Memories of CoMA

Saturday, 15th July 2023

A special evening of performances and memories, curated by CoMA's long-time collaborators and friends

St John's Smith Square, London SW1P 3HA. Starts 7:30 pm.

PROGRAMME NOTES

Tuxedo: Dust Bowl #3 Hannah Kendall

Massed ensemble

Tuxedo: Dust Bowl #3 is a meditative lamentation; a communal expression of grief, loss, displacement and despair; of being in the wilderness, the desert, a dust bowl, where all is dried up and destroyed. The harmonica, an instrument associated with Afro-diasporic sorrow, creates a brutal and harsh sound world symbolic of the plantations. It might seem that this does not allow for any hope, but the light comes through in other works in the Dust Bowl tryptic, or indeed the Tuxedo series more widely.

Such as in Tuxedo: Hot Summer No Water and Tuxedo: Dust Bowl#1 : ‘Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.’ (Isaiah 25)

Also, with Mr Nelson’s peonies in Tuxedo: Dust Bowl #2: ‘Copious Rains Gave Him a Good Wheat Acreage It Also Gave Him an Acre and a Half of Gorgeous Peonies’, and Tuxedo: Between Carnival and Lent: ‘Dust Bowl Staging Come Back….Life Renewed in Dust Bowl’. HK.

 

Bouncing off the Black John Humphries

CoMA East Midlands 

Bouncing off the Black is a poem by Nottingham-based poet John Humphreys. The East Midlands Ensemble have created an improvised piece using the text of the poem as inspiration. The first performance took place in Nottingham on May 14th 2023.

 

Andrew Toovey’s CoMA memories with Antony Gray (piano)

When I was asked to make a contribution to tonight’s 30th Anniversary celebration of CoMA, I decided to ask a collection of composers (some very involved with CoMA activities over the years and others new to the organisation) to contribute either new or existing short piano pieces that Antony Gray could play as a collection. I was delighted by the positive response and would like to thank all the composers for their pieces. I decided to place the pieces in alphabetical order according to the surname of each composer and I hope you will agree it makes a good structure and collection. For me, CoMA is all about bringing composers and performers together and making music in many different contexts with a varied and open range of styles and possibilities. I hope this piano collection is another example of the strength of CoMA’s vision.

The pianist Antony Gray has made many recordings for ABC classics (Bach – three CD set including several new works written especially for this recording collection) Eugene Goossens, Malcolm Williamson, John Carmichael, Brahms and Francis Poulenc (five CD set including pieces receiving their first recording) as well as three recent 3 CD sets of Saint-Saens music and Michael Blake collection of Afrikosmos, along with a fascinating collection of piano duets written for student and teacher all on the Divine Arts label.  He has also recorded other contemporary composers and teaches piano to young students in local London schools.

*World premiere

1 Victoria Benito – Piano Music for Isa*

In June of 2020, I wrote a short piano piece every day for a couple of weeks. Piano Music for Isa is one of them, and it was written for my friend Isa, who I was living with back then and whose great company made the lockdown a lot more bearable.

2 Michael Blake – Tickey-Draai

Tickey-draai is a traditional Afrikaans dance characterised by a tiny step moving in a circle, hence the title which literally means ‘turning on a tickey’ (tickey was the name for a small threepenny piece during the British colonisation of South Africa). Standard phrases from Afrikaans dance music are reimagined as a piece of minimalist music.

3 David Breeze – Two Figures in the Grass*

‘Two figures in the Grass’ for solo piano takes its title from a 1954 painting of the same name by Francis Bacon. This short extract is from a larger piece begun around 2002 in which I wanted to explore how two separate characters (represented by the two hands) might work independently but together.

4 Janet Davey – Headline news: (turn the page?)*

Composed on hearing the news headline that at least 62 migrants drowned – 12 of them children – off Calabria, Southern Italy, in the early hours of Sunday 26th February 2023.

5 Michael Finnissy – They all thought they should see the world*

The whole cycle of the four little children’s journey (collectively called Violet, Slingsby, Guy and Lionel) is a satire about UK insularity (as it is also distantly possible to interpret Lear’s original with respect to British Imperialist domination in the 18th-19th centuries…) … the ‘Folk-music’ in both instances is atomised and re-assembled from the original recordings.

6 Morgan Hayes – Trans-Pose*

The first draft for this piece was composed/improvised for some dance rehearsals at Finsbury Town Hall. The title references many things (including the Netflix series ‘Pose’) but also the sense in which the piano is transformed when paper is placed across the strings.

7 Philip Matty – Sinope*

The Ides, the point of full moon, of any month was the most important to Jupiter and so too is he joined in celestial harmony by many of his children and lovers. The Planet itself was associated with the art of Geometry by Dante Alighieri. In Chinese Astrology Jupiter is ruled by the element wood, being patient and hardworking; in Indian Astrology Jupiter is known as Guru or the ‘great teacher’. These depictions of Jupiter as patient or intelligent are prevalent in many of the stories associated with the Women which became part of his life, for however brief a moment.

8 Vinicius Motta – Whispers*

Light, cute, colourful and playful. I hear innocent whispers telling me to play this work.

9 Robert Nettleship – Whatchamacallit*

This piece was written when I was staying at Andrew Toovey’s house. I stayed up late writing this on Andrew’s Electric Roland Harpsichord.

10 Dave Smith – Reverse Swing

Reverse Swing – A cricketing term applied to music: dedicated to Gavin Bryars, a connoisseur of the game and who celebrated his 80th birthday this year.

