Jul 23

Different Expectations




Abergavenny Symphony Orchestra with conductor Dennis Simons


I can’t recall who said that ‘every composition falls short’. While I certainly don’t think every piece is a disappointment to the composer, more often than not they turn out to be different to what you expect or intend - sometimes significantly so!

One of the parameters I put in place for my CoDI Buddies piece was to make it musically challenging but not technically so. This resulted in music that had a number of different rhythmic strands which ultimately proved difficult to coordinate in the time allotted. It is the job of the composer to examine and listen intently to the musical material so that it reveals it own destiny and ideal form. The composer must then use skill, experience and imagination to find a way for this to manifest itself in a practicable way.

As the notes fade into the Sunday night air it is becoming clear that what was intended to be the opening of Abergavenny Music will now be somewhere near the climax of the movement and the various strands that come together here will need to follow their own individual journeys before being brought to interact.

So, will Abergavenny Music turn out differently to what I had envisaged when writing the original application? Absolutely. Without the opportunity to try out these ideas; to understand how they work aurally and musically but also practically for the musicians, this piece would certainly be following a more pre-ordained course. Hopefully, rather than falling short, it will bloom into something more interesting than I could have originally imagined. And, in challenging myself as a composer, I am now more open to other ways of working and to a more collaborative way of engaging with performers. In this sense, it might be argued that this process is already showing itself to be a success!


Iestyn Harding

©Silurian Music 2019


New Posts
  • Tŷ Cerdd has announced that Jack White and Iestyn Harding have each been awarded grants to enable them to bring new work to the concert platform, alongside community performing groups. Jack and Iestyn had been part of an original cohort of eight artists selected for the 18/19 CoDI Buddies programme pairing composers with local societies. To facilitate this, each composer and performing group received an initial grant from CoDI, with the pairings collaborating over a series of workshops in early 2019. Jack White worked with Côr Aduniad from Cwmbran to develop Beacons, an experimental vocal piece that features the use of moving audio speakers. It takes its name from the Brecon Beacons mountain range, on which fires would be lit to warn of approaching armies. Fire is used as a metaphor for potential change in the work, and the choir moves around the performing space before coming together in the last section. The additional grant of £750 will allow Jack to work with the choir (who receive £250) to complete the piece ready for its premiere in March 2020. Iestyn Harding workshopped sketches for a triple concerto with musicians from the Abergavenny Symphony Orchestra over three workshops during June. Building on these experiments, he will now work with the group to complete his work for solo violin, flute, horn and orchestra ready for its first performance during the summer of 2020. Buddies is one of multiple strands run as part of CoDI, Tŷ Cerdd’s development programme for Welsh composers. From January to June 2019 eight artist / community music group pairings workshopped new pieces that included music for wind quintet, experimental electronic music and a piece for massed brass bands. Jack White and Iestyn Harding’s proposals for developing their initial work were selected by Ty Cerdd’s panel to go forward to development. Matthew Thistlewood, of Ty Cerdd said: “It’s been a pleasure to see the range of excellent work that has been developed through CoDI over the last year – and heartening to see such vibrant links between professional composers and our thriving societies. Jack and Iestyn’s projects were both artistically imaginative and accessible for the groups they were working with – and we’re so pleased that the ensembles want to work with the composers to bring them to audiences.” A call to artists for the 19/20 CoDI Buddies opportunity will be made in mid-October.
  • Back in June I recorded a new experimental vocal piece called 'Beacons' with Côr Aduniad: https://youtu.be/TdYeqlDLCqc (link to video). I've been thinking about the use of the speakers in the piece, and how the experience of singing with the speakers could be improved from the perspective of the singers and overall artistically. From the first rehearsal it became apparent that I had made the track on the speakers too quiet for the singers. This question of balance became very important to the overall idea of the piece: I didn't want the material to dominate, but it needed to be loud enough for the singers to take their cues. By the second rehearsal, I had made the material louder, and that seemed to give the singers more security. Singers are very used to the sound of the piano in a rehearsal setting. When you add other sounds into the mix it can be off-putting for less experienced singers. This was a good test for the choir, and it seemed to help that we started with some exercises that introduced some of the techniques in the piece. I used a technique I had first developed whilst working with the South Iceland Chamber Choir in the piece 'Islands/Ynysoedd'( https://soundcloud.com/jacknotchris/islands-ynysoedd ) where, in groups of three, the middle singer dictates the tempo by pulsing the hands of the singers either side (you can see this at the start of the video). This sets up the possibility of having simultaneous multiple tempi. What I think I would like to develop with the choir (and with my writing for this setup) is to make more use of a performance space. I think that I can write more effectively by limiting the sound types on the speakers, to reinforce the concept of spacing between singers. I also think that I will try to write wordless pieces so that the singers can concentrate on the notes and movement as this style develops. Lastly, I'd like to thank Côr Aduniad and Tŷ Cerdd for this opportunity and for the overall positive and challenging experience this has proven.
  • Llangynidr Mountain: © Andrew Davies 2019 Driving across Llangynidr mountain on an early summer evening really is a breathtaking experience and one, which on a musical level, inspired the feeling and texture of the opening ideas of my piece. I recall this now as I drive across this mountain on my way to an ASO rehearsal where my initial musical thoughts for this piece will be made public. Hearing real people play your music is a truly wonderful experience. Waiting for the first play-through is both immeasurably exciting and a little terrifying. On this occasion the fear is amplified by the fact I know the musical ideas are only half formed and not completely worked through. Being a testing ground, this project, however, affords the luxury of trying things out in a number of ways without fixing on a particular solution. Initially, this has been quite a challenge as I usually have all the major compositional decisions locked into place long before anyone else comes anywhere near looking at a score. One of the areas within which I enjoyed this luxury was exploring how the music responded to a variety of tempi. By this I don’t just mean getting the precise metronome marking from an already narrow range of possibilities. Instead, testing ideas at radically different speeds offers possibilities not just for a single iteration of a particular idea but for the proliferation and variation of the idea throughout the eventual piece. Another area of thought that has been challenged is the selection of the solo instruments. During the first play through of the material, it became apparent that the first entry of the flute soloist didn’t cut through the texture in an audible way. Playing the passage up the octave introduced a level of stress which was undesirable so that switching to piccolo as a solo instrument achieved a preferable result. After the rehearsal, comments I received were all rather lovely, although many people had ideas (mostly wrong!) of what inspired the piece. One interesting comment, “were you inspired by the Symphony of Wind Instruments?” (I wasn’t, by the way!) would have annoyed my in the past. Maybe when a composer is struggling to find their own voice being likened to the sound of someone else can make one a bit tetchy. However, I do feel quite pleased that someone has put my music anywhere near Stravinsky. Anyway, as all this has been processed it is now time to reflect and look at what Abergavenny Music needs next to develop and progress for the next rehearsal. Iestyn Harding © Silurian Music 2019

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