Friday, 21 March 2014

Footsteps in the can

I’ve just had a fantastic day down at Tŷ Cerdd’s recording studio at Wales Millennium Centre with the Mavron String Quartet and Francesca Kay recording my quartet, footsteps quiet in the shadows, for a CD.

Although the quartet is only just over twelve minutes, we had four hours of recording time booked so that we could get every aspect of it right. And we still have the editing session yet to come … We had Ty Cerdd’s engineer, James Clark at the control desk guiding us smoothly through the day.

The Mavrons have given eight public performances of the quartet and really have it under their belts. Last week I spent a very long day finishing a final copy of the score and it was useful to copy it out again to familiarise myself with all its details. Here’s a photo of pages from the last movement – although I can use music software, I dislike it and prefer to make my scores by hand.

It was great to have Francesca Kay in the recording studio with us. The piece takes its title from a poem called Unicorn by Francesca from her collection Mythical Beasts. She’s been able to read it at most of the performances, and the transition from her reading into the opening bars is a magical moment which we all now regard as an integral part of the piece. Here she is today reading it in the studio.

Look out for news of the CD itself.

Many thanks to Chrissie, Katie, Niamh, Bea, Francesca, James and Jim for all their work today. 

Monday, 17 March 2014


I’ve been looking through recent photos and see I've developed an interest in windows. I like the way in which they provide a frame for a picture, such as this one below taken on a misty day at Chepstow Castle.

I also like the way that they can become gleaming objects in a dark space. Here’s one taken just before sunrise Patrishow Church in the Black Mountains.

By comparison here is one taken at sunset last weekend in the tiny little Shropshire church of Melverley – a wonderful fifteenth century timber-framed church next to the River Vyrnwy.

Here’s another taken at the Church of St Cross in Winchester where looking out from the cloister.

This comes from  the most remote chapel in Wales, Soar-y-mynydd, on the road from Tregaron to Llyn Brianne.

I’m not quite sure how they all add up at the moment, but think that something will come out of them.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Textiles and Music in Shropshire

I was in Wem, Shropshire, on Saturday night to review a premiere by the composer Howard Skempton given by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group at the wonderfully refurbished Edwardian town hall.

I’m a huge admirer of Skempton’s sparse and understated scores and was particularly interested in this new piece, Field Notes, because it’s a collaboration with textile artist Matthew Harris. They’ve used old maps of Shropshire and graphic scores as common starting points, and Harris’s freestanding artwork, combining textiles and drawings, framed the performance space where four players from Birmingham Contemporary Music Group played the new piece.

During the concert, Matthew Harris’s textiles and his and Skempton’s sketches were laid out for the audience to view during the evening. Consisting of twelve folded fragments, his textiles reflect both the graphic nature of the ancient maps (a historic record of “carving and cutting up of land where fields become fragments”) with their different shades of pale yellow whilst their free-flowing shapes are unconstrained by the usual squares and rectangles; like Skempton’s music, the result is open-ended. 

There is a fascinating website and blog that records the creative process that the project moved through

Wem is a wonderful little village and a great place to come for a premiere.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Wales Comes to Oxford

Here I am in Oxford for a performance of my piece Beiliheulog (see for more details of the piece) 

It was part of a concert, This is Wales C21, at St Hugh’s College, put on by Claire Roberts from Ferryside, Carmarthenshire, who I met when she won the Young Composer of Dyfed prize in 2009. Claire is now a third year music student at Oxford University and decided to put on a St David’s Day concert (albeit on 7 March) of music by Welsh composers.

I was very proud to be one of group of composers who she asked to provide pieces, along with John Metcalf, Andrew Wilson-Dickson, Rhian Samuel, Gwyneth Glyn, Joseph Davies, Gareth Moorcraft and Claire herself. And Hanna Hopwood was also on hand to read some poetry in Welsh.

We had a full hall of people who turned out on the Friday to hear the music – though it might also have been the lure of a table groaning with Welsh cakes and Bara brith (not looking forward to my encounter with the weighing scales tomorrow).

Flautist Daniel Lewis, viola player Ffion Beven and harpist Lucy Nolan made a fantastic job of my piece, which is very quiet throughout and Claire boldly decided to put it in the programme as a final item. Thanks again Claire, it was a great evening.