Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Lunchtime Serenata at St Martin-in-the-Fields

I was in London yesterday for a lunchtime performance of my Serenata 1 at the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields.

The performance was given by the Icaris Duo - guitarist Will Browne and fluatist Vicki Guise who were playing it (very beautifully) in public for the first time. Also on the programme was a new piece by Ben Vaughan, full of his usual fantasy and quirky charm.

The Serenata is an old piece, written in 1994, originally for composer and flautist Lynne Plowman and guitarist Sally Hillier - it's been taken taken up by at least half-a-dozen duos since it was written and lasts about nine minutes. It's a gentle lyrical piece, but uses a lot of rhythms derived from African music that can make it quite tricky at times.

The score is available by emailing me at my website. A recording is also available on Soundcloud.

Many thanks once again Will and Vicki

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Chapel in the Woods

When I posted my blog about the small chapel at Bayvil back in August, Andrew Wilson-Dickson told me about a ruined chapel he had discovered whilst taking a detour from the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path near St Dogmaels, near Cardigan. The idea of the church suggested many new ideas that I could use as part of the Creative Wales Award I’m currently working on, so I set off to find the church.

I initially I started walking the south along the coastal path from Poppit Sands, encountering some alarming notices …

… and the usual fellow travellers …

As well as other abandoned and discarded artifacts

The chapel belonged to the community of Cippyn, which is so small that it isn’t even signposted. Eventually, after walking along a bridal path for half a mile or so, the roof of a building came in sight.

The chapel is surrounded by woodland and fields

Some of its windows are broken and the entrance is overgrown with brambles, but the building has not been vandalised: 

Inside the original communion table is still in place

Someone has recently left a little plastic bottle with flowers in a little niche in the wall

It’s difficult to know how long the church has been abandoned, but there was still a newspaper scattered around the floor dating back thirty years: 

I left armed with lots of information, ready to move on to the next stage ... watch this space! 

More pictures of the deserted chapel near Cippyn 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Programme Notes

Programme notes are a constant part of my working life and scarcely a week goes by when I don’t produce at least one set. Many of the notes are written for St David’s Hall, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, but there are also many other festivals and concert giving organisations who ask me for notes as well. Here is the programme for last night’s concert at St David’s Hall in Cardiff for which I did the notes.

It was the first concert in their 2014-15 International Concert Series, given by the Russian State Philharmonic orchestra conducted by Valery Polyansky with music by Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky. 

After the concert there was a blistering post-concert performance of Shostakovich’s Third String Quartet given by the Mavron Quartet. And here is my desk a few weeks ago, strewn with books and scores for last night’s notes.

Lots of people think that notes can be drafted quite quickly using Wikipedia, but I find that each note usually requires me to look at all the main source books on the composer, as well as consulting other notes and, of course, the score. I’ve just reached 1700 notes on file which helps me to respond quickly to requests for notes for concerts (for a list see my website)

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Early in the morning

Up at 4am this morning to travel out into the Black Mountains to put on an early morning event at the little medieval church of Partrishow (see the previous two blogs for more details and pictures). 

Although there was no sunrise at 7.30am, when the event started,  it was very atmospheric with the grey mists over the surrounding countryside and an army of bats flying around the church. 

We managed to get everything organised ready for the start ...

A very appreciative small and audience listened to the full fifty minutes. 

There were some lovely moments: birdsong as Chrissie Mavron played her solo outside in the church porch;

Ashley Long's closing double bass solo surrounded by the sound of the singing bowls in and outside the church: Michael McCartney magically prolonged ending to one of his solos leading to a long-held silence and Catherine Handley's beautifully poised flute solos (not easy in a cold early morning church). And then breakfast for everyone afterwards with Cathy Morris’s frittatas and my bara brith

Thanks to all the performers and to Cathy Morris, Alex Thacker and Maja Palser. On to the next stage! 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Music at Partrishow

I've been at Partrishow Church in the Black Mountains today for rehearsals for a performance there on Saturday morning (20th September) ... at 7.30am.

