I don’t make a habit of blogging about the various projects I have on, mainly because I have a tendency to tackle several at the same time. I like to have the ability to switch onto another should I temporarily get stuck, or even just to give a piece a ‘break’ for a week if possible, and return to it later with fresh ears.

Needless to say, I am working on several pieces. The requiem is progressing well – short scored, and orchestrated in parts. I have a short flute work and a work for viols drafted, both of which I hope to re-draft over the next week. There are also various other ongoing bits and bobs which I return to whenever the music arises in my mind. However, I’ve had a new project waiting for a little while, which I’ve begun working on over the past couple of weeks.

Some background

It is through the brilliant media of Twitter that I met Marion Harrington. I honestly can’t remember our first encounter – only that over time I realised we shared many of the same musical thoughts and ideals. Recently, she has launched her Get Mazza To America campaign. I won’t elaborate too much on her campaign myself – to find out more, have a browse of her website. In particular, I’d advise scrolling to the bottom of the page and clicking on the picture of Marion above the “Donate Now” button, to hear Marion in her own words describe her aims and the ethos of her campaign. Her campaign is well thought out and well structured, but requires funding and the support of fellow musicians in order to succeed.

I believe it was Marion that suggested a collaboration in the first place – but, after some hefty conversations, we agreed I would write her a work for clarinet and piano. I am grateful to be given the opportunity to work with such a talented performer as Marion, but also to be able to contribute in some small way to her campaign.

Two points of fundamental importance struck me in my early stages of brainstorming the piece:

– It has to be accessible. It can’t just be a piece for the academics. This is a vein running through all of my current work, so it’s something that was naturally fundamental to the work, even though it’s very important to Marion as well.
– It has to be personal to me. Another important factor for me when not working towards pitches or arranging. This needs to be a work I love, and enjoy writing (overall!).


I played through some of the clarinet repertoire I know well, including pieces I’ve accompanied over the years (one of which – Poulenc’s Romanza – drove me mad, until the clarinettist in question reminded me!). However, the main inspiration was something I was experiencing several times a week.

I’ve recently moved to Essex from close to central London (Bow – zone 2), and haven’t regretted it. Even the commute is lovely – even when you have to stand – for one reason. The scenery undergoes such a rapid change. Pulling out of Fenchurch Street, you have the architecture of the capital: the melting pot of architectural styles; glass, brick and metal, and an amazing skyline. Further out, there’s the canal at Mile End, a park at Bow, glimpses of the Olympic Park (close to where I used to live) and the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. The scenery then undergoes a massive change: houses, gardens, bits of industry. The biggest change comes after leaving Upminster. Suddenly you head into miles of countryside. After passing out of the M25, on one side of the train there’s the industries of the Thames Estuary in the distance (surrounded by countryside), and fields and towns on the other side. On a sunny evening heading home, it’s a truly beautiful sight. Plus there’s plenty I’ve missed out of this description…

All of the above is what the piece will be based upon.

The piece

A three movement work for clarinet and piano, it will explore three different landscapes. I haven’t yet decided as to whether the term ‘movement’ is what I would use in this context; it may end up being a suite of three pieces. However, I will continue using ‘movement’ for the moment.

The first movement will reflect the heart of the city. The contrasts of the glorious old architecture with modern grass skyscrapers. The huge variety in the age of buildings, yet all sitting together and working as a whole to be London. It will reflect the hustle and bustle of the city and the contrasts of old and new.

The second movement will be the more suburb type areas – in between the heart of the city and the M25. The canal, the more run down areas, the terrace houses as you near the edge of Greater London. There will still be moments of hustle, but the overall atmosphere of this movement is slightly more mysterious and unknown, as, just on the journey, you don’t quite know what’s coming up next (a run down factory; some beautiful woodland; a shopping centre; a few trains!).

The final movement will be in the countryside. The music will be very gentle, romantic and beautiful. This movement is the furthest along in my mind, although exists in many variations currently! I’m falling in love with this movement already – especially because of the natural feel of it all – the ebb and flow, the rubato free-ness of the clarinet part, and just its overall aura.

At the moment the movements are in various sketchy stages – the final movement the only one with firm dots on the page. However, the ideas are all developing in my mind, and I hope to have the initial sketches complete over the next fortnight or so.

Beyond the music?

Extra-musical elements are often used alongside contemporary classical music in order to boost the ‘accessible’ element. I’m not yet sure (and haven’t yet discussed with Marion!) whether she’ll have any capacity for such things at the concert in which she will perform this.

For my own reference, however, I started taking snapshots of the journey. Not because I’m necessarily making specific references at any point, or because I need the resources, but just because I love some of the scenery. Whether these could be used in some form, I’m not sure – but if the picture library grows large enough, it may be an option.

I hope to keep you updated with this project as it progresses. The aim is to have premiere the work in one of Marion’s Kent or London concerts in the UK in 2012 – with the possibility of a live web stream! As exciting as the performance prospects are, however, my main aims right now are the music: to write a work I love, and that I hope Marion will enjoy performing.

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