To the best of my knowledge it is generally considered that January takes its name from Janus, the Roman God of beginnings, gates, transitions etc. So like everyone else that writes about stuff (their own, or others) on the internet, I’m taking this early January opportunity to describe both what I’ve done in 2016 and what I hope to do in 2017.
January – April
The middle of nowhere in Iceland
Last January (or a little before) I started getting into synthesisers in a big way, both as something that was sonically interesting, and as a means of being able to create music myself outside of traditional networks for little or no money. I’ve spent the year more or less learning modular and FM synthesis, and am now at a point where I think I can start putting on some serious shows. For anyone interested in hearing me learn, you can hear some things here, but where I’m at now is a lot more advanced, and I’m looking forward to sharing some of these things in 2017.
In February, composer Ed Bennett curated a really beautiful concert of music for bass clarinet, cello, and electronics in Dublin’s James Joyce Centre as part of the Association of Irish Composers Directions series. It was very nice to have my piece Three Lines of Music on the Subject of Sitting included in this wonderful programme which was performed delicately by Kate Ellis. She brought a real sensitivity to this little piece, and you can hear a recording of her performance here.
In March we had our annual Frontiers Festival in Birmingham Conservatoire, and I had two new pieces performed. Six Lines of Music for Seven Players for Gamelan explored the differences in the two tuning systems found in Javanese Gamelan and Five Lines of Music Slow Down and Eventually Stop performed by Thallein Ensemble conducted by Richard Baker was part of the last Thallein concert (alongside the work of my wonderful colleagues) in the Adrian Boult Hall, shortly before the hall was demolished.
April was quite busy and early in the month I was fortunate enough to have a piece included in the MATA Festival in New York City, so I traveled to the Big Apple to work with the wonderful Ensemble neoN who performed Fourteen Minutes of Music on the Subject of greeting Cards. Ensemble Neon played my piece fantastically and were an absolute pleasure to work with. I also met so many lovely and inspiring people and heard many, many incredible pieces. This experience will be etched in my minds eye for many years to come, and I hope to cross paths with those I met there sometime in the future.
In addition to this, my piece was given a little mention in The New Yorker as well as getting very favourable reviews in The New York Times, Feast of Music, New York Music Daily, and New York Classical Review. Thanks for all the kind words!
Also in April, R. Andrew Lee performed some of my piano music in Regis University, Colorado. I have long been a fan of his piano playing, particularly his performances of Jürg Frey’s music, and I am incredibly grateful for him taking the time to programme some of my music. It was also a wonderful pleasure to be able to invite Andy to Birmingham to give a lecture recital to our students later in the year. He gave a really fantastic talk and performance and it was really nice to be able to hang out a bit for a day or two. Hopefully our paths cross many times in the future.
Again in April, after returning from New York, I travelled to Southampton University to rehearse with Workers Union Ensemble conducted by Ben Oliver on a new piece, Seven Lines of Music Slow Down and Eventually Stop as part of the New Dots concert series. The following day (16 April) we travelled to London for the piece’s first performance at the Warehouse. I was Composer-in-Association with Workers Union Ensemble for the past year, and I loved every minute of it. They are a fantastic group of musicians and wonderful, wonderful people, with whom I have a great rapport. This combination makes for brilliant music making, and I was immensely impressed with their performance on 16 April. They brought at first a real energy to the piece, and as it unfolds, incredible sensitivity. I hope that our relationship can continue long into the future. The concert was given some nice audience reviews here and here.
If you are interested, you can hear a recording of the piece here.
Finally at the end of April, I travelled back to Dublin to work with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland conducted by Gavin Maloney, who performed my 2012 orchestral piece Changing Rates of Change. This is the third time in four years that Gavin and RTÉ have performed this piece and they are now really making it their own. They perform with so much energy and are making lots of interpretive decisions that are making the piece really exciting! It was also a joy to have my work performed alongside two stunning pieces by Kevin Volans, and Enda Bates.
The Forbidden City, China
In May, I travelled to Beijing and Tianjin in China with Thallein Ensemble (conducted by Daniele Rosina) and Birmingham Conservatoire colleagues Joe Cutler, Ed Bennett, Andrew Toovey and Fang Fang. It was an incredibly action packed trip with two performances, the first in Tianjin Conservatory of Music, and the second in the Central Conservatory of Music as part of the Beijing Modern Music Festival. The students played fantastically, doing Birmingham Conservatoire proud, and the group were very well received with huge, huge audiences! In addition to these concerts, we also gave talks and masterclasses at Tianjin Conservatory of Music, Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing Normal University and the China Conservatory. We were also treated to performances of some fantastic and incredibly disciplined traditional music in the two later institutions. During the three hours I had off, I managed to sneak into the Forbidden City, which was mind blowing! We made some real lasting connections in Beijing and Tianjin and I’m sure I will return to China sometime in the future.
The majority of the summer months were spent both preparing classes at Birmingham Conservatoire (where I have now become the BMus composition coordinator), organising projects for students, and also composing work to be performed in 2017 (more details on this below).
