Dr K. Sextet

April 2018

Duncan Honeybourne performs Shadows: Six Portraits of William Baines in Gillingham

I am absolutely delighted that Duncan Honeybourne will be giving Shadows another performance, this time to inaugurate the new piano in Gillingham Methodist Church, Dorset on 20 April at 7.30pm. Shadows is inspired by the life and music of little-known Yorkshire composer William Baines. Baines died in 1922 at the age of 23 but left behind a substantial catalogue of over 150 works. Likened to that of Scriabin, Baines’ piano music is sensuous, highly coloured and quite unlike anything being written by his British contemporaries. Shadows are reflections on episodes from Baines’ life and diary entries, each piece incorporating a chord, a gesture or a figuration from one of Baines’ solo piano works. Duncan gave the work its premiere in 2013 in Ripon Cathedral and recorded it for Prima Facie on The Return of the Nightingales (released November 2017):

The movements are entitled:

I ..waiting.. 11 Shepstye Road, Horbury, Yorkshire, 26 March 1899 (Baines’ birth)
II Horbury Co-op Cinema 1912: Ghosts (Baines’ time as a silent movie pianist)
III '..out into the lonely grey..' August 11th 1921 (boat trip around Baines’ beloved Flamborough Head)
IV 'Tomorrow I shall be in khaki.' (Baines was conscripted into the RAF on 4 October 1917)
V '..after I had played le Rossignol..' (Baines’ last piano recital on March 28th 1922)
VI ..waiting.. 91 Albemarle Road, The Mount, York (Baines died at home on 6 November 1922).


Dr K. Sextet

April 2018

Dr K. Sextet performs Bell Music for St. Casimir for Oxford Chamber Music Society

Clarinettist George Sleightholme and pianist Alex Wilson from Dr K. Sextet gave a fantastic performance of Bell Music for St. Casimir on March 4th 2017 at the Unitarian Chapel as part of Late Music York in a programme themed around story-telling, with several pieces exploring folk tales from around the world. They will perform the piece again on 15 April, 3pm in the Holywell Music Room as part of the Oxford Chamber Music Society concert series.

I wrote Bell Music after a visit to Vilnius, capital of Lithuania in February 2004. The clarinet plays a traditional lullaby called Aa-a-Mazulyte (Ah, the little one) and the piano echoes the music from an unusual set of bells in the towers of the Jesuit Church of St. Casimir. In 1997 the Lithuanian composer,Vladimir Tarasov, constructed a set of tubes and sails so that the 15 bells could be played by the wind. As the wind changes so does the music. The clarinet and piano play quite independently until they come together towards the end of the piece. Bell Music for St. Casimir was recorded by Ian Mitchell and Thalia Myers for SPECTRUM ABRSM: There is also a version for violin and piano recorded on NMC An Unexpected Light by Rusne Mataityte and Sergey Okrushko.


King Kong's Love Song

April 2018

SQUISH! (King Kong’s Love Song) at Women Composers Festival Hartford, USA

I am very lucky indeed to have received several performances of SQUISH! by US ensemble Cuatro Puntos and ASL Interpreter Danielle Holdridge) and delighted that they will be playing the work again on 6 April 2018 as part of the Women Composers Festival of Hartford in Connecticut.

SQUISH! is a love story, King Kong’s love story. But not the conventional one immortalised in the 1933 Hollywood film - the terrifying giant ape astride the Empire State Building who clasps the fainting heroine, while swiping hopelessly at the planes which eventually send him crashing dead to the ground. This is the American Sign Language (ASL) version which has something of a twist at the end:

‘Deaf King Kong: The signer starts off by describing King Kong (showing his massive head, huge sausage like fingers, and big teeth) and then the city itself, showing the buildings first then the windows on each of the buildings. King Kong looks in one of the windows and sees something so he reaches his hand in and grabs it. He notices that it is a very attractive woman and he holds on to her. As he is walking the ground is shaking, people look up and see him and scream in fright, they all run away from him. He then sees a huge sky scraper and begins to climb it. When he gets to the top he can see everything. He then looks at the girl he has been holding on to and notices her beauty and signs that she is beautiful. He then realizes that she understood him and that she is Deaf. He tells her he is also Deaf. He signs "I want to Marry..." (the sign for marry is clasping two hands together) and in the process of signing this he squishes her. Oops...’ (© Danielle Holdridge) (

ASL stories are a very important part of deaf culture, serving to entertain as well as teach and this musical interpretation attempts to capture something of the humour of the King Kong story as well as conveying the main narrative elements - the noise of New York, the thunderous footsteps of Kong, climbing the skyscraper, the tender love song and the tragic squish as the Beast kills the Beauty!

