21 January 2015

BLOCK4@Handel House

It was a real privilege to kick off the New Year at Handel House by making music with some good pals of mine - the talented recorder quartet, BLOCK4, who joined us on 1st January for a concert of Handel, Blecharz, Battiferri, Merula, and a few pieces of Hillier…

Thanks so much to all those who were able to join us that day. And fear not those who were absent - perhaps you were still recovering from the previous evening’s festivities! - you can catch up on some of the concert’s music on the links below.

BLOCK4’s programme took us on a journey through centuries of recorder repertoire - from Merula in the early 1600s to Hillier in... well… 2015 I guess (if only by a few hours...), with all pieces, in their many diverse forms, united through a central fugal or canonic idea.

I thought I might tell you in this blog a little bit more about my two pieces performed that evening:

The first, Arcos, I composed for the quartet a year and a bit ago now, for a project at the Royal College of Music (where we all study or studied). When planning the programme, we thought Arcos might fit well with the fugal theme running through the concert. Although in no sense a strict fugue (or even, if we’re honest, a very unstrict fugue), Arcos’ principal concern is one of closely wrought lines, which intersect and interact, weaving in and out of a fairly fixed and regulated framework (as a broad concept at least, not too far away from the musical form of the evening’s other offerings).

Arcos takes its inspiration from a painting of the same name by British artist William Tillyer. You can see both Tillyer’s work [on the left], as well as an extract from the piece - played here by the marvellous BLOCK4.

Entr’acte Fragment for electronics - my first work composed especially for performance in Handel House -  I created as a bridging work in the programme: something which would connect up the works adjacent to it, and take the audience on a sonic journey from the present day, back to more traditional recorder territory. Consequently, all sounds heard are sampled directly from recordings made by BLOCK4 of my Arcos (the preceding piece) and Merula’s 17-century Canzona (which followed directly on).

As you’ll hear in the below audio, Entr’acte Fragment  is something of a melting pot, where different strands of material coalesce and fuse together, until eventually bubbling over, leaving behind only a fragment of broken melody (a melody which turns out to be the opening phrase of Merula’s work, which begins straightaway).

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I hope you’ll check out some of these recordings -  and please do have a look at BLOCK4’s website here: http://www.block4.co.uk Well worth a visit!

If you missed the quartet this time round, fear not - they’ll be back at Handel House, I’m sure of that!

17 December 2014

Composing Water Music

So it's been an exciting start to the job here at Handel House, with all sorts of visitors - of all ages and sizes - coming in for our education workshops over the past few months. These have been lots of fun to plan and to lead, and I wanted to share with you some of the things we've been working on, as well as some of the fab music the children have created...

Topics so far have ranged from concerti grossi, to ornamentation (Year 2s drawing wavy lines with crayons - and me trying to stop them accidentally graffitiing the ancient floorboards...Shh) , writing our own coronation anthems, and exploring the subject of Handel's Water Music. Typically, these sessions take the form of practical and creative group work, often ending in us composing our own piece/s, inspired by Handel's music - as is the case with the sound clips below.

The below recording comes from Year 5 from Ronald Ross Primary School in Southfields, who joined us recently and created their own three-minute pieces of Water Music. Having listened to Handel's composition (music written to be performed and heard on water), the children worked at creating their own class pieces about water, using only their voices and body percussion as instruments.

Hope you'll have a listen to the impressive results. 

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Dividing my life between composition and education, I'm always looking for ways to join up my two practices. Normally this takes the form of composition feeding into my education work - encouraging others to create, develop and record their own musical ideas. However, after editing the above recordings last week, it was so nice to find the converse happening. I felt spurred on by the children's work to create my own short piece of electronic Water Music. And so decided to give it a whirl too... All material here is sampled from the Ronald Ross classes' imaginative soundscapes - so we'll be sharing the credit.

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Next up, I'l be back in at Handel House on 1st Jan, when the awesome BLOCK4 recorder quartet will be playing my piece 'Arcos'. More information (and tickets) here: http://www.handelhouse.org/whats-on/concerts-and-events/master-and-apprentice  Hope to see you there!

25 November 2014

'Goodbye, my eyes may shut as I remember how to fly'

my eyes may shut 
as I remember how to fly

These were my last words at Handel House. How?
It was the last musical phrase, of my last commission for them, and it was premièred as the last piece in the last programme of my eyemusic festival.

It was brought to life with poise and poignancy by Tessa Marchington (founder and director of Music in Offices) and Ziazan (Bel Canto specialist).

I'm utterly grateful for their dedication and hard-work, and honoured that they arranged the programme so that opera travelled through time and ended in the present with myself, and some excellent composers including Anna Meredith and James Macmillan.