The event is a pilot performance as part of the work I am doing on my Arts Council of Wales “Creative Wales” Award and about 35 minutes of music played by four instrumentalists: Catherine Handley (flute), Christiana Mavron (violin), Michael McCartney (guitar) and Ashley Long (bass). The performance uses many of the different spaces around the church. Here is Christiana Mavron playing her solo movement - in the porch to the building ... 

... and Michael and Catherine performing their duo at the west end of the church under the bells.

Here is the whole group in front of the extraordinary 15th century rood screen ...

... and viewed through the rood screen.

If you would like to come along, do drop me a line by going to the contact page on my website or to my usual email address. 

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Partrishow at Dawn

A very early start to visit the small medieval church of St Partishow in the Black Mountains at dawn for research as part of the Arts Council Creative Wales Award that I am currently working on. 

Partishow, or St Issui, stands on a hill amongst the mountains and has one of the most extraordinary oak rood screens that have survived. 

The simple whitewashed walls are also decorated with pre-Reformation paintings and at the west end is a closed off hermit’s cell and chapel.

Because it is surrounded by mountains and hills, dawn is about an half-an-hour later than normal.  Inside the church all is still quite dark and outside there is just a glimmer of dawn in the East.

Inside, everything is still quite dark.

Eventually the sun rises over the mountains and floods the valley surrounding the church with light.

I can now head home with notes on how to use the church at this time of morning for a performance – watch this space for more details …

Friday, 29 August 2014

Days out at Presteigne

I’ve just come back from the Presteigne Festival which I’ve been reviewing for the Western Mail and Hereford Times.

It’s a great little town on the Welsh border – rather like stepping back forty years in time (try linking up to Wi-fi there…).

These days the festival is very much a contemporary music event. It could easily spell disaster at the box office, but the concerts and talks have been packed out with enthusiastic, appreciative audiences, with the normally sleepy little border town bustling with activity well into the small hours (a special pop-up festival bar in someone’s house might have something to do with it). Here is St Andrew’s Church where many of the events are held.

This year there was a special focus on recent Polish music. Here’s Pawveł Łukaszewski whose impressive 55 minute Requiem caused quite a lot of controversy.

Below is a link to my review in the Western Mail. There are a couple of short reviews still to come in the Hereford Times.

Monday, 11 August 2014


I have been revising a piano piece for its second performance this autumn. It’s called Bayvil – the same name as the small Anglican chapel of St Andrews, near Newport in Pembrokeshire, built around 1812. The name seems to come from Norman-French Beauvil, a "pleasant settlement".

It’s a wonderful example of an unaltered rural church of two hundred years ago.

As you can see, its simple plastered walls, slate floors, box pews, three-decker pulpit and flagstones hardly seem to have changed since it was built.

It has been a redundant church for some years and is under the care of the Friends of Friendless Churches. From its door the sea in Newport Bay is visible.

As with several other recent pieces, this eight-minute piano solo reflects the plain unadorned flat surface of its interior. You can hear it here. Here are a couple of pages from the score. 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Flute, Festival, Fishguard

I’ve been at the Fishguard Festival in Pembrokeshire soaking up the sun.

The wonderful La Mer Trio were there on Monday night. The ensemble consists of flute, viola and harp – a transparent and luminous sound, perfect for the cool space of St Mary’s Church in the town centre.

Here they are in rehearsal for a concert of music by Debussy, Ravel, Bax, Mathias, Telemann and a super new piece by Mervyn Burtch – and they also did a great job on my piece Beiliheulog (this is a version of the same piece that I wrote for flute, viola and guitar - see for more details).

And here they are in full concert gear.

Many thanks to Renate, Maja and Hannah for a beautifully controlled and elegant performance and also to Gillian, Gaye and Geraint for all their support and hospitality.

The festival runs until 30 July – details below.