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On Saturday February 20th, Mars in Aquarius played what turned out to be our final concert in Dundee’s Wighton Heritage Centre. This was slightly more than a year after our first rehearsal, and was perhaps a fitting conclusion to the project. Although only one Tierkreis melody was played, the ensemble pieces were mostly Intuitive Music we had played before,with the exception of “Japan” and an excerpt from Cardew’s “Treatise”.

Some good music making occurred during the year; unfortunately, hopes that we could move onto another project proved vain. If the Mars in Aquarius project is revived, it will likely be in a very different form.

Photo by Wighton Musician, Simon Chadwick

Following on from our November performance at Montrose Museum, Mars in Aquarius were kindly invited back to the Royal Burgh to play at a special opening of the William Lamb Sculpture Studio, one of the most remarkable cultural sites in Angus. The studio normally opens during July and August, but the Friends of William Lamb Studio committee, of which I am a member, have decided a year round programme of events is a desirable development, so we were honoured to initiate the studio’s role as a performance venue. The experiment was successful: the venue has excellent acoustics and affords more space than I had feared for an ensemble of musicians to set up and play. The event was experimental for Mars in Aquarius too, as we tried new repertoire from our post Stockhausen phase, interspersed with solo items and poetry from the four members: again the result was successful.

It is anticipated that a programme of musical and poetry events will now follow at the Lamb Studio, aswell as art classes of various sorts.

Photos by MiA member Mandy MacDonald.

The sun was in Scorpio when Mars in Aquarius played two concerts on Thursday 12th November 2015 in the Angus coastal burghs of Arbroath and Montrose at the Library of the first and Museum of the second; indeed, the “Adoration of the Magi” by Breughel II in Arbroath Library was an early inspiration in the Tierkreis40 project and it heard its second tierkreis of the year played on the reduced forces of solo melodica and small gongs(the first public outing for this combination) – the Montrose Tierkreis being played on Casio keyboards.
It was Stockhausen’s Intuitive Music however that saw Mars in Aquarius at its best so far, and happily most of this was recorded.
The temptestuous weather possibly disuaded some from attending, however the small audiences were genuinely enthusiastic and we were offered a further engagement in Montrose, of which more anon.

My 2015 Tierkreis40 project came into its Sagittarian phase in the “Fair City” of Perth when I returned to musical activity in St John’s Kirk after a hiatus of 15 or so years with an organ and percussion recital with my Mars in Aquarius colleague Haworth Hodgkinson. Not that we have reached the end yet! On Saturday 16th January (Capricorn) we will return to St Andrew’s Cathedral in Aberdeen where the project began on 3rd January 2015 with a solo piano version.
This recital began with our organ/cowbell version of Morris Pert’s “Cul Mor” and included pieces by Eddie McGuire, Sir George Thalben-Ball, Ronald Stevenson, Jehan Alain, Jean aswell as centenary composer Humphrey Searle whose fascinating,short Toccata alla Passacaglia (one of the first, if not the very first serial organ composition by a British composer) sounded very well on this the largest of the instruments I have played this year.
This year-long performance project of Tierkreis, changing as it moves through the zodiac, and on various instruments in different parts of Scotland where Stockhausen is seldom if ever performed live, has been a deeply rewarding experience: performances will continue indefinitely after we come full circle for the first time later this month.

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Of several new musical friendships made in the past few years, perhaps the most unforeseeable is with organist-composer Godwin Sadoh whose “Nigerian Organ Symphony” I played in its Scottish premiere a year past July in Dundee Congregational Church, repeating it the next month in St Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral Aberdeen. I first saw a film of Godwin playing the Finale of the Symphony on Facebook, and struck by its originality, asked him if there was film of the rest. Having heard the whole, I bought the score and set about learning the 4 movement piece which places certain Yoruba musical idioms in a framework suggestive of the early organ symphonies of Widor or Vierne (a combination reminiscent of certain works by Ronald Stevenson eg his “Ghanaian Suite” for piano). The symphony is an immediately attractive piece, characterised by sincerity,clarity and a good sense of proportion. I hope to play it again in 2016. Additionally, in October 2014, I had the honour of playing the World Premiere of Godwin’s “3 Studies on Atonality” for piano at a piano recital hosted by Tayside Organists Society in Dundee University Chaplaincy.

Godwin is the leading representative of the fascinating Nigerian organ school which also includes such figures as Fela Sowande. Having begun his creer in Lagos, he now teaches in the USA, and in addition to the above mentioned activities, has written a number of books and articles on the ethnomusicology and musical history of Nigeria, includingtexts on a number of Nigerian composers.

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Of the several remarkable venues to have hosted the Tierkreis40 project this year, Mills Observatory in Dundee stands out as possibly the most striking and memorable, aswell as the most challenging. Held on a Sunday afternoon in late August, we were blessed by good weather and magnificent preconcert publicity on the part of Leisure & Culture Dundee: we were told that atotal of around 90 people attended the event, whether on the Observatory balcony, inside the building or on the grass around the building. In this performance, Tierkreis (on Casio keyboards and gongs) began and finished in a Dundonian Virgo and was played in 4 segments around Intuitive Music compositions from Stockhausen’s “Fur Kommende Zeiten” and “Aus den Sieben Tagen”, namely “Meeting Point”, “It”, “Halt” and “Awake”, employing the varied instrumentarium characteristic of Mars in Aquarius. We look forward to another opportunity to play at this unique venue.

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I first played Tierkreis in its entirety at the Fringe in 2013 in a solo organ version, so it seemed a natural destination for an organ and percussion version as part of my Tierkreis40 project. The Op.1000 Frobenius organ in the Canongate Kirk turned out to be a good choice for this: placed in a gallery at the liturgical west, my colleague Haworth Hodgkinson was located at the chancel step with the 7 gongs which have featured in this project since January, the idea being the audience being positioned between the two sources of sound would experience a dramatic antiphonal effect. As at the previous Fringe performance,this Tierkreis began and ended in Leo.

The Stockhausen was the closing item in this hourlong recital, which I opened with Judith weir’s brief “Michael’s Strathspey” which was last played at the Fringe in this organ version in 1986, but is better known in the original piano version. I followed this with some Pieces from Kurtag’s Jatekok VI which the composer specifically states may be played on the organ: indeed these pieces work better on the organ than piano, not least “humble regard sur Olivier Messiaen…” whose slow sustained chords were a suitable introduction to the French master’s “Monodie”. Messiaen’s numerous pupil’s included Stockhausen, whom he influenced very significantly, but also the composer of the other major piece on the programme, Jean-Pierre Leguay, whose recent “Et puis,et puis encore?”, inspired by Baudelaire’s poem “Le Voyage”, worked well on the Frobenius, being designed to be playable on organs of a classical, indeed historic, design.

The audience of around forty was larger than I had hoped for, exhausting the supply of printed programmes, and appeared to respond with enthusiasm- an impression confirmed by Miranda Heggie’s 4star review in The Herald; after the event we discovered that Scotsman critic Ken walton had flagged us up as one of few programmes of “contemporary music” at the Fringe (even if at 40, Tierkreis is surely near the end of being considered contemporary?). The dyspeptic review in “TV Bomb” by composer Robert Dow seems to reflect the critic’s jaded state of mind more than anything else, but to divide critical opinion as we did surely suggests we were doing something right?

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