Post Coriole and Oboe

Last time I wrote I was en-route to the Coriole Music Festival in south Australia. It was a beautiful and artistically exceptional experience, being in a part of the world with rolling hills, grape vines and views in the distance to the southern ocean. The intimacy of the music making experience made for a truly chamber music engagement with musicians, composers and ideas. It brought about a feeling of community between audience and performers, where the exchange of ideas was free flowing and just as nourishing for the soul as the fantastic food and wine which accompanied this very special festival.

The performance of my work On Bunyah (which Mark Padmore and the Britten Sinfonia premiered and toured the UK in November 2018) was given in the same week as the poet, whose poetry I set in the work, Les Murray, sadly passed away. This became the context for the Australian premiere of the work, a highly charged emotional atmosphere. The performance by tenor Michael Smallwood, the Festival Quartet (Elizabeth Layton violin, Helen Ayres violin, Jacqui Cronin viola, Tim Nankervis cello) and Anna Goldsworthy piano, was more than I could have hoped for. They all connected with the sentiments of the poetry and the transformation of these through music into something individual and new. They brought out the humour, the horror and the strangeness in the work. The rural Australian setting of the performance amplified these aspects of the text and music, creating an ideal situation in which the piece could be brought to life in what was a week to celebrate the life of Les Murray.

Here are what the reviewers thought:

“Styles’s On Bunyah is magnificent and just like the poem is raw, not polite. His writing for tenor, piano and string quartet is terse and dissonant and stirs turbulent feelings in the listener, from idle reminiscence and humour to horror as a “poet farmer” looks back on a lifetime spent in the bush, ultimately to witness its destruction by mechanised land clearing.” The Australian – Graham Strahle

"Lasting for nearly 40 minutes, the work is a fine example of modern Australian composition with beauty found in a neo-tonal idiom, rather than resorting to Sculthorpian bird mimicry and the like." Limelight - Brett Allen-Bayes

“ Resolutely modern without being abrasive, there are many ‘poetic’ moments, as befits the texts, like the emphasis on the final “sh” in “dish”, or the rhythmic ratcheting of the growth of mechanisation in early Australia, the summer heat and the overriding presence of nature. […] A very fine piece indeed.” The Advertiser - Peter Burdon

Since returning to my desk I have been working on my Oboe Concerto and am just about finished. It is in three movements and encompasses a specific range of oboe material and musical qualities. These are broadly divided into fast music in movements I. and II. And slow music in movement III. In the two outer movements the oboe delves into its melodic and vocal qualities with other individual instruments joining in this form of expression also. In the central movement a move overtly rhythmic drive dominates, hinting at Spanish influences but eventually transforming into large blocks of harmonic information set against the oboe’s melodic and angular solo lines.

I have loved composing this work, my first concerto (well I did compose a recorder concerto of a sort back in 2005/2006, but that’s a while ago now and a very different work) and have really caught the concerto bug, with a potential two new concerts in the pipe line. What I have really enjoyed is placing a solo voice at the center of the work, much like a voice in an opera, and crafting the world around this voice so as to join and be part of what it is saying/sounding/expressing yet giving it the right degree of space it needs to remain a solo voice. This challenge alone (a pretty standard concerto one, but approached by composers in a myriad of ways) is enough to unleash the music of the piece and it is something I am now craving more of.

The World Premiere of the work will be given by soloist Ben Opie on the 25th of October 2019 in Melbourne (more details to follow soon), then it’s up to Scotland/Aberdeen for the European Premiere at the Sound Festival given by Red Note Ensemble on the 1st of November, not too long after that it’s off to Spain for the Spanish premiere on the 24th of January 2020 to be given by Taller Sonoro and soloist Sarah Roper. Later in 2020 the piece will see a London and German performance.

I have collaborated closely with the soloist Ben Opie on the composition on the work, really writing to his sound and speaking regularly to him about the work as it has grown and taken shape. I have also shared thoughts and ideas, and received helpful input from the other soloist Sarah Roper as well, whose individual take on the work has been feed into its composition. This collaboration with a performer (in particular Ben) has been an extension of my collaborative work with artists in other fields, singers, jazz musicians and early music performers. As yet I haven’t collaborated quite so closely with classical musicians, but I think this is changing and I look forward to making it an ingrained part of my work.

A big piece of news that has been announced recently is that I have signed a global publishing agreement with G. Schirmer/Music Sales. I’m extremely excited about this new step in my compositional life and there is a press release you can dip into HERE.

Luke Styles