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It was very satisfying to return to Aberdeen ‘s “Cathedral at Noon” series a couple of weeks ago at the Episcopal Cathedral in King Street. I’ve played over a dozen programmes at that venue: after an absence of 2 1/2 years I decided to open my programme with music by Aberdonian composer John MacLeod. I first heard his Three Interludes from Another Time, Another Place at the Sound festival over a decade ago and first played them myself earlier this year in the composer’s presence. 

Another new work for me this year has been “Nine Decades” by Eddie McGuire  – written in honour of his composition teacher James Iliff whose 1 966 Note Piece I played next as a preface to my fourth performance this year of Eddie’s fascinating piece – happily the composer was in the audience.

Also present was the composer of the last work, Joe Stollery. “Stone Fragments” is part of his Masters portfolio:  each of the five  varied movements takes as its stimulus s different symbol from the Pictish standing stones situated around NE Scotland . The Dionysian finale “The Pictish Beast” is quite a handful, but brings everything to a suitable conclusion. I aim to repeat this work at least once more in 2019.

It was particularly fortunate to have veteran critic Alan Cooper in the audience. While The Glasgow Herald no longer seems interested in events in the North East, he kindly sent performer and composers copies of his attentive review.

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On Sunday I had the pleasure of opening this year’s session of Arbroath Piano Club at St Vigean’s church, the other player being Ian Bowman, former head of music at Inverness Royal Academy.

I opened my part of the programme with Frank Bridge’s 3 Pieces for left hand which were written 100 years ago for the musician Douglas Fox who had lost his right arm at the front. The similar date of other musicians was of course behind the likes of Ravel’s left hand Concerto and other pieces by Britten, Prokofoev, Janacek etc. More locally, Montrose sculptor William Lamb – whose memorial Studio is presently under threat from the attitude of “Angus Alive” – taught himself to become left handed after the 14/18 war.

1918 also saw the death of Debussy, so I played the piano version of the closing choral from “Symphonies of Wind Instruments” along with Stravinsky ‘s transcription of a passage from the prologue to Boris Godunov, no doubt reflecting the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II and the uncertain fate of Russia in that year.

50 years later, Lutoslawski wrote one of his few remaining piano pieces, a two part invention which I felt served as a useful transition to the rest of the programme.

I prefaced the last piece, Eddie McGuire ‘s “Nine Decades” of 2013 with two short pieces from 2003 by its dedicatee James Iliff: an Andante written for his neighbour Audrey, and an adventurous Allegretto. It was a great boost to the Piano Club to have Eddie McGuire himself in the audience for third performance this year of “Nine Decades”. In fact it also enabled an unusual encore in the form of a performance of “Ae Fond Kist” (2010) on the 1870s Harrison & Harrison organ, introduced by the composer himself. I had prepared to play this piece at a lunchtime organ recital in Glasgow Cathedral in August, only to be informed that that organ series had been cancelled the previous December! This opportunity to play this piece to the composer in his 70th anniversary year went a long way to making up for that disappointment.

On Sunday 17th June I finally played the programme postponed from 4th March (see below) on the Feurich piano at the Scottish Arts Club. I was very fortunate to have 6 of the composers featured in the programme present in the capacity audience: Eddie McGuire, Michael Bonaventure, Janet Graham, John McLeod, Lyell Cresswell and Iain Matheson.

Many thanks to Charlie Scott and the Scottish Arts Club Charitable Trust for enabling and subsidising this memorable occasion.

 

Below l-r: Eddie McGuire (composer of “Nine Decades”); myself; Michael Bonaventure (“Green Odyssey”); Iain Matheson (“Drosten”).

 

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On Saturday I joined Intuitive Music Aberdeen in a lunchtime concert of Intuitive Music by Karlheinz Stockhausen and IMA member Haworth Hodgkinson (who took the attached photo). My role was to play the latest evolutionary phase of Stylophone (Gen-X1 to be precise, a fascinating instrument with apparently huge, if improbable, potential) in two compositions from the  May 1968 collection Aus den Sieben Tagen, namely “Arrival” and “Right Durations”. The other players, including Colin Edwards and Mandy Macdonald, played digital synthesizers/keyboards, percussion and recorders along with my analogue sounds, producing a suitably ritualistic music in the Episcopal Cathedral’s resonant acoustic. The two Hodgkinson pieces were “South Breakwater” and “Prime Rant”.

