Friday, 13 December 2013

Quartet amongst the books

Fantastic performance of my quartet, footsteps quiet in the shadows by the Mavron Quartet last Wednesday night.


They gave a concert the beautifully refurbished Booth’s Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye.

Here’s photo of them on the stage after the performance together with me and Francesca Kay who read her lovely poem, Unicorn, before the performance.

We were all wonderfully looked after following the performance at John Stark’s house with delicious veggie snacks.

There's another performance on Sunday 15 December at 11.30am in the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre at the National Museum of Wales.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

More performances of footsteps quiet in the shadows

The Mavron Quartet give two performances of my recent quartet, footsteps quiet in the shadows next week. It’s based both on a poem by Francesca Kay (from which the title is taken) and on the mysterious second movement of Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto – just two simple chords of A minor and B major. No one knows what Bach meant – he may have intended it as the basis for a cadenza or improvisation.

The Mavron Quartet are including an arrangement of Bach’s Concerto in the concerts, but the arranger has left the chords out! I had the leviathan task of writing out parts for the whole second movement (see below) – it must have taken all of ten minutes …

I’m thrilled that Francesca will also read her poem before both performances – if you fancy buying a copy of the collection from which it is taken, you can find her at Wales Millennium Centre this weekend selling it along with lots of other Christmas goodies (see Francesca’s blog - ).

The performances are on Wednesday 11 December at Booth’s Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye at 7.30pm (tickets from 01497 820322) and Sunday 15 December in the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre at the National Museum of Wales at 11.30am.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Dino Commission

I’m just starting work on a new commission from Tŷ Cerdd, the National Music Centre for Wales. It’s for narrator and the Welsh Brass Trio for young children, from age four upwards. The words are being written and narrated by Francesca Kay whose work I have admired for ages. Francesca has already written some fantastic children’s pieces with Mervyn Burtch and Gareth Wood. We used to work together on the educational projects for the Lower Machen Festival and last year I set her three winter haiku for soprano and piano.

The text for this is very different though: it’s all about dinosaurs and the problems that come up when a stegosaurus falls asleep on the road, blocking the traffic. Expect something very different from my most recent scores…

At a recent meeting Charlotte Griffin from Tŷ Cerdd gave me three of her young son’s miniature dinosaurs – they are now sitting on my piano willing me to write the music.

Follow Francesca Kay’s blog at  and see her website at

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Four-Minute Facelift

I wrote my four minute opera, The Sands of Time, (with writer Simon Rees), twenty years ago for a one-off performance. It had to be composed very quickly and I didn’t produce the neatest score in the world.

Twenty years on it’s still getting performances every year and each time I feel a bit more embarrassed about the old score. At the end of November, Intimate Opera of Indianapolis are giving four performances, so I asked Michael McCartney to produce a newly engraved score.

Michael is a highly skilled music editor and has produced a beautifully laid out and proportioned score so that the performers will have better materials to work with.

For details of Intimate Opera's forthcoming production, see

Monday, 28 October 2013

Autumn Festival in Flanders

The Transit Festival of contemporary music in Leuven, Flanders, is one of my favourite destinations. A packed weekend of music and talks – there’s almost no time to eat!

In between events I enjoyed the wonderful medieval town, bathed in autumn sunlight. Its town hall is one of the most impressive gothic buildings in Europe.

I heard lots of fabulous new pieces and performers, including an excellent new commission from Bernhard Lang based on Boris Karloff’s Dracula films and incorporating bits of their soundtracks – fun, but also tough and challenging. Today I’m writing up a review of the weekend for Tempo

More details at Transit’s website 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

And ...

Two weeks ago the London Sinfonietta held a special concert in which they played and displayed a selection of pieces that could be written on one side of a postcard. Along with around 370 other composers I submitted my own postcard, with a piece laid out in the form of an ampersand.

I’ve always been attracted to the visual possibilities of music notation. This also fascinated Medieval and Renaissance composers. Here is one of the most famous examples, dating from the early fifteenth century, with the whole piece represented in pictorial format. It’s by the French composer Baude Cordier and is called Belle bonne sage.

Having done one of these now, I’m very interested in making more short pieces in this way.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Still Life with Guitar

Yesterday the musicians Still Life with Guitar gave a lunchtime concert at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. As usual with these players, it was a fascinating and unusual event and included the premiere of a new piece of mine (see previous blog, Song for a Hidden Chapel, for more details)

They played in front of an impressive Stanley Spencer Resurrection painting and this, and the other paintings and sculptures dotted around, made it a visual and musical treat

They played a great new piece by the young Cardiff-based composer Luke Starkey – one of the movements, called Five Little Pigs, consists of five micro pieces, one of which is only two notes long. Fabulous! Here's Michael McCartney and Emma Coulthard rehearsing.

As you can see the rehearsals were very serious, but also fun …

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Song for a Hidden Chapel

Built around 1720, Beiliheulog is a small non-conformist chapel, hidden deep in a remote valley in Breconshire.

After visiting during harvest time in 2009, I composed a piece for flute, viola and guitar, being premiered at the National Museum of Wales on Sunday 15 September by Still Life With Guitar.

Although only six minutes long it’s one of most sparse pieces I’ve ever written – there are only 89 notes in total, and I even took out a few more the other day!

The concert starts at 1pm and is free – it’s a fascinating programme with another first performance by the wonderful young composer Luke Starkey. The three musicians are Emma Coulthard (flute), Philip Heyman (viola) & Michael McCartney (guitar). It would be great to see you there.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Hot off-the-press madrigals

Last night the fabulous Madrigali Redux gave a concert in York’s Late Music Series. They gave 10 first performances in one night of new madrigals for four voices to a large enthusiastic audience in the intimate York Unitarian Chapel.

Pianist Mark Hutchinson also played four new piano pieces based on 16th and 17th century madrigals. Here he is rehearsing during Saturday afternoon.

He played a brand new piece of mine based on a Monteverdi madrigal – it’s wonderful when someone like Mark knows straightaway how your piece should go. I was delighted with what he did.

With luck, a recording should be posted on the Late Music Series’s website before too long. Thanks Mark and to Steve who organised the concert.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Venetian Dawn

Dawn over Venice, evoked by Monteverdi in his 1590 madrigal Ecco Mormorar L’onde (Now the waves murmur). Next Saturday, 7 September, pianist Mark Hutchinson premieres a piano piece I’ve written with the same name at the Late Music Series, York. It’s part of a concert of contemporary madrigals and they asked me to write something inspired by a traditional madrigal. Monteverdi was thinking of a brilliant sunrise; my piece has a more muted dawn!

Hear Monteverdi’s original