Second performance for Deconstruct: Point, line, plane

The London New Wind Festival will be playing my flexible-ensemble piece Deconstruct: Point, line, plane for the second time on 19 November in London at their “Brand New Music for Winds” concert. I’ll be there – and I’ll also be speaking on a panel of composers talking about their work which appears in the concert portion of the evening.

It’s going to be a big night: Panel at 6pm, then a concert at 7pm of sax/clarinets/flute and piano music, and finishing off with the full ensemble concert at 7.45pm (this is the one that Deconstruct will be in). Come along to all of them, or just one.

The full concert programme is over on the London New Wind Festival’s website (you’ll need to scroll down to get to this concert as the page contains details for all concerts in this year’s Festival).

And there’s a Facebook event set up too so you can get reminders. I’ll also be posting reminders closer to the day over on my new Facebook page – visit and become a Fan!

Notes at last

With every new piece – and doubly so when the piece has a deadline – I go through a period of trauma when ideas are starting to bubble, but there’s no notes to write down. The longer this goes on, the crankier I get. Finally, of course, notes appear and are captured on the stave, and then the real composition can begin, but it’s a fairly fraught time when they’re there but not there. Today I got notes for the quintet, ending a tense few days. It’s not really been too long this time, but the deadline factor and the inevitable socialising of having parents in the house, which makes it hard for me to really focus, made it seem an absolute aeon. In truth, it’s really only been since Sunday though…

On Sunday I went to the Tate Modern with the parents and Djelibeybi, where my Da pointed out a group of Cy Twombly paintings I’d not seen before that he didn’t think much of but which totally blew me away. They’re not much to describe: Oatmealy-coloured giant canvases with swirls of red paint that’s been allowed to drip down the canvas. Strange how something so simple can be so powerful.

Standing in the middle of these three paintings, I could feel a warmth emanating from them. And the more I looked, the more I saw. Ultimately they came to resemble a thicket of fiery willows. On second viewing on Tuesday, the bright red made me think of thorns and blood and violence – while still with the exciting, secure warmth of the original viewing in place. They set off a chain of thought which ran through concepts of enclosure – groves, fences, hugs, safety, security, claustrophobia, containment, standing stones, panic, contentment. I don’t think any painting has ever elicited a response in me of such total contrasts – certainly not simultaneously.

Gradually I thought my way through all these conflicting ideas to come up with a concept for the piece. It seemed to me that I was really facing two concepts – one where the enclosure was a secure one – warm and soft and safe; the other where it was a form of containment – hard and cold and unyielding, resistant to any attempt to breach it. I started thinking about how to approach this in music and thought a bit about whether maybe the piece should be in two movements – one expressing each approach, but basically felt that this seemed a bit ‘wet’ and also that the safe and secure piece would be likely to be both a little dull and also stylistically unmatched to the other movement. Last night, after thinking about all this on and off for most of the day, I came to a vague conclusion that the piece should perhaps be a single movement, approximately expressing movement from safety and security to entrapment and panic and how easily something benign can seem suffocating.

So today’s notes are fairly tame and – at the moment – they seem almost characterless. When I put them down this morning, they just sort of fell into place but it all seemed a little directionless. This afternoon though, I started listening to The Viola In My Life by Morton Feldman, who was recommended to me by a friend on Twitter, and I’m beginning to think that the judicious use of whitespace in the opening could be very effective in this context.

Not entirely sure what the next step will be. I’m feeling a need to do a lot of reading and listening at the moment – I’m more than halfway through John Adams’ autobiography Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life, which is just awesome – I think it’s one of the best composer biographies/autobiographies I’ve read because it focuses so much, not just on the music, but on the process of creating the music and the way his thinking changed as he composed each new piece. It’s absolutely fascinating. I’ve also started reading Mark Rothko’s The Artist’s Reality which has been on my shelf for a while, and suddenly passionately wanting to start in on Alex Ross’s The Rest Is Noise too. Sadly there are not enough hours in the day…

On starting up fresh

I’m just beginning work on a string quintet for the CoMA Midwinter Composers Workshop I’m going to be attending in Durham in January and it’s highlighting certain parts of my compositional process that I think are gradually solidifying. The last piece I wrote, Deconstruct: Point, line, plane, had a very clear ‘research’ phase, and I think it helped immensely with the piece constructing itself solidly once I started putting notes down – I had a very clear feeling for the colours, shapes and concepts that I wanted to explore before I ever started in on the notes: I knew I wanted it to be to a certain extent about contrasting colours, to play sound against silence or quasi-silence, I wanted to explore the varied sound qualities of the ensemble – as solo instruments, in groups and as a whole – and I’m looking to work on the process I developed for that piece to see if it will work also for this one.

