episode (available on BBC Sounds), signifying a gone-but-not-forgotten snapshot of uncertainty. As Radio 3 presenter Tom Service put it: “Connections from composer to performer to listener were renewed at a time the musical world needed it most.” I’m very pleased to have this particular memory refreshed.
Erland Cooper takes the harvesting metaphor a step further in his latest project.
The composer has buried a recording of his new three movement work for solo violin and string quartet in Orkney, where he lived as a child.
Buried album Carve The Runes Then Be Content With Silence celebrates the centenary of Orkney poet George Mackay Brown and reflects on time and community. The composer hopes to exhume and release the recording – the deterioration being part of the art – in three years’ time. The tape is the only version of the piece in existence: Cooper has deleted the digital copies.
The piece was recorded at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland with violinist Daniel Pioro and Studio Collective. Few people have heard the work – even record label bosses at Decca, who were so compelled by the concept they agreed to the 2024 release on trust. There is a countdown to the unveiling at contentwithsilence.com, when Cooper will release “a map of sorts”.
“With this, you are welcome to travel, search and attempt to find the recording and dig it up yourself,” writes the composer. “I only ask that, if you do find it, please bring it back to me where we will play and listen together.”
The colourful history of Britain’s monarchy is told through The Music Of Kings & Queens, a new collection of orchestral pieces by Debbie Wiseman interspersed with text written by Simon Brooks-Ward.
Wiseman is Classic FM’s composer in residence and is well known for her film music – including the score for Wolf Hall, the TV adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s book.
It was while she was on set that Wiseman met Damien Lewis, who was then playing Henry VIII in the series. In this new release, Lewis narrates the words (including the section on Henry VIII), alongside Dame Helen Mirren, who portrayed Queen Elizabeth in the 2006 film The Queen.
The music and text format is one that Wiseman excels in: she has previously collaborated with Alan Titchmarsh (The Glorious Garden) and Stephen Fry (The Mythos Suite) in similar storytelling recordings.
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