Messiaen’s bird dramas

A study of Messiaen’s birdsong music which I wrote a couple of years ago has now appeared in print in a volume called Messiaen Studies. My essay looks at Messiaen’s wonderful cycle of bird-portraits Catalogue d’Oiseaux [Catalogue of Birds] and considers the pictorial and dramatic dimension of these vivid and extraordinary pieces. This book challenges the respectful orthodoxy which has tended to grow up around Messiaen’s music, presenting a selection of fresh and independent approaches to this least orthodox and most exhilarating of music.

Messiaen Studies, edited by Robert Sholl, published by C.U.P. is available from 5 December 2007.

Click here for more details of the book on the CUP website.

Two new commissions

Two new commissions have just come in: I’ve been asked to write a new piece for CB3, as part of a programme on 25 January 2008 which will include Magnus Lindberg’s powerful Corrente and Rolf Hind’s haunting The City of Love. I’ve also been asked to write a short ‘curtain-raiser’ for the University of Ghent Symphony Orchestra, to be premiered on their tour to Cambridge in April next year.

Music by Jeremy Thurlow

George Butterworth Award 2007

I’m very pleased to have received the George Butterworth Award 2007, together with composer Claudia Molitor. The award is made by the artistic director of the spnm for new compositions which make ‘an outstanding contribution to the the year’s programme’. Three of my works were cited: Music for Strings and Hammers (for six pianos), Endlessly Enmeshed composed for the Jai Hind project, combining Indian and Western European instruments and players, and A Sudden Cartography of Song, a video-opera composed in collaboration with Alistair Appleton and premiered at this year’s Spitalfields Festival. These have all been exciting projects for me and offered valuable experiences, so I’m delighted to have been able to work with the spnm this year and to have been chosen for the award.

Lesley-Jane Rogers / Bergamo Ensemble

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working on a new piece for Lesley-Jane Rogers and the Bergamo Ensemble, under their director Michael Downes. I’ve found a fantastic story about a poor pedlar who has an extraordinary dream – it’s an old folktale, and this particular telling of it is from the diary of Abraham de le Pryme, a 17th-century cleric who knew Pepys and Newton, among others. This will be my second folktale setting, following on from The She-Wolf which was premiered by Marie Vassiliou a couple of years ago. And now I’m beginning to think about a third…

The new piece is called The Pedlar of Swaffham, as is scored for the whole ensemble (which is the often-used combination established by Schoenberg in Pierrot Lunaire: soprano, flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano). It’s going to be premiered together with a new work by Roderick Watkins in a concert at 3pm on Saturday 27 October in the Canterbury Festival, and will receive a second performance at Fitzwilliam College Auditorium, Cambridge at 8pm on Sunday 28 October, before being recorded the following day.

Music by Jeremy Thurlow

BBC singers – concert details

I’ve now got the full details for the BBC singers concert mentioned in my last post, about my Emily Dickinson piece – it’s on Wednesday 25th July at 6pm, will last about an hour.
Tickets are free, and can be reserved in advance, by phone or online. Click here for full details. The programme consists entirely of new pieces written for the occasion, by Phil Venables, Elizabeth Winters, Anthony Bailey, Evangelia Rigaki, Oliver Waespi and myself.

BBC Singers go to sea…

Some poems by Emily Dickinson I love; others I find dangerously close to twee.  I’ve never thought of setting them to music before, and this is probably because of Copland’s wonderful song settings; I suppose I was afraid it would be impossible to put them out of my mind and find a fresh approach.   However, last year I came across a poem I’d not seen before, and was bewitched by it.  This was at the memorial service for a wonderful friend called Jo Campling – it had been a favourite poem of hers, and was read at the service.  It begins

Exultation is the going  / Of an inland soul to sea – /  Past the houses, past the headlands,  / Into deep Eternity. 

Shortly after this I was given the opportunity to write a new piece for the BBC Singers.  I knew immediately that I wanted to set this visionary poem about courage in the face of the unknown, and death.  I wrote the first couple of minutes’ music in December, and then had to leave it for other more urgent deadlines, but was able to go back and finish the piece last month.  The BBC Singers will give the premiere in St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, in a concert of new music conducted by James Morgan.  I’m really looking forward to working with this fantastic group and hearing the music for the first time.  

maps, songs and babies

Last week was a fury of activity putting together all the ingredients for a double-bill of new multi-media pieces devised in collaboration with writer Alistair Appleton – one by Tazul Tajuddin, and one by me. The two pieces were performed on Saturday night in Wilton’s Music Hall – a wonderful Victorian theatre which has been preserved in its original decor, somewhat faded but all the more atmospheric for that, and with a beautiful acoustic. Both tazul’s and my own piece shared the same basic format: new texts spoken and written by Alistair – an artful balance of factual documentary and personal reminiscence, wonderfully designed so as to be able to work with music, rather than just be spoken over it – together with a specially composed video (ditto; also created by Alistair) and the same musical forces (4 singers and live electronics). But beyond those common elements, our two pieces were completely different, and that made for an exciting programme. Both performances went extremely well, and the feeling of absolute attention from the audience was magical.