From breeches...  (La Nozze di Figaro, Mozart)

...to Greek tragedy (L'Orfeo, Monteverdi)

Three ingenious artists turned up on the day and exhibited their work : 

Maya Ramsay took wall-rubbings from Jimi Hendrix's flat, and used manuscript paper so that the woodchip paper created lines which looked like music notation.

'Jimi's Walls'

Marie Wennersten, producer for Swedish Radio flew in and installed tiny speakers in Handel's Bedroom so visitors could faintly hear his dreams.

Then there was Karen Lear, of Karen Lear Flowers and Queen Lear Fashions. 

Karen demonstrated how she had styled Ziazan's costume changes which transported the audience from one era of opera to another, with the addition of just one garment.

And that was just one concert! 
I'd also like to thank the following people... 

Thanks to Sarah Angliss, for her concert of inventions and mastery. It's be a long time since I've had the impulse to listen again to a whole concert immediately after it's finished, but Sarah's programme was so rich, virtuosic and moving, I know there's more to hear with each listen.

I'm so thrilled to be working with Crewdson and Jodie Cartman on folkloric wearable technology – we featured the Sonic-Bonnet, which will be paired with Crewdson's Odd-Box for the Nest Collective this week.

In the second eyemusic concert, Jessica Hynes wowed audiences with her interpretation of Hendrix – she even added her own beautiful lyrics as a tribute to him. Calum Gourlay wrote exquisite arrangements of Duke Ellington's work for bass and lever harp. Bijan Moosavi brought his original songs, in Farsi.

Thank you, Jess, Calum, Bijan, for your inspirational skills and perspectives.

This concert was featured in the EFG London Jazz Festival, as was my eyemusic concert with Oren Marshall. So, thanks are due to Serious, and to Maija Handover of SoundUK for spreading the word.

I particularly enjoyed interpreting historical and modern Augenmusik with Oren. We improvised a response to 'Jimi's Walls', the artwork by Maya Ramsay. Calum Gourlay has suggested an approach of tracing the wall-rubbings to become notation completely, which I'll encourage him to try with Maya next.

I also wrote an interpretation of an Ancient Egyptian manuscript, where music for a sacred singer seems to be notated with a colour-chart.

Perhaps this is a good place to end my blog (the last blog of my last series, of my last year, yadda yadda)....
It seems apt to end this post with the earliest version of eyemusic I could find as I began it with my most recent piece.

It leaves me to thank the Handel House Museum for commissioning and hosting it, along with my residency. Also to thank the teams who helped with film (Andy, Laurie, Phoenix); and radio (Dr Ed Baxter and Francisco Castilla of Resonance FM, Claire Mattison of LSO Soundhub).

Joel Garthwaite, of Bright Ivy, I am indebted to your management skills.

Ms Charmichael, I am so grateful for the surprise-party you generously hosted for our guests.

Mum, thank you for your help and patience assembling the 'House Music' scores and souvenirs.
Special thanks to mum's familiar, who assisted when the printer malfunctioned.

Keep in touch. I'll be at www.cevanne.com
with more residencies, concerts, and eyemusic.

You can order a signed (and paw-printed) copy of 'House Music', if you like...

19 November 2014

House Music, eyemusic – my last commission

As my two-year residency at Handel House draws to a close I look forward to the première of my final commission for soprano and harpsichord – 'House Music'.

It works with the Renaissance principle of Augenmusik – where art was often used to illuminate notated music – and develops it so the relationship is thoroughly structural.

The song is structured by windows cut through the paper, which are assembled to follow the facade of Handel House, in Brook Street, London. Players are to perform what they see on the page before them, including the material revealed beneath by the windows. 

The libretto marks the progress of a career, or life, across four movements – beginning as an outsider looking in to the establishment; then claiming the safer space within; and finally settling upstairs to sleep, and dream of legacy.

I've been so drawn to the concept of eye music, my entire concert series has centred around the theme of 'seeing sound', featuring leading lights in music and film such as Jessica Hynes, Oren Marshall, Sarah Angliss, Crewdson, and Calum Gourlay.

I thought you might find it interesting to see the work-in-progress of my composition, as eyemusic is not necessarily a typical structure... 

I began by cutting the structure into plain manuscript paper, and writing by hand, so I was always aware of my perimeters. This is the first messy sketch.

I could always rely on feline aid and instruction. Each time, she knew which piece of paper was required next, and promptly sat on it.

She even helped me type the music into Sibelius – though her writing for soprano voice was rather ambitious.

I printed the first draft for rehearsal with Ziazan and Tessa at Handel House. 

I cut the windows with a craft knife, and bound the A4 pages with tape. 

I had some edits to make in the score, both creative, and to do with alignment, so I made more drafts for the performers, who kindly gave their feedback, and allowed me to listen to rehearsals.

Then it was time to set it up for printing and cutting with machines (and my mum).

I re-drew the windows with a more 'Georgian shape'. 

