Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Eight New Pieces in an Old Kirk

Members of the London Sinfonietta have worked with St Magnus Composers' Course, and Orkney Conductors' Course participants since Wednesday 15 June, under the direction of Alasdair Nicolson, Sally Beamish, Martyn Brabbins and Charles Peebles. Today the Sinfonietta performs a series of 8 world premieres, composed and conducted by the participants on the courses.

The London Sinfonietta with Alasdair Nicolson, during a St Magnus Composers' Course workshop in the Peedie Kirk.
Helen Keen, flute; Andrew Webster, clarinet; Alexandra Wood, violin; Oliver Coates, cello; Tim Palmer, percussion


A programme is available at the concert, although (obviously) it was not possible to print programme notes in the official festival programme. By kind permission of the composers and the festival Artistic Director, programme notes are reproduced below.

Each programme note below is copyright the relevant composer, photos are available for under a Creative Commons license.


Colossus, by Chris Roe
conducted by Akiko Ohtomo


...we marvelled at its glittering pulleys, mechanical wizadry and strange rhythms...

‘Colossus’ was the name given to the codebreaking computer used by British cryptographers during World War II.A vast machine (at least by modern computing standards) consisting of plugboards, wires, cogs and tubes, Colossus fascinated workers at the time with its ‘glittering pulleys’, ‘mechanical wizardry’ and the ‘strange rhythms’ that it produced as it decoded the material fed into it.

As well as reflecting these descriptions in its soundworld, this piece sets up various musical machines throughout its structure where each part plays pulses in different perceived tempos.However, like Colossus, these machines are not always reliable, and therefore the relationship of the musical output of these 'machines' to their input varies throughout the piece.


Chris Roe (left) is currently in his first year on the Royal College of Music’s Masters course, studying with Kenneth Hesketh as an Ian Evans Lombe Scholar. Previously, he completed a BMus at Manchester University, studying with Camden Reeves, and graduating with first class honours. Chris has written for ensembles including the RCM Wind Ensemble and the Composers Ensemble, with recent performances at the National Portrait Gallery, Cosmo Rodewald and Amaryllis Fleming Concert Halls and an upcoming premiere in France this summer.
Akiko Ohtomo studied in Tokyo, whilstworking as an assistant conductor to Mstislav Rostropovich; as well as Naoto Otomothe 52nd Puccini Festival in Italy. then moved to Russia's St Petersburg State Conservatory where2005she was awarded first prizethe International Academy of Advanced Conducting Competition in St.Petersburg.She has established the Hokusai Chamber Orchestra and will perform to the 2012’s Lunchtime Concerts series in St.Martin-in-the-field, London.


Floating Bridge (the lion dances), by Lliam Paterson
conducted by Dane Lam


This work was inspired by the Noh play Shakkyō (The Stone Bridge), which I read and watched before coming to Orkney for the St. Magnus Composers’ Course. The play concerns the monk Jakushō, who comes to a stone bridge during his pilgrimage. A woodcutter boy appears to him, and warns that an attempt to cross the bridge would be treacherous; it leads to the Pure Land, and is not intended for mortals. After the boy predicts that a miracle will occur, he vanishes. Sure enough, a lion appears across the bridge (the carrier of Manjusri Bodhisattva) – it plays with beautiful peony flowers, and then performs a dance.

The eloquent descriptions of the bridge in the play, as well as seeing the magnificent Lion Dance, served as the primary inspiration for this work (rather than the actual music of the Noh play, although elements of its ritualistic quality can be observed). In particular, the frequent intimations of the divine to be found in the text are echoed in the returning woodwind arabesques, which to me also suggest the fragrance of the blossoms which enchant the lion. The dance-like passages were inspired by the energetic display of the Lion Dance.


Lliam Paterson (left) is currently an undergraduate reading music at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and studies composition with Errollyn Wallen. His music has been performed by the NYO, Edinburgh Quartet, and Britten Sinfonia among other ensembles, at venues including the Tate Modern and Royal Festival Hall. He was a winner of the StAnza Poetry Festival Composition Competition, the winning piece subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio nan Gaidheal. Lliam also studies piano, holding the Padley Repetiteur Scholarship.

Dane Lam graduated from The Julliard School under James DePreist, and holds the positions of Leverhulme Junior Fellow in Conducting at the Royal Northern College of Music, Principal Conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and Assistant Conductor to Kurt Masur at the Orchestre National de France. Dane has appeared with the Sydney Symphony and conducted orchestras in three continents including the Melbourne and Queensland Symphonies, the Manchester Camerata, Verbier Festival Orchestra, Sofia Festival Orchestra, Beethoven Orchester Bonn, and the Juilliard Orchestra.


