Premiere round up and opera prep

Last time I checked in I was preparing for the premiere of a major new song cycle, On Bunyah, for Mark Padmore and the Britten Sinfonia, setting poetry by Les Murray (from his collection of the same name). The cycle greeted the world in November (2018) and toured throughout the UK, taking in Cambridge, Wigmore Hall London, Norwich and Lincoln.

It was great to be there to hear the work evolve over these performances in the space of two weeks or so. This is a relatively rare opportunity for composers, with most new pieces, except maybe operas, and one that seems core to the Britten Sinfonia’s commissioning process. I was able to see the 6 musicians find the links between instrumental ideas and vocal music, recurring images in the text that sit at a distance of 15mins or more from each other but were connected not just through a conscious compositional connection on my part but by a conscious consistency in phrasing and expression by the musicians.

Mark Padmore, who is one of the finest singers I have worked with took exceptional care with my music and the text and was able to find the nuances in the diverse imagery and quick changes of focus in both the poetry of Les Murray and my setting of these often strange and beautiful poems. It was satisfying to hear the connections in the evocation of landscape in my work and the partner piece on the programme, On Wenlocks Edge (R.V. Williams), albeit very different landscapes in question. I feel like there is a distinct Australian sound developing in my music and this is something I am keen to cultivate, and in this piece the visceral and vivid depiction of rural Australia in the poetry of Les Murray became the perfect vehicle for these ambitions.

Listen to a short excerpt of On Bunyah here.

Listen to a pre-concert interview about On Bunyah here.

The second work of mine to premiere recently also has a strong Australian element to it. The work was Memories of a Forgotten Land Called Home and it premiered at the Spitalfields Music Festival performed by the Fidelio Trio. The work moves through a number of states that in purely abstract terms recall my impressions of the Australian landscape. These include the soil, tufts of grass, the land as it approaches the coast, sailing ships, the sand of the beaches and the deserts and finally the red interior of Australia. I have recalled these images and used them to underpin the work in two ways: Firstly as memories of the Australia I grew up in as a child. Secondly by revisiting the paintings of Sidney Nolan, an artist who I return to frequently and who I find embodies the iconic and the sublime in the Australian landscape.

The premiere was exceptional and each of these landscapes and memories certainly came to the fore for my ears. At the same time the trio put real focus into the consistency of expression within the work’s three primary sections. The work has been recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on the 20th of March, so look out for it then.

Right now I am preparing for the rehearsals of a major new opera, Ned Kelly, which will open at the Perth Festival on the 15th of February. Right now I am finding my way back into the opera, by studying the score and playing through the work, singing all the roles as best I can, in the secluded confines of my studio, where I won’t offend anyone’s ears, too much. Next week the rehearsals start and I will be there to answer questions and be part of getting the piece off on the right track. I’ll then leave the team to it and disappear for a few weeks, before joining the process again for the last two week to once again have a voice in the shaping of the production. Needless to say this is an extremely exciting time and this opera is one I have been thinking about my entire compositional life.

Before Ned Kelly opens a new work of chamber music of mine will premiere (25th of Jan) and go on a mini tour in the USA. It is called Motion and Ritual and you can read a bit about it in one of my previous blogs. More on this work soon.

Luke Styles