11 Andrew Toovey – A little birthday music

Written for the 70th Birthday celebration concert for Malcolm Wiliamson (2007) given by IXION at the Wigmore Hall, London. Based on the composing style of composers such as Scarlatti that I used to love playing when I was a young piano student.

 

The Miraculous World of Hieronymus Bosch Mark Hendriks

CoMA Maastricht

Jeroen Bosch is certainly one of the most unique painters in the history of art. While his contemporary Leonard da Vinci recaptured the beauty of Greek and Roman art, Bosch created a whole never seen before (Medieval) fantasy world of his own at the same time. A style imitated and copied by others many times after that. Even today, after 500 years, his paintings evoke all kinds of emotions and reactions from museum visitors to all kinds of artists. Including myself. These mysterious and miraculous paintings by Bosch (even his own life is a mystery) inspired me to set this strange world to music. Several motifs, rhythms and moods combined represent the different paintings with their own themes in one musical piece. Fun to play, surprisingly to listen. The composition is based on the octatonic scale, creating a strange kind of tonality. Two intervals dominate throughout the piece: the third and the augmented fourth [tritone]. Or to stay in Bosch’s Mediaeval terms: the divine number three [The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost] and the devil himself [Diabolus in Musica].

Furthermore the composition is built out of blocks (the rehearsal letters). You could change the order, repeat or delete a segment.

The piece won 3rd prize and audience award at the CoMA Maastricht composition competition in 2022.

 

Gardenscape Emily Doolittle

CoMA Glasgow

Gardenscape was commissioned by CoMA for Rūta Vitkauskaitė in 2020. The following programme notes capture my experience of writing this piece in the early months of lockdown:

Since 1998, much of my music has been inspired by sounds from the natural world, especially birdsong. Though my initial interest in birdsong and music was sparked by the experience of hearing an individual bird – a European blackbird – singing outside my window, and by transcribing the song of that particular bird, many of my more recent birdsong-based pieces have been more broadly inspired by the song patterns and structures of a species as a whole, in some cases even a species I have heard only in recording. Covid 19-lockdown – going on for three months and counting – has led me to refocus on the specificity of the sounds and songs around me, first grudgingly, but now, increasingly often, joyfully. After lockdown began, I initially found it very hard to compose: I was worried about so many things, and my moods varied so widely.

But as I spent day, after day, after day, only in my flat or in the shared garden behind it, I came to realise that the ever-shifting soundscape of the garden was a perfect counterpoint to my own ever-shifting state of mind. The wood pigeon is variously comforting, invigorating, or annoying, depending on my own mood: the blackbird can poeticize my melancholy, or remind me of the beauty that is still all around. I began to transcribe the songs of the birds that came regularly to our garden, and as I became more familiar with the songs of each individual, the experience of staying in one place became richer and more fulfilling. Gardenscape does not seek to recreate any one lockdown soundscape, but rather provides the ingredients for the performer to recreate their own series of ever-varying Glasgow garden soundscapes. (I’ve provided transcriptions of the birds that visit my garden, but the performer is certainly welcome to add transcriptions of the birds around them too.)

Each of the sound layers provided is optional (though it is hard to imagine leaving out the blackbird), and they can be combined in many different ways.  It can be performed by a single performer using a looper or with tracks that they have pre-recorded or by an ensemble. I wrote the piece with the possibility of socially distanced and/or outdoor performance in mind, as the birds, too, are spatially separated when they sing.

 

MT Modulation Dominic Murcott

KNM Campus 

Maureen Tucker’s drumming with the Velvet Underground reduced the groove to the most basic stream of pulses. Unchanging and direct, it was the perfect foundation for the band’s sonic adventures. Starting with the same idea, MT Modulation is a stream of 912 quavers at 130 beats per minute with no other note values and no gaps. It uses only whole tone scales, chromatic scales and notes chosen randomly by the players.

Commissioned by CoMA (Contemporary Music for All), July 2013.

 

Michael Finnissy’s CoMA memories

These pieces are all by composers I have collaborated with in CoMA projects.

Judith Weir: Michael’s Strathspey (22nd October 1985)

Andrew Toovey: His wee fancy (a fragment – May 2008)

Colin Blundell: Piano Mathom Twenty-Six (every green thing that glittered – 2007)

Amoret Abis: ACHE (8.8.13)

Chris Newman: Prelude VII – for Christian Wolff (January 2nd 2023 – from 10 Preludes – first performance)

 

The New Moon Alexander Campkin

Massed ensemble

I was inspired by the text ‘New Moon’ by D. H. Lawrence to compose this piece for choir. It is a work which gives individual singers an element of freedom to make decisions about which notes they sing and when they sing them.

At the beginning and at the end, each singer sings the same line, but in their own time. This creates a cascading effect, with each voice moving separately.

In the middle section, everyone sings unified in time, but singers get to choose which notes within each cord to select. In doing so, they get to navigate through the chords I have written, and get to choose how to paint their own melodic lines through the music.

I selected these compositional techniques to reflect my understanding of the poem. Individual lines come and go, they linger behind, and are gone, as the new moon.

New Moon Text: D. H. Lawrence

The new moon, of no importance

lingers behind as the yellow sun glares and is gone beyond the sea’s edge; earth smokes blue;

the new moon, in cool height above the blushes, brings a fresh fragrance of heaven to our senses.

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