I've been numbering and dating these copies, so they are available to buy as souvenirs after the concerts.

Needless to say, this commission took much effort, and discipline, from everyone involved – for which I am so grateful. I've enjoyed creating a strict framework for myself to use, and in doing so making myself accountable for every musical decision, every note.

If you'd like to hear it, I'm afraid the première has been sold-out for weeks, but it will be filmed, so I'll share the footage on www.cevanne.com as soon as I can.

I'm honoured that Ziazan & Tessa Marchington have programmed 'The Fat Lady Has Sung' around my composition. Audiences are looking forward to a time-travelling trip through Bel Canto opera, from pre-Handel to just last month. As it's my last party, everyone's encouraged to dress in their interpretation of 'retro-futurist' fashion, to complement the themes of the concert, and indeed 'House Music' itself.

What will I wear? Why, something Crewdson, Jodie Cartman and I 'threw together' especially for the eyemusic concert with Sarah Angliss : the Sonic Bonnet.

(in fact, much like with House Music, this wearable tech is also a project which required a lot of effort and innovation to pioneer a new technique, but I'll save that for another blog, when I announce my next residency in 2015...)

Sonic Bonnet photo credit Joel Garthwaite, Bright Ivy
Ziazan photo credit Phoenix (in the concert poster)

1 October 2014

Edwin Hillier - newly appointed Composer-in-Residence Apprentice at Handel House Museum

I’m absolutely thrilled to be starting this month as Composer-in-Residence Apprentice at Handel House Museum, and really excited about all the projects I’m going to be involved with and leading over the next year.

My role kicked off in earnest this week, with a meeting with the newly established Handel House Talent artists - it was great to discuss projects with them for the coming months, and I’m hoping there’ll be plenty of time for us to collaborate and exchange creative ideas during our respective residencies. So watch this space…! (You can read more about these fabulous people here - http://www.handelhouse.org/about-us/handel-house-talent )

As this is my very first blog, I thought I’d share a little about myself, and the kind of music I’ve been writing recently. I’m a London-based composer, and have just completed my Masters at the Royal College of Music (where this month I’ve started doctoral studies alongside my work at Handel House). In terms of the pieces I’ve been composing, the last few years have been quite varied, including a fully-staged chamber opera, (http://boulezian.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/hogarths-stages-five-short-operas-royal.html) numerous smaller-scale chamber and vocal pieces, a work recorded by the London Sinfonietta, soon to be released online by NMC (http://www.nmcrec.co.uk/next-wave/edwin-hillier - keep your eyes peeled for an impending shameless plug!), as well as an upcoming performance by Lore Lixenberg at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.

I’m now greatly looking forward to getting started on a few new pieces, some of which are to be performed at Handel House  (the first being a premiere with the awesome BLOCK4 recorder quartet [http://www.block4.co.uk/] who play for us on 1st January).

The next few weeks see me busily working away at Handel House, in the role’s other main activity - leading creative workshops with school children (of a variety of ages!) on the music of Handel. I’m loving planning these at the moment, trying to make the compositional process tangible and immediate for them, and introducing them to some of the stunning music which was written in this building.

I’m looking forward to sharing some of these experiences with you soon!


28 May 2014

Life after a commission

Many composers will tell you that it's good to get a commission, but even better to get a repeat performance. It's inspiring that Handel's Messiah was such a sell-out in Dublin, it had to be repeated in London. Handel did write flops though, and was smart enough to recycle the best bits of them when hurriedly writing the Messiah!
The reason I'm going on about 2nd performances is that 'Dividuels', a piece by Richard Bullen which I was proud to première in Handel House, got another outing at the Cello Factory, in London's Waterloo, with Ellie Fagg, Tom Norris of the LSO, Gregor Riddell, and a Handel-diva appearance from my sister Ziazan (pictured, haughtily).

The piece was made for players to perform simultaneously in different rooms within Handel House, so I was impressed to see how well it adapted to different, and equally beautiful, architecture.

I won't say too much about the piece, as I've filmed an interview with Richard, which I'll post soon, so he can tell you himself.

We also shared the space with the art of Maya Ramsay, who transplants the wall surfaces from derelict and dangerous buildings.

There was an eerie, skin-thin piece of Bletchley Park hanging behind us, so I decided to give 'From The Unseen World' a 2nd performance – a piece I wrote based on a postcard sent by Alan Turing (pictured below).
I performed it at Handel House last year, and this time Gregor Riddell and I overlaid a simple harmonic pattern, which I hope Turing would have appreciated. It was certainly a moving experience for me, as a great admirer of his work, and courage.

I've got to get back to preparing for a concert in Handel's music room tomorrow with Liam Byrne (viol da gamba), and putting the finishing touches on my final CiR concert series this November!

Speak soon...

28 January 2014