Seeing it’s about a year since this blog began, it’s appropriate I should write another entry: it’s been an awkward year so far dealing with a number of viruses and a chronic family illness situation, however: c’est la vie. It looks like I might shortly have time to catch up on various things I had said I would do- not least writing on this blog.
A different order of writing commands my attention at the moment: a week tomorrow I’m giving a paper on Morris Pert at the Musica Scotica 2014 conference in Aberdeen. It’s only a 20 minute slot, but it should draw some serious attention to a composer who is not only absent from Grove (must get round to that) but was also ignored in the first edition of John Purser’s Scotland’s Music (he receives a review of 1 or 2 of the Chantry LPs: no overall estimation).
Pictured above is the numinous St Vigean’s Church, Arbroath where some readers may have heard me perform with soprano Chloe Foston a concert of Morris’ music
on the October 2010 day his ashes were interred in the family plot. It was also for over 1000 years the location of the famous Drosten Stone, now in the nearby museum. Very suitably, it will be the location for a CD of Morris’ piano music which I intend to start recording next week. Last week I had a very profitable meeting with Geoff Sharp of Rawr Audio from Auchenblae: it will be good to finally progress with this project.
I’m presently also making plans to return to Dundee Science Festival with Morris’ music, this time with 2 events- in Dundee and Arbroath. These will include space themed poetry by Arbroath resident Jim Stewart. Jim is no stranger to musical collaboration: last year he wrote the libretto for a mini opera by Dunkeld resident composer Graham Robb which was performed in New York. “Flora and the Prince”, as the title suggests, is about Flora MacDonald and the Young Pretender.
I had been considering taking Morris’ music down south again this year, but have concluded that against the uncertain and often highly emotional background of the September referendum, it could be counterproductive. Morris’ music addresses deeper matters than politics. The Yesmen seem to think they serve Scotland’s cause: in my experience they are holding it back. However, more on this in future posts, as previously promised. I’ll also say more about other upcoming events such as another organ version of Stockhausen’s Tierkreis at Dundee WestFest in June.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of playing a Morris Pert programme in Scotland’s national sanctuary, St Giles, the High Kirk of Edinburgh: a fitting venue for a composer of national significance. Observers of the Scottish scene will be aware of the extreme bitterness which has characterised the debate in a certain referendum campaign-to the extent that I presently feel uneasy presenting an avowedly “Scottish” programme lest it be a stimulus to false imputations of political intent. I intend to write more on this in future posts: suffice it to say, I see no simple continuity between music and politics.
Happily this issue did not raise its head on this occasion; furthermore, any anxieties I felt about the venue’s acoustics, & the piano were also unfounded: the Pert piano music (& the other items on the programme) seemed to work exceptionally well.
In addition to the Stones suite & Sonores II , I played “Moon Dances” a 1973 sequence inspired by the planetology of the 4 Galilean moons of Jupiter. An example of Pert’s space music, it is a prototype for the larger “Voyage in Space” of 1977, being studies in piano sonority, and fascinatingly containing themes and features which are further developed in later works.
It was very pleasing to have in the audience 2 of the contributing composers to the Pert piano project: Iain Matheson and Michael Bonaventure, whose pieces Drosten and Green Odyssey received further outings. Incidentally, Michael has often played and recorded on the organ in this venue.
The shortest item on the programme was John Tavener’s “Zodiacs” written 17 years earlier to the day,27th February 1997. Around Hogmanay, BBC4 screened a film about Tavener who had recently died: it included a clip of a 1972 performance of a memorial piece for Stravinsky: the percussionist was none other than Morris Pert, then a pioneering performer in this field.
Latterly, Tavener had become better disposed to Stockhausen’s work, so it seemed right to include the 3 winter melodies from Tierkreis: Capricorn-Aquarius and Pisces: I am told his trumpeter son Markus has also played in St Giles.
Another double blog entry, conveniently dealing with two comparable events. While I was down in London for my Morris Pert recital at Schott's, I was engaged to take part in an event at Woodend Barn, Banchory as part of the 2013 Sound Festival-the remarkable festival of contemporary music focussed in Aberdeen annually in November. This particular event was a performance-Installation in the form of a group improvisation by members of the illustrious Red Note Ensemble with local musicians under the direction of Glaswegian resident artist Torsten Lauschmann.The installation was called"Inconsistent Whisper": 9 instruments improvised within certain parameters indicated by different coloured lights as operated by the artist. My instrument on this occasion was the melodica, the others being 2 recorders,2 guitars,saxophone, cello,percussion and an example of the first Yamaha instrument: a small harmonium.
Just over a month later I played a Clavinova in piano mode in another performance-installation at Arbroath's Hospitalfield House: this was the first Scottish appearance of Bedfordshire based (but curiously Scottish named) Andy Holden. His "8 short pieces in time" accompanied films and animations. Local musicians played strings and clarinet under the direction of Robert Dick,conductor of Dundee Symphony Orchestra. The music was in a generally minimalist idiom, and included a quartet which alluded to Messiaen's famous work for the same forces, but from a Satiesque angle.
Yesterday I had my first musical outing of 2014 with a recital of Bach piano transcriptions in the Episcopal Cathedral in Aberdeen, a month after a recital of Wagner organ transcriptions at the same venue on St Andrew's day.
