Ligeti Quartet plays Memory is the seamstress

Ruth Crawford Seeger’s amazingly original String Quartet of 1932 launched the second programme of Strings in the Earth and Air, featuring the Ligeti Quartet.

Harrison Birtwistle’s weighty Duo for Eight Strings (for viola and cello, but sounding like twice as many players) was the centre-piece, and they concluded with my

2016 quartet Memory is the seamstress. Inspired by some lines from Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, six movements grasp at sharply contrasting qualities of touch, pace and feeling. Watch the video of my piece here, introduced by a short conversation with composer Louise Drewitt about the ideas behind the piece. (Later in the year you can see the whole concert when it’s released on youtube.)

Understory

The first programme of Strings in the Earth and Air was filmed in July by the Echéa Quartet. It was a thrilling programme including new music by John Woolrich, Louise Drewitt, Harrison Birtwistle, Freya Waley Cohen, Eleanor Alberga and myself.

The whole programme will be released on Youtube later this year. In the meantime, here’s my piece, Understory, receiving its first performance. The main idea was originally sketched out for a solo singer, in a piece inspired by a poem by Luis Omar Salinas. I was pleased to discover the word ‘understory’ halfway through writing the piece. An understory is a lower lower, covered over, close to the ground; it also suggests a story, probably a private, personal one, and there’s a hint of ‘underdog’ too.

Fantazia

The new piece for the Fitzwilliam String Quartet – called Fantazia, in homage to Henry Purcell, in his anniversary year – was given its premiere in a fantastic concert at Fitzwilliam College on 26 April.  They gave it a wonderfully gutsy and enthusiastic first performance as part of a concert celebrating the quartet’s 40th anniversary, which included superb performances of Purcell, Haydn, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky.  I’m delighted that the quartet will be giving my piece again in The King’s Place, London, on May 17.

Celebrating Henry Purcell

This is a good year for musical anniversaries – Haydn, Mendelssohn and Handel among others – and one which will certainly prove a good excuse for some wonderful music-making is that of Henry Purcell (1659-95).

The Fitzwilliam String Quartet, whose range includes all kinds of music from the early baroque to the absolutely contemporary, have often played Purcell’s wonderful Fantazias for Viols, written when he was just 19 and showing a brilliant and quirky genius which is equally adept at old-fashioned English and new-fangled Italian styles.

To mark his anniversary they are commissioning short new pieces which taking off from Purcell in whatever way the composers wish. I’m delighted to have been commissioned to write one of these, which will be premiered by the Fitzwilliam Quartet in a concert at Fitzwilliam College on Sunday April 26 at 8.00. At the moment I have a title – Fantazia – and about one and half minutes of music. I should finish it off quite soon now.

Earlier this year the Fitzes played my String Quartet in Cambridge, following their premiere in the US last year. They will perform it again in the Cambridge Music Festival on November 24 2009.

Stone and dough

Two performances coming up this Friday:

Virtuoso organist Kevin Bowyer plays a pair of organ pieces, called Dry-Stone Wall and Rising Dough, on Friday 13 June in Glasgow University. I won’t go into the titles here, as it’s all explained in the programme notes (scroll down to the end). Dry-Stone Wall has been thoroughly revised – though the basic idea is the same, the notes are quite different, and much better! – and this will be the first performance of the piece in its new (and final) version.

And on the same night, Friday 13th, The Fitzwilliam String Quartet are playing Ancient Stone at Twilight in the Late Music Festival in York: 7.30 in the Early Music Centre. They played this piece beautifully in a recent concert in Cambridge, in its version with soprano solo. Now they play it in the version for string quartet alone. This piece is incorporated as the first movement of my new three-movement String Quartet (the other movements are brand new) and the Fitzwilliams are giving the premiere of the whole thing next month in Woodstock, NY – see maverick music festival.

Fitzwilliams in America

This July the Fitzwilliam String Quartet will be giving the premiere of my new string quartet in Woodstock, New York, in the Maverick Music Festival. This is an idyllic setting for chamber music; the concert is on Sunday 27 July at 4.00 and also includes Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Full details at www.maverickconcerts.org

The new quartet incorporates one movement which has already been heard – a piece called Ancient Stone at Twilight. The Fitzes have played this quite a few times over the last few years, and gave a wonderful performance in Cambridge last month, with soprano Suzana Ograsenjek. In a version without the soprano, this piece is now the first movement of the new quartet. The other movements are entirely new and will be heard for the first time in Woodstock in July.