Alistair has written in his blog about what it felt like better than I can, and there’s also a very sympathetic review by Ivan Hewett in the Telegraph, who seems to have grasped exactly what it was that we were trying to do. It must be said that a great deal of dedicated work went into making it happen, and I’d like to thank all those involved: especially the four singers (named in the previous post below), the conductor George Corbett, the electro-acoustic wizard Daniel Halford, who took several decades off his life expectancy by working 29/7 in the weeks running up to the show, and Alistair – all of whom gave zinging performances. And many thanks too for essential behind-the-scenes work from all those at spnm and Wilton’s.

Maps, songs and babies were some of the themes of the piece, by the way (also, signing, birds, words…). It’s hard to explain without actually seeing and hearing the show, but a glance at Alistair’s text may help.

Music by Jeremy Thurlow

words and birds

I’ve recently been collaborating on a new piece with Alistair Appleton, the blog-writer and TV presenter. Called A sudden cartography of song, it’s a combination of music, words and video. Alistair will join four singers on stage in front of a large video projection, in the wonderfully atmospheric setting of Wilton’s Music Hall. The piece is about 20 minutes long and follows a thought-provoking and surprising journey from a summer afternoon through a meditation on maps and on the wonders of sign language, ending with Alistair’s strange and haunting vision of utopia. It’s all voices: Alistair speaks, the music is entirely sung, and at times the singers’ voices are transformed or augmented with real-time electro-acoustic processing. It’s been fantastic fun collaborating with Alistair on the writing, and now I’m looking forward to working with the singers and the sound-engineer to make it all a reality.

A sudden cartography of song will be presented at 9pm on Saturday 9 June in Wilton’s Music Hall, London as part of the Spitalfields Festival, together with a new work by Tazul Tajuddin.
– Ildiko Allen, soprano; – Frances Jellard, mezzo-soprano
– Julian Stoker, tenor; – Edward Grint, bass
– Daniel Halford, live electronics; – Alistair Appleton, speaker/video

Together with A Terrace in Corsica at 7 the same evening, these events are part of spnm’s SECOND SIGHT series; artistic Director: Rolf Hind.
Box office: 020 7377 1362 Tickets: £17.50 for both events, £10 per event (£5 spnm members)

For more details see spitalfields festival

Music by Jeremy Thurlow

Jai Hind!

This unusual project brings together renowned musicians from the Indian classical and Western classical traditions into a mixed ensemble. First up are Aruna Narayan and Hanif Khan, renowned players of the many-stringed and searingly soulful sarangi, and the tabla, magical drums of extraordinarily liquid sound. They are joined by four fantastic players from the Endymion Ensemble, on cello, harp, piano and percussion: Adrian Bradbury, Helen Tunstall, Stephen Gutman and Richard Benjafield. Along with several other composers I have written a piece for this most unusual of sextets. It’s been a fascinating process, not so much because of the combination of instruments (though they are fascinating) as the combination of radically different approaches to music-making, and the concepts of piece, score, and composer.

My piece is called Endlessly enmeshed. I wanted to let the six instruments to weave their sounds together without losing their own distinct character, even when this leads them up quite divergent paths. The title comes from a poem by Rabindranath Tagore: ‘thou hast made my heart captive in the endless meshes of thy music’.

The pieces are being performed three times, in Southampton, Cardiff and London, on May 22, 25 and 26; for full details see Jai Hind!

Music by Jeremy Thurlow

another six-piano extravaganza

When I wrote Music for strings and hammers for a six-piano extravaganza as part of the FUSELeeds festival last year, I realised that its completely impractical (and expensive!) instrumentation would mean that it wouldn’t get too many performances, except maybe in piano shops… So it was a real pleasure to hear it given in an excellent performance on Friday (March 9th) in West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, together with music by Eliott Schwartz and Yumi Hara Calkwell. The players were Joseph Fort, Clare Hammond, Tim Harper, James Long, Alex Soares and Cordelia Williams, conducted by Dan Hill. This included the premiere of a new first movement, a calm exploration of music woven from different tempos and spaces, before the high energy of the main piece.

Music by Jeremy Thurlow