Despite being born in the Bach town of Leipzig, Wagner wrote no organ music, so for this 200th anniversary organ recital I repeated the Lemare Parsifal transcriptions I had played in Dundee earlier in the year. Between them I finally managed to perform Ronald Stevenson's Fugue on the Shepherd's Air from Tristan: a piece I had cancelled on a number of occasions over the previous 5 years. In fact, the fugue,which is dedicated to Wagner expert Derek Watson, also includes quotes from the Tristan prelude and material from Parsifal, bringing a carry special unity to the programme.
Yesterday's piano pieces were the Bach/Brahms Chacconne for left hand and Glasgow native Eugen d'Albert's version of the Passacaglia and Fugue: d'Albert is the dedicatee of Busoni's 2hand version of the Chacconne.Between these 2 cathedrals in sound I played a transcription of the Orgelbuchlein prelude " O Mensch Bewein" by another Glaswegian, Archibald M Henderson, a largely forgotten figure whose teachers included Busoni and Widor, and who served as organist of Glasgow University for over 50 yearz, playing into the 1950s. He is mentioned in John Purser's recent biography of Erik Chisholm, another son of the Dear Green Place.
So,finally,after several postponements/delays and the overbearing occurrence of the Jubilympics, I managed to take the music of Morris Pert back to the city where he worked for almost 20 years, and indeed where much of his best work was done.
Schott's is an old school music shop and a remnant of the musical London Morris would have known. A couple of evenings most weeks, the Steinway emerges from one of the practice rooms, and the basement becomes a performance venue, the music able to resonate through the open ceiling and around the ground floor of the shop: an ideal venue for Morris' sonorous and atmospheric piano writing.
Alongside the "Stones" Suite(2007), and excerpts from Sonores(written exactly 40 years previously in October 1973) and "Voyage in Space"(also London era),the programme included pieces from the ever-evolving Pert Piano Project: no less than 4 of the contributing composers being represented,with 2 World and one English premiere. Indeed,Edinburgh native Michael Bonaventure was present to hear his "Green Odyssey" come to life. To my mind it bears a similar relation to Pert's music as Takemitsu's Rain Tree Sketch 2 does to that of Messiaen: it represents a real communion between the two composers.
In addition to the first two PPP works, Geoff Hannan's "The LIttle Cloud",and Iain Matheson's "Drosten", the opening two(of seven) parts of "The Magical Control of Rain" by Marc Yeats(who suggested the project in the first place) entered the realm of performed sound.I look forward to learning further movements from this major 50min cycle, and indeed the upcoming recording of the whole by Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont,who is ideally prepared for such an undertaking, having already recorded the similarly aquatic Gaspard de la Nuit.
Playing in London for the first time since the 1980s was quite an experience: I keenly anticipate returning with more of Morris' music, hopefully in a matter of months.
I tried to affix this photo to my last post: for some reason Wordpress had other ideas! This hall was built, along with the main college buildings in the late 60s, and although much architecture of the era has been rightly criticized and removed, this is an elegant and pleasing building,combining an understated modernity with a human scale. The small to medium hall was designed with acoustics in mind, the polygonal shape of the ceiling and wood panelled walls seems to encourage unamplified sound to resonate in a warm and pleasant manner. This could be an excellent venue for a great range of music. Hopefully the imaginative and adventurous Cupar Arts Festival will continue to put it to good use.
It’s been a busy weekend for the music of Morris Pert, in particular his “Stones” or “Standing Stones” suite, as it is variously known. Dundee has perhaps heard more live Pert performances in recent years than anywhere on earth: it was all new however for the regulars at the Friday lunchtime concert last week. I began the recital with astrologically themed pieces by two composers who are perhaps strange bed-fellows: John Tavener’s “Zodiacs” and 4 pieces from Stockhausen’s “Tierkreis”- this latter written, I think, the year the University Chaplaincy was built. The somewhat otherworldly nature of these pieces set the tone for the Pert, who , I am told, had an air of mystery about him. The “stones” suite is inspired by 6 ancient Scottish sites from the 3rd millenium BC to the 9th century AD, from Arbroath in the East, to Calanais in the West, and Shetland to Roxburghshire. It is tempting to think that this Scotland wide piece might in some way reflect the spirit if not the matter of Morris’ projected 4th Symphony “De Situ Albanie”, of which nothing seems to survive. In any case the music was warmly received by the 60 or so people who turned out in the rain to attend.
On saturday evening I had the great pleasure of taking “Stones” south,over the RiverTay to Fife, for a performance as part of the Cupar Arts Festival, who are surely to be commended for having the vision to put this on. The theme of this year’s festival is “Fate”, and I was interested to see a number of astrologically themed items in the brochure. The hall at Elmwood College was constructed with acoustics very much in mind: special geometric patterns in the wood panelled walls and the ceiling tiles ensure a very fine sonic environment for unamplified music making.
Finally, on Sunday, the October session of the Arbroath piano club gave me the opportunity once again to play “Stones” in the ancient and numinous St Vigean’s church where I had first played it almost exactly 3 years previously at a memorial concert on the day the composer’s ashes were interred in his parents’ grave.
I can also announce another Pert date for 2014:Thursday 27th February at 12 for 12.15 til 1.00 in St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. I am particularly looking forward to playing the pan- Scottish “Stones” in a venue that is in a real sense at the spiritual and cultural centre of Scotland, being the location for Royal and national occasions aswell as numerous musical events.