Snape Maltings and LNM preparation

Since I last checked in I have been working up material for a week long residency at Snape Maltings with the early music ensemble La Nuova Musica.

What we will be doing is testing some of the music for a new opera, which is still a way off it’s premiere in 2021, in the USA. The week will be really about exploring how the period ensemble retains their baroque identity whilst playing my music.

I am composing for a continuo section, so writing figured bass, and this is the key area for the baroque qualities of my music and of the ensemble to come to the fore. The continuo section have the freedom that they have in most baroque music, to realise a figured bass line in their own way, incorporating improvisation and individual stylistic musical choices. What is not baroque is my succession of harmony for the continuo section, this is very much my own 21st century voice.

The rest of the instrumental ensemble that we have for the week consists of string players (in the final opera it will be a larger orchestra). They will be playing on gut strings and are often given figures and melodic lines that are reminiscent of the early baroque. They also connect to the harmony of the continuo section but from these points of connection they then diverge, creating a richer harmonic and melodic pallet than the one implied in the figured bass.

The singers that I have composed for connect to baroque traditions through their singing style. I indicate the use of recitativo, arioso and aria which immediately suggests an approach to the vocal lines and text for the singers, and a method of accompaniment to the ensemble. I have also left room in the vocal music for the singers to bring the improvisation inherent in the baroque to my arias, particularly the da capo arias I have written, where I am hoping the singers will embrace the opportunity for florid decoration of the vocal lines when it comes to repeated sections and cadences.

I’m very very excited about the week and have worked with LNM on two previous development sessions back in 2016/2017. I have set text by the brilliant librettist Alan McKendrick, but it’s a bit early in the day to give anything away about the content of the opera. For that you will have to wait a bit longer.

In and around this preparation I have been finishing off the song cycle for Mark Padmore and the Britten Sinfonia. I recently did a Q&A for the Britten Sinfonia, which you can read here. Mark and I have met and talked through the songs, discussing the tone and approach to each of them and the quirks of word setting.

I should finalise the cycle in the next week or so and then it will be handed over to the fantastic musicians for preparation for the string of performances in November. Can’t wait!

Luke Styles