The current unforeseen weather conditions have forced me to postpone a recital of piano music by living Scottish composers: hopefully it will be rescheduled in the coming months. The programme is:

Recitative & Aria on DSCH (1975)                   Ronald Stevenson (1928-2015)

Sonatina Serenissima (1977)                                 ” ”           ” ”

Nine Decades (2013)                                         Eddie McGuire (b1948)

Michael’s Strathspey (1985)                             Judith Weir (b1954)

Lumen Christi (1997)                                        James MacMillan (b1959)

Sonores II  (1973)                                               Morris Pert (1947-2010)

Green Odyssey (2013)                                       Michael Bonaventure (b1962)

North East Hauntings (2015)                           Janet Graham (b1948)

(Snow Sky – Sea Mist – Lullaby for Lost Skylines – Red Dust)

*******INTERVAL*******

3 Interludes (1997)                                            John McLeod (b1934)

Apteryx (2000)                                                   Lyell Cresswell (b1944)

Drosten (2012)                                                   Iain Matheson (b1955)

3 Pieces from “Variations for Judith”           Thea Musgrave (b1928)/Judith Weir/                                                               (2012)                       Peter Maxwell Davies (1934-2016)

Capriccio Bk 1 no2 “Stillness” (2002)            Janet Beat (b1937)

Mountains Suite (2007)                                   Morris Pert

(Suilven Moon – Foinaven – Quinag – Ben Stack – Arkle – Cul Mor)

 

 

 

 

2018’s concertizing began on 2nd February with a lunchtime concert at Dundee University with a recital of piano music by Arbroath born Morris Pert, part of my project marking his 70th anniversary. Pert has not been heard before in the Ustinov Room, previous performances having taken place in the Chaplaincy, so it was pleasing to play Moon Dances (1973) and the Mountains Suite (2008) to a respectablly sized and at least partly appreciative audience.

A week later I returned to Edinburgh Society of Musicians for the first time in almost two years. Frank Bridge’s Three Improvisations for Left Hand were written 100 years ago for Douglas Fox who was one of a number of Musicians who lost their right hand in WWI. Bridges’ only composition pupil Britten gave up writing piano solos in his 20s, so from the remaining 40 odd years there is only one complete solo piece, Notturno or ‘Night Piece”, a commission by the Leeds Piano Competition. Ronald Stevenson’s Sonatina Serenissima is written in memory of Britten and is very much an example of Stevenson’s Busonian tendency, evoking  late Liszt aswell as Britten’s last opera “Death in Venice”.

Next, two set of pieces by composers who studied under James Iliff at the RAM in the 60s. In fact Eddie McGuire’s “Nine Decades” was commissioned by Mary Iliff to mark her husband’s 90th birthday in 2013: each of the short movements is an invention/study based on a different interval, from semitones, seconds etc up to octaves and ninths. There is a real cumulative quality to the work, reminiscent of Hindemith’s much larger Ludus Tonalis. The 4 movements of Janet Graham’s “North East Hauntings” (Snow Sky, Sea Mist, Lullaby for Lost Skylines and Red Dust) are directly inspired by memories of County Durham, but have a resonance relevant to much of Northern Britain. Both these sets will remain in my repertoire.    Morris Pert was studying with Alan Bush and James Blades at the RAM at the same time as these last two composers, so his Mountains Suite , characterizing 6 hills in the remote and unpeopled North West of Scotland made a suitable conclusion to the evening.

All this music was very warmly received by the attentive ESM audience and the helpful new office bearers of the Society. I’m keen to return next year.

St Mary’s and St Peter’s Episcopal Church in Montrose was the fortunate and inspired choice of venue for the world premiere on the eponymous saint’s day of “Drostan’s Kalendar” composed by Haworth Hodgkinson. The ensemble Intuitive Music Aberdeen (derived from my ensemble Mars in Aquarius) were the fluent and performers

 of this hour long work by a composer who has recently released numerous albums of similar size and length of gestation. The work is divided into twelve sections representing the months of the year: each section comprises a 5ish minute recording of the sea at Drostan’s Shore made in 2004: over this the four keyboardists improvise within given parameters – using one pitch (A#) in January up to the total chromatic in December. The overall impression to this listener was of a fascinating progress from individual notes and intervals to melodic fragments of pentatonic character,  seamlessly developing through tonal polyphony through apparent polytonality (and polystylism!) into complex chromaticism against a varied background of marine sounds, including birdsong. All very fitting in a seaside town such as Montrose. No doubt better acquaintance with the acoustics of the venue, not to mention more expensive technology could have made things a bit better, but this was nevertheless a performance of conviction of a work that deserves at least several more performances.