September – December
The Grand Place, Belgium
In September I had the great pleasure of hearing my 2013 String Quartet Neue Kraft Fühlend performed by the RTÉ ConTempo Quartet as part of the Composing the Island Festival. They did a superb job on the piece and played with great energy. This was the first time that I had worked with the quartet and we will go on to do more concerts in 2017 with a new piece that I have recently completed for them. It was also great to hear really superb pieces by David Fennessy, Enda Bates, and Gráinne Mulvey in this concert. It was very nice to have been included in this festival, and it afforded me the opportunity to hear the best piece of orchestral music I have heard in a long time courtesy of Andrew Hamilton. This was really a stunning piece full of Joy and a little melancholy, and for me undoubtedly the highlight of the festival.
In addition to this festival, it was lovely to be given a little mention by music writer Liam Cagney in the The Invisible Art, 100 years of Irish classical music, The publication that surrounded the festival.
Also in September, I had the immense fortune of working with Katie Kim and the Crash Ensemble on arrangements I made for them of Katie’s latest album Salt. These were performed for the first time at the Engage Arts Festival in Bandon Co. Cork. Katie’s music is incredibly beautiful and resonates quite strongly with me, and the whole process from writing, to rehearsing, to the gig was one of the highlights of my career. We have plans to do this show again, and I hope more and more people get to hear this wonderful music.
At the same festival, my acousmatic piece Six Minutes of Music Created from Sound Around My Home was defused in a 1960s kitchenette. This piece, which I wrote in 2015, was the first piece of electronic music I had written since around 2008, and it is very nice to hear it being defused in different environments. Through this music I developed a renewed interest in electronic sound and it has led to many fruitful results.
In October, the above mentioned piece, Six Minutes of Music Created from Sound Around My Home was defused in Salerno in Italy at the 2016 AumentAzioni Festival alongside some of my Birmingham colleagues James Dooley, Simon Hall, Edmund Hunt, and David Revill. As mentioned above, I’m very happy that this piece is being heard in different spaces, and it was particularly nice to be featured in a festival alongside two heroes of electronic music John Chowning and Jean-Claude Risset.
November was a very busy month, particularly around Birmingham Conservatoire. We auditioned potential students, had Ensemble Paramirabo over from Montreal doing both a student workshop and a wonderful concert of contemporary Canadian music, and also in the space of three weeks we welcomed Richard Ayres, Kevin Volans and finally Michael Oesterle. It was wonderful having these three amazing composers around and hearing their insights into new music. A particular highlight for me was hearing our Thallein Ensemble conducted by Richard Baker perform a new piece by Michael Oesterle California, which was beautifully conceived, crafted and full of joy. The same concert contained fantastic new pieces by two of our students Peter Bell, and Patrick Ellis, and a really beautiful performance of my 2015 violin & Piano piece Five to Forty Seconds which was played magnificently and full of tenderness by Lieva Starker & Eric Mcelroy. There is a nice little review of the concert here, courtesy of The Birmingham Review. I really enjoyed having Michael Oesterle around Birmingham, he is such a remarkable composer with a remarkable mind. I think both the composition and performance students got a lot out of his visit, and I hope our friendship continues long into the future.
In December I was fortunate enough to accompany Birmingham Conservatoire’s Thallein Ensemble to Brussels in Belgium, performing a brilliant concert of music from our students Christopher Cresswell and Emily Levy, who both wrote wonderful compositions for the event. These pieces were performed alongside an International Rostrum of Composers piece by Peter Kerkelov, and a beautiful solo piano work by Samuel Carl Adams. This event was curated by Christopher Cresswell and was part of the Rostrum + programme. Everywhere we take Tallein and our composition students, they always make us immensely proud, and this trip was no exception, with both superb compositions and and fantastic performances, it was a joy to be able to share this music with audiences outside the UK. The rest of December was spent finishing up some pieces for 2017, and finishing up term at Birmingham Conservatoire and preparing for the new year.
In addition to all of these activities, myself and Jaime managed to travel to Iceland in March where I found the landscape and weather infinitely beautiful and inspiring. I can see why people fall in love with the place. We also traveled to the US in July and took in, as we always do, Connecticut, Philadelphia, and New York. Some of my best times are experienced in these places…
Stuff in 2017
I am delighted to be included in the 2017 New Music Dublin Festival which focuses on the music of Gerald Barry and Thomas Adès. My new String Quartet Four Lines of Music Slow Down and Eventually Stop will be premiered by the RTÉ ConTempo Quartet on 4 March 2017, alongside works by Linda Buckley and Thomas Adès.
Throughout the month of March, the RTÉ ConTempo Quartet will continue to perform my new piece, touring it around the country on the following dates:
More info and tickets available here.
Frontiers Festival, Birmingham
On 30 March 2017 I will be performing a solo show called A Live Performance on Multiple Synthesisers with Text Projection of a Piece Called Schematics Book I. This will take place in Centrala as part of Birmingham’s Frontiers Festival, and will be my first solo show as a synthesist. It is both incredibly exciting and daunting for me. I am also hoping to record some of this material for release later in the year.
Katie Kim and Crash Ensemble
Workers Union Ensemble
on the 11th & 12th of April 2017 Workers Union Ensemble will give repeat performances of my 2016 piece Seven Lines of Music Slow Down and Eventually Stop as part of NonClassical. Details available here.
840 Series, London
Finally, in September 2017, I’m really looking forward to moving into a new building with the rest of Birmingham Conservatoire. It is a very exciting chapter in our history!
If you have gotten to the end of this post fair play to ye, and thanks for your attention! As always, if you happen to be at any of my events, do come and say hi!