To start with, the request for a string quintet threw me a little because the application form said string quartet or string orchestra work, so I’d been thinking in terms of a standard quartet formation, but now I have to give some thought to the richer bass possibilities of an additional cello. I found listening to be a vital part of working on Deconstruct: Point, line, plane, just to get the sound of the ensemble into my head, to get a feel for combinations of instruments and just get my brain in the right mode. With the additional cello, I felt that my assortment of string quartet recordings, while tonally similar, of course, wouldn’t really give the right feel for the registral and textural possibilities of the enlarged ensemble. So I went shopping today 🙂

At first I wasn’t really finding anything and I was getting frustrated (note to self: it probably would have helped if I’d looked up composers who have written string quintets before I went rather than just mooching about HMV). The only thing that turned up seemed to be multiple versions of the Brahms string quintets, which at first didn’t hugely appeal to me – I’ve never really got Brahms. It’s that whole Germanic-Romantic thing. I veer more towards the French-20th century end of the spectrum – but they kept showing up! It was like he was following me. But French music didn’t feel right for this piece, for all that I’ve been listening to a lot of Fauré lately. Anyway, finally I had a small flash: Mendelssohn? And LO! Mendelssohn wrote not one but TWO string quintets (which I’m listening to right now – gorgeous!). Then the Brahms cropped up again and in a Mendelssohnian context, he kind of made sense, so I’ve taken the plunge there too, which led me on to thinking of more recent composers who might have something useful to contribute… which took me off to the Martinu section where I discovered a disc of, admittedly not quintets, but a Martinu sextet coupled with a sextet by Schulhoff, whose music I’ve not encountered before but who sounds interesting.

I very much doubt that this will be the end of my listening (especially as I’ve since discovered that Frank Martin and Milhaud both wrote string quintets) but I found it interesting, sort of watching myself from a distance, how clearly I knew what I wanted for this. My usual suspects were pretty much all out of the running – this piece seems to want to be faintly Germanic, which is an odd feeling for me. But it was very clear – my brain knew what it wanted to be fed, and it didn’t want anything else. So now to sit back and enjoy my research – it’s certainly starting well – this Mendelssohn is so light and lovely it’s almost French…

World premiere: Deconstruct: Point, line, plane

As part of the London New Wind Festival, Caitlin Rowley’s new composition, Deconstruct: Point, line, plane, will receive its world premiere on 28 September at St Cyprian’s Church in London.

Deconstruct: Point, line, plane is written for flexible ensemble consisting of five instruments plus piano. For this performance, the five instruments will be violin, oboe, clarinet, horn and trombone, but the piece can also be performed by a standard wind quintet or by only strings plus piano, or a range of combinations. While the starting point for the piece’s melodic material is the opening of Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen, the piece itself developed through ideas sparked by the composer’s reading of Kandinsky’s theories, especially those expressed at the beginning of Point, line and plane. The work doesn’t attempt to create either a musical representation of Kandinsky’s paintings, or even a direct translation of the artist’s theories, but rather is informed by his ideas of the nature of these basic elements of painting and explores how they intersect in a musical context.

More information about the concert can be found on the Festival’s website. Tickets are available at the door for £8, or £5 concession.

Flyer for 13th London New Wind Festival concert

New performance: London, 6 Nov

Yes, if you missed the performance of Caitlin Rowley’s Pieces of Eight back in September, it’s on again! The London New Wind Festival is performing it again, in a slightly different configuration on Friday 6 November 2009 at 9pm at Regent Hall, 275 Oxford St, London, W1C 2DJ. It’s going to be part of an evening of women’s music, comprising a panel discussion and four concerts and tickets are either £8(5) for individual events or £15(10) for the full event. Hope to see you there!

For more information, visit the London New Wind Festival website (go to concert details then scroll down to the end for the full evening’s programmes).

London premiere for Pieces of Eight

Flyer for London New Wind Festival concert

We are pleased to announce that Caitlin Rowley’s Pieces of Eight will be receiving its London premiere this week as part of the London New Wind Festival in a concert on 21 September called ‘Brand New Music for Winds’. Pieces of Eight will be performed in a new arrangement for oboe, clarinet, horn, trombone, piano and violin, arranged by oboist Catherine Pluygers.

Also on the programme are works by Anthony Green, Meira M Warshauer, Rebecca Oswald, Orie Sato, Dudley Hyam, William Attwood, Philip Cashian and Michael Finnissy.

Tickets are £8 each, with concessions at £5 and the concert will take place at 7.30pm at St Cyprian’s Church, NW1 6AX. For full details, see the London New Wind Festival website under ‘Concert Details’.