A Waltz for Grace, by Elisabeth Cowe
conducted by James Ham

The idea for this piece stemmed from a conversation with my Granny. On hearing that I would be coming to Orkney, which is where her mother was from, she suggested that I try to write some ‘nice’ music, perhaps a waltz. Though I don’t often take advice on composition from my elderly relatives – if I did, all my music would end up sounding like the ‘Bluebell Polka’ – this idea struck me as interesting.

The piece begins quietly, with fragments of the melody appearing gradually. At its centre is the ‘waltz’ which builds to a climax before a return to the fragmented texture of the opening.

I’m not sure if the piece would satisfy my Granny’s wish for ‘nice’ music but I shall play her the recording with fingers crossed!


Elisabeth Cowe graduated from the University of Edinburgh with an MMus in Composition in 2010 where she studied with Nigel Osborne. Her music has been performed by Links Wind Quintet, Red Note Ensemble and St Andrew’s University Chamber Orchestra, amongst others. Recent compositions include ‘Under Sail’ for chamber orchestra and soloists, performed in the Byre Theatre in St Andrews, later broadcast on BBC Alba, as part of the StAnza Poetry Festival’s celebration of the work of Sorley MacLean.

James Ham studies conducting at the St Petersburg Conservatory with Vladimir Altschuler. Music director of the Apollo Sinfonia, recent performances also include concerts with the Amadeus Orchestra, Bombay Chamber Orchestra and Birmingham Junior Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra. Future projects include assisting Kristjan Järvi and the Baltic Youth Philharmonic in July. Prior to his studies in Russia, James taught at the Birmingham Junior Conservatoire and Birmingham University, where he was awarded an MPhil in Musicology.


Light Upon Darkness, by Gillian Menichino
conducted by Alexander Humala


The essence of the music, opaque, yet translucent alludes to the idea of purity in light and the weight in darkness as expressed by colour contrasts produced from within the ensemble.

“I am not who I am without the fragments of my past Once left behind, made still and unchanged My past has bestowed upon me A culmination of imprints Misshapen fragments, still, unmoved. Light upon darkness pronouncing textures of a fragmented globe From which only I perceive, light upon darkness, I, that which has been drawn from a past once in motion, set in stone. Where to be still, There she remains, unmoved, her true identity, Possessed by stillness, set in stone, pronounced by light.”

Gillian Menichino (left) has participated in master classes with Simon Bainbridge, Steve Mackey, James MacMillan, Brian Ferneyhough, and Judith Weir. Commissions have included a works for the Steve Mackey Festival in 2008 and for the James MacMillan Festival in 2009. Recent commissions have included pieces for choir under the direction of Jonathan Lo and for the Judith Weir Festival. She has had the unique opportunity of working with the BBC singers twice in London. Gillian was awarded a Master’s degree in Composition and Contemporary music from the RNCM under the instruction of Dr. David Horne and Gary Carpenter in 2009. She is currently doing a PhD in music composition at the RNCM with Adam Gorb and Dr. David Horne.

Alexander Humala studied at the Belarusian Conservatory (in choral singing and piano) and in the Belarus Academy of Music. He has worked as assistant conductor of the Choir of the Belarusian Radio, at the opera house of Wroclaw and with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. He won an international conductor competition in Riga 2009, Laureate of the Polish Minister of Culture «Goude Polonia» 2009 and the Grand Prize of the President of the Republic of Belarus 2010. He is currently a student at Rotterdam Conservatory studying opera and symphony conducting.


Song of the Awakening Dawn, by Nancie Eloise Gynn
conducted by Sinead Hayes


Any previous idea I had for this piece was blown away on my arrival in Orkney. My music is very much inspired by everything around me, and I love the light and sense of space here. As I explored the Ring of Brodgar, the expansive landscapes and the calls of lapwings and oyster catchers evoked memories of my windswept childhood in West Cornwall. I watched as the wind created ripples on the otherwise still water, and the reflected colours ever-changing as the clouds grew more ominous…yet stillness prevails.


