This year, Dundee WestFest was of reduced dimensions- effectively a weekend rather than a whole week. Once again, I am grateful to the festival for having the vision to mount my event, this time a full length organ recital. The programme consisted of 5 “sets” : firstly, pieces of Soviet era organ music by Shostakovich (passacaglia) and two of his pupils: Boris Tishchenko (2 of his “Inventions”) and Alfred Schnittke (2 satellite pieces to his “Faust”). Next, some “historic” pieces- a fantasia by Pachelbel, one of the 14th century Estampies from the Robertsbridge codex and 2 Trumpet Tunes by Purcell. The First half concluded with 2 pieces by contemporary Edinburgh composers: In Orbit II by Michael Bonaventure(I’d noticed the organ in the West Church could match the registration requirements of the score, in particular a very quiet dulciana on the Choir); and “Pipedream” by Iain Matheson, who happily was present in the audience.After the interval, during which the audience could attend the Roseangle Arts cafe downstairs in the kirk,1970s 12 tone composition informed the next set: the shortest organ symphony in the repertoire- Jean Langlais’ Deuxieme Symphonie “Alla Webern” preceeded another complete outing for Stockhausen’s “Tierkreis”, this time beginning with Aries. The final section was Bach-centred; one of the Schumann fugues on BACH preceded my first public performance of the ubiquitous Toccata in Dminor BWV 565…somehow I feel that numerous performances of the Bach/Brahms Chaconne in the same key has helped me decide how I want to play this enigmatic piece.
Arbroath piano club meets monthly between September and May and provides an opportunity for pianists of all standards to play on the Bluthner piano in St Vigean’s church. On Sunday 1st June, opening this year’s Music in St Vigean’s series, the Club presented a varied concert to an appreciative audience. In a programme consisting of pieces by Bach, Schubert, Prokofiev and Einaudi,among others, my short contribution consisted of Takemitsu’s Rain Tree Sketch II and Skryabin’s Deux Morceaux Op.57. I am scheduled to play for the club again in October.
A slightly belated report: on the evening of Saturday 24th May, I had the pleasure of returning to Edinburgh Society of Musicians to play a programme focussing on Morris Pert: doubly satisfying in that the original date for this in February had to be cancelled for health reasons. Indeed, a shadow threatened to overshadow this performance, when a slight hand strain required the omission of one item, but in the event, all went well. The actual Pert compositions were: another outing for Moon Dances, the Stones Suite and the Mountains Suite, which I hadn’t played for a couple of years.And, in addition to zodiac pieces by John Tavener and Stockhausen, I played three of the Pert Project Pieces: Michael Bonaventure’s Green Odyssey, which sounded very well on the new Steinway B piano, Iain Matheson’s ( who was present)Drosten and the world premiere of Richard McGregor’s Post Luminos: the genesis of this piece is partially explained in the previous post(after my invite in Aberdeen to write a piece for the Project, Richard had begun writing within hours). Happily, the audience included the other pianist to have performed Morris’ “Luminos” (pf solo version)back in the 70s: it was interesting to discover in the interval that he had premiered John White ‘s 1st piano sonata back in the 50s. It was pleasing to play to such a receptive audience.
As followers of my Facebook page will be aware (at least those who watch my posts), the weekend before last I was in Aberdeen to further raise Morris-Pert-consciousness by delivering a brief paper on his life and work at Musica Scotica 2014, held in the MacRobert building in the University area of Old Aberdeen. This entailed attending a number of fascinating talks given by experts in their fields on a wide range of subjects in the Scottish musical sphere- mainly in the areas of traditional music/ethnography, classical music, ecclesiastical music and academic methodology- although I didn’t actually hear that fearful word spoken: my Morris talk was the only one to touch on the area of pop/jazz/rock! I won’t enter into the invidious territory of saying which talks were best, but I genuinely found all those I attended (there were so many papers that a number had to be given simultaneously) to be of significant interest indeed.Of the actual performances during the weekend, two made a particularly vivid impression: those of a new edition of the McGibbon sonatas(perhaps because I’m aiming to play some McGibbon myself next month) and fiddle playing by the excellent Angus Grant- a totally unexpected pleasure: I’ve known his “Fiddle Pibroch” album for about quarter of a century, and was so impressed with his natural and authoritative playing that the fact he was playing left handed didn’t dawn on me until pointed out by Graham Hair!
I only had a half hour slot, and being blissfully ignorant of “powerpoint” and all its works, I illustrated my discourse with a few short examples of Morris’ music on the large Steinway piano in the room. Somehow I managed to cover most of the ground I had aimed for, and the gospel of Morris was apparently keenly received by those present, many of whom were previously unaware of him, others knowing very little. Happily, one of the audience, the composer Richard McGregor had performed the piano solo version of Morris’ Luminos around 40 years earlier in a recital in Liverpool: I had been looking at the review of this event the night before. I noted at the beginning of my talk that I was speaking on the eve of the 4th anniversary of Morris’ death- I view the fact that this event, and the beginning of my recording for a Pert CD took place in Easter Week as hopeful for the future of Morris’ music.
Yesterday I had the first recording session for my projected CD of Morris Pert piano music in St Vigean’s parish church on the outskirts of Morris’ native Arbroath. In the photo above, Auchenblae based Rawr Audio’s Allen&Heath mixing desk sitting in the north aisle, and in the background, the Bluthner piano in the body of the Kirk. There are now versions of “Moon Dances” and the “Stones”Suite in the can: “Voyage in Space” to follow. I’ll say more when the project is further progressed.
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.