Piece of the Week – Lunar Landscapes

It’s always pleasing when a piece that you have written takes on a life of its own – sometimes in a way that you couldn’t have imagined. Here’s an example.
Over twenty years ago I wrote a set of easy pieces for cello and piano – Lunar Landscapes. At about Grade 1 to 2 level, each of the eight short pieces reflects an aspect of the moon – Moonflight, Moon Rock, Moonbeams, etc.- and for a time some of them featured in the ABRSM exam syllabus and a number of young cellists sawed their way through them.
I’d rather forgotten about them until some years later I was contacted by an Italian youth orchestra asking if they could record them with a cello ensemble and piano, and the resulting film (with lovely drawings and animations as well) is a wonderful performance, with some much more professional-sounding playing than I would ever have imagined for my little pieces.
I’ve no more to say really – except follow this link to the Orchestra giovanile di violoncelli Tiroconlarco and enjoy their playing and visuals!

You can buy the music here, at a bargain price, too

Piece of the Week – A little child there is yborn

Commissions for new works usually come with suggestions or requests from the commissioner – length and scoring, of course, but also often other pointers: where the piece might fit in a concert, or suggested mood (celebratory, meditative, and so on), subject matter, standard of choir, what they like singing, and all kinds of other things, sometimes even a specific poem. These constraints are almost always a good thing as they give the composer a starting point around which to shape their musical ideas.

One of the strangest, and most useful, requests I ever received was twenty-five or so years ago when Peter Davies, a great mover and shaker in the world of choral music and commissioner of many pieces from me for various choirs, asked me to write a piece for a choir he then conducted – the Sawtry Chorale in Huntingdonshire, UK. The stipulations were simply that it should be a Christmas Carol, and that it should be in 7/8 – an asymmetrical time signature of seven quavers in the bar!
This gave me some cause for thought – but actually it forced me into writing a carol that was, I believe, more rhythmic and memorable than if I had set to work around a more conventional time signature: so the commissioner got the piece he wanted for his choir, and the challenge that he gave me spurred me on musically.

A little child there is yborn is then, mostly, in 7/8 – a lively and rhythmic setting of a fifteenth-century text, with a main theme that appears both in minor and major modes. For just one section – where the Three Kings appear – does the music move into a more regular, slightly pompous, metre, but it soon returns to the rhythmic character of the first section. Looking at it again now, I can see elements of similarity with ‘Glory to the Christ Child’, which I wrote about fifteen years later, though this carol lacks the reflective elements, isn’t so challenging in performance, and is really just one joyful romp. And I’ve used the 7/8 metre in a regular way (2+2+3) so it is quite easy for choir, and conductor, to get their head round it.

I’m rather fond of it (thank you, Peter!) and was very pleased when it was published by Oxford University Press just a couple of years ago. You can hear a clip from it here, and the whole piece on the OUP website, performed by The Oxford Choir directed by Bob Chilcott.

Piece of the Week – Final Whistle!

Recently published is the saxophone collection, Final Whistle, to which I contributed four of the pieces. Aimed at learners at around Grades 2-5, with editions for Eb and Bb saxophone, several of the pieces feature in the 2018 ABRSM saxophone syllabus.

My interest in writing for the saxophone goes back a long way: in 1990 a teaching colleague of mine, the late Angela Fussell, asked me to write a piece, Circular Melody, for the Colchester Institute Saxophone Choir (one of very few in the UK at that time) which was first performed at the first British Saxophone Congress at Wakefield. This commission, together with Angela’s enthusiasm, awakened my interest in this sonorous and colourful instrument, and I followed this up with Three Picasso Portraits, commissioned by the saxophone quartet Saxology, and recorded by them on CD and now available on Spotify. At the same time my son Sam’s interest in the saxophone was awakening, and I wrote Weekend for him in 1993, when he was eleven, and subsequently the much more challenging Workout, in 1997. (both of these publications are with piano accompaniment and are available in editions for alto and tenor sax). Now in his thirties and a professional saxophonist, Sam is reviving Workout, with me at the piano, for a lunch time concert on 25th October at Colchester’s Lion Walk Church.

Then, in 2005, I wrote a set of saxophone studies, Sixty for Sax,  but apart from arrangements of existing pieces I’ve written little else for the saxophone until now, so it was good when saxophonist Chris Gumbley invited me to contribute to his new collection, Final Whistle. The book contains four pieces by me, four by James Rae, and four by Chris Gumbley, who edited (or ‘refereed’ as he says) the book and chose the football-themed titles – mine are called ‘Kick-off’, ‘Mexican Wave’, Waltzing to Wembley’ and ‘Final Whistle’.  I had a lot of fun writing these pieces and reviving my interest in writing for the sax.
Here are the publication details. There are no recordings yet, but who knows what may happen as the book rises up the league!