Nancie Eloise Gynn (left) completed her Masters in Composition with distinction at Cardiff University School of Music in 2008, studying with Anthony Powers, Judith Weir and Arlene Sierra. In 2009, she participated in the Britten-Pears Programme with Oliver Knussen and Colin Matthews, where she wrote Shadow of the Wind which was premiered at the 2010 Aldeburgh Festival to critical acclaim. Eloise has recently written for the London Symphony Orchestra through the LSO Panufnik Young Composers Scheme, under the supervision of James MacMillan.
Sinead Hayes, originally from Galway, completed her MMus in conducting at the Royal Northern College of Music in 2009. She is music director of Bury Choral Society and Amaretti Chamber Orchestra in Manchester. In the past year she has worked with the Orquestra do Algarve, Bochumer Symphoniker, Essener Philharmoniker and North Czech Philharmonic and was associate conductor of the Hallé Harmony Youth Orchestra, featured in the Channel 4 documentary Orchestra United, in summer 2010. She has recently been appointed assistant conductor for British Youth Opera‘s 2011 production of Le Nozze di Figaro.


Rushes, by Chris Litherland
conducted by Robert Houssart


“It is an irregular, uncertain motion, perpetual, patternless and without end.” (Montaigne)


Chris Litherland (left) studied at the Music School of Douglas Academy, before going on to the RSAMD, Glasgow, and Trinity College of Music, London. He is interested in music that combines contemporary music with theatre, movement and spoken word, as well as more traditional forms of concert music. Chris lives in Caithness, close to the most northerly point in mainland Scotland, a landscape that is very dear to him, serving as an inspiration for much of his creative work at present.

Robert Houssart studied at Cambridge and at the RNCM. After several years as a keyboard player, he made his debut conducting Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre at the Adelaide Festival 2010, and has since conducted productions for the Royal Opera House, at Sadlers Wells, Opera North and at the Luminato Festival, Toronto. He has worked as assistant conductor at La Monnaie' Brussels, Teatro Colòn, Buenos Aires, ABAO Bilbao, Opera North, ENO, and at the Hallé.


Slide, by Fiona Rutherford
conducted by Fergus Macleod


As a composer whose main background lies largely in traditional Scottish music, this project has been a great opportunity and learning experience in writing for contemporary ensemble in scored music form! title refers to the easy shifts and open-minded approach towards cross-over music-making; an attitude that inspires me. sense of fun, humour, melody and eccentricity provide the main focus for the musical material.


Fiona Rutherford (left) studied at The City of Edinburgh Music School, Dartington College of Arts and Edinburgh University.She works freelance performing and teaching on the Scottish Harp, alongside composition work.She particularly enjoys collaborationand has written for theatre and film, including award-winning feature film 'The Inheritance' and the acclaimed new release 'The Space Between'.Her music has been played on Radio Scotland,FMand3's Late Junction and in 2010 she was the winner of The Clarsach Society's Young Composer Award. conductor

Fergus Macleod has worked with orchestras including the Tokyo Philharmonic, Colorado Symphony Orchestra and London Chamber Orchestra, he has studied with conductors including David Zinman, Pierre Boulez and Heinz Holliger and has lead over 20 world premieres. This summer, as well as participating in the Orkney Conducting Class with Martyn Brabbins, he will conduct Rusalka in the Czech Republic and return to study with Pierre Boulez in Lucerne. He is currently studying for a Masters Degree in conducting with Johannes Schlaefly at Zurich University for the Arts.


A Waltz for Grace, by Elisabeth Cowe
conducted by James Ham

The idea for this piece stemmed from a conversation with my Granny. On hearing that I would be coming to Orkney, which is where her mother was from, she suggested that I try to write some ‘nice’ music, perhaps a waltz. Though I don’t often take advice on composition from my elderly relatives – if I did, all my music would end up sounding like the ‘Bluebell Polka’ – this idea struck me as interesting.

The piece begins quietly, with fragments of the melody appearing gradually. At its centre is the ‘waltz’ which builds to a climax before a return to the fragmented texture of the opening.

I’m not sure if the piece would satisfy my Granny’s wish for ‘nice’ music but I shall play her the recording with fingers crossed!


Elisabeth Cowe graduated from the University of Edinburgh with an MMus in Composition in 2010 where she studied with Nigel Osborne. Her music has been performed by Links Wind Quintet, Red Note Ensemble and St Andrew’s University Chamber Orchestra, amongst others. Recent compositions include ‘Under Sail’ for chamber orchestra and soloists, performed in the Byre Theatre in St Andrews, later broadcast on BBC Alba, as part of the StAnza Poetry Festival’s celebration of the work of Sorley MacLean.

James Ham studies conducting at the St Petersburg Conservatory with Vladimir Altschuler. Music director of the Apollo Sinfonia, recent performances also include concerts with the Amadeus Orchestra, Bombay Chamber Orchestra and Birmingham Junior Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra. Future projects include assisting Kristjan Järvi and the Baltic Youth Philharmonic in July. Prior to his studies in Russia, James taught at the Birmingham Junior Conservatoire and Birmingham University, where he was awarded an MPhil in Musicology.

The End

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