When I was asked by David Christophersen to write a new piano piece for a recital in St John’s Smith Square next year, his requirement – for a piece that would provide reflection and perhaps even meditation between the onslaught of two war-torn works from the mid-twentieth century – was quite a challenge. Soothing, lullaby-like piano pieces have been something of a vogue over the last fifteen years or so – their hypnotic and mild repetitions seem to answer a need – but I must confess that I have something of a horror of such pieces. I can’t help feeling that they don’t really answer that need properly. It’s easy to be reassuring if you haven’t engaged too deeply with the problem. What David was asking for was not that, but something that would actually respond to the vicissitudes of the other music in his programme, and of the terrible worldwide upheavals of which they might be felt to be a reflection.
It felt like a significant step forward when I came across a line in Walt Whitman’s great elegy written in response to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln – When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed. The line was ‘the gentle, soft-born, measureless light’. A cynic might immediately respond that this line is perfectly amenable to inspiring the kind of insipid, hazy new-agey meanderings I’ve just said that I wanted to get away from – no doubt this is true. But that’s not how it struck me, and it gave me a different direction to explore – musical evocations of light, conjured through resonance, sonority, reverberation, the luminosity and brightness of clouds of sound.
Anyway, the piece is now written, and will receive its first performance by David in St John’s Smith Square on February 22nd.
It’s two years since CCD turned the Senate House inside out and filled it with laser beams and dancing bodies, as part of the University’s 800th anniversary celebrations. For two nights this august space pulsed with the movement of newly-made dance, including one that I wrote with choreographer Isobel Cohen (other scores were written by Ewan Campbell and David Earl, and also, at several centuries’ distance, Christopher Tye). The events were captured on video, but sound quality was less than thrilling; I’m delighted that it’s now been possible to clean up the recording of the piece Isobel and I wrote and I’m putting it up here where it can be seen and heard.
The dancers are all members of Cambridge Contemporary Dance: the piece takes as its theme Isaac Newton’s experiments with light and colour. See for yourself: Light/Dance
Very excited about Light Matter, the pioneering new project by Cambridge Contemporary Dance which brings lasers, movement, dance, colour and music into the Senate House, the University’s august and elegant central hall which normally echoes only to the sound of Latin intoned by gowned Dons. Their show will spin off from some of the key themes of the University’s 800th Anniversary Celebrations this year, and in particular, takes its focal image from Newton’s work on optics.
See this short youtube video about it. Along with composer Ewan Campbell, I’ve been commissioned to write a new piece exploring this theme. I’m working with choreographer Isobel Cohen, and Ewan will work with Katie Green, and the dances will be performed by members of CCD. Both nights have sold out. These are big shows, involving a huge number of people working together, and they have really pulled the stops out. They’re definitely going to end the celebrations with a bang.