Squish! was written during my time as Composer-in-Residence with Cuatro Puntos and was commissioned with funds from the Connecticut Office of the Arts. The premiere took place at the American School for the Deaf (the oldest permanent school for the deaf in the United States founded in1817) in West Hartford, Connecticut on 7 December 2016.

Kevin Bishop and Miguel Campinho

April 2018

Premiere of Molto Viola! at Women Composers Festival of Hartford, USA

Kevin Bishop (viola) and Miguel Campinho (piano) will be giving the premiere Molto Viola! A Small Sonata on 6 April 2018 as part of the Women Composers Festival of Hartford, Connecticut. This 10 minute work was written for my friend Kevin as thanks for his support of my music over several years during my Composer-in-Residency with the US ensemble Cuatro Puntos. The piece is light-hearted in tone and celebrates the versatility of the viola and Kevin’s virtuosity and heart. The movements are marked:

I Molto moto!
II Molto Cantabile
III Molto scherzando
IV Molto Brilliante!

Seventh Angels

March 2018

Premiere of Seven Angels for Baroque violin and truhenorgel in Lüneburg, Germany

Kerstin Lindar-Dewan and Joachim Vogelsänger will give the premiere of Seven Angels for Baroque violin and truhenorgel (a single manual portable organ) on 3 March 2018 in the glorious surroundings of St. Johanniskirche in Lüneburg, Germany.

Seven Angels is based on a plainchant associated with the medieval Lüneburg convent, where the library is blessed with a small but significant number of manuscripts including two sources for the complete liturgy for the Coronation of Nuns. The plainsong text is Locutus est ad me unus ex septem angelis dicens veni ostendam tibi novam nuptam sponsam agni et vidi Jerusalem descendentem de caelo ornatam monilibus suis alleluia alleluia alleluia (I spoke to one of the seven angels, I saw a young bride Bride of the Lamb and Jerusalem coming down from the sky adorned, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia: source - Assisi, Biblioteca comunale, 693, first half of the 13th century).

The work is dedicated with much affection to my two friends Kerstin Lindar-Dewan and Carola Nielinger-Vakil. Carola (1966-2016) remains the foremost authority on Luigi Nono, and Seven Angels contains fragments of his final work Hay que caminar Soñando (You must walk, dreaming) - a thank you to Carola for bringing myself and Kerstin together, continuing her music-making through our joyful collaborations.

The work is supported by a PRSF Women Make Music Award and an Arts Council England International Development Grant as part of my association with the Bei Wu Sculpture Park, Wesenberg.

Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble

March 2018

Hard Rain perform 'No Title Required' on International Women’s Day Belfast

I’m incredibly pleased that the fantastic Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble is performing Quintet: No Title Required as part of International Women’s Day in Belfast on 8 March 2018 at The Crescent. The title of this work is taken from a poem of the same name by the Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska (winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996) and considers the importance of revolutions, tyrannicides and political conspiracies in relation to that of skimming shadows, fluttering white butterflies and windblown clouds. No Title Required has two movements. The first is fast and virtuosic, the second, lyrical and colouristic. Both have the same formal pattern - a series of variations where one aspect of each section provides the ‘theme’ for the following variation. Whereas the first movement juxtaposes blocks of material to create a disjunct, segmented structure, the second weaves lines together to create a single, flexible texture (disrupted towards the end by ‘reminiscences’ of the work’s opening). The piece was commissioned by Double Image (to whom the work is dedicated) and has received several performances worldwide. The work was chosen to represent Australia in the ISCM World Music Days, Hong Kong in 2002 and was recorded by Double Image on Metier Records MSV CD 92056.

Knjiga PjesamaKnjiga Pjesama

February 2018

Premiere of Knjiga Pjesama in Granada, Spain (Kakarigi/López-Montes)

I am so grateful to Frano Kakarigi and José López-Montes for giving the premiere of Knjiga Pjesama (A Book of Poems) for double bass and piano on 16 March 2018 (7.30pm) at the Auditórium Caja Rural in Granada Spain. I wrote the piece as a thank you to Frano for his great support of my music - giving the premiere of A Not-So-Sonatina in 2016 with such passion and commitment. Knjiga Pjesama is a four movement work, taking inspiration from the poetry of Croatia (Frano was born in Dubrovnik):

I U Pohode Vukovima (Visiting the wolves) ‘The sounds of howling wolves and dark magic’
II Zvijezda Tjera Mjeseca (The stars chased the moon) ‘A midnight landscape’
III Svijet Je Sjena (The world is a shadow) ‘Outside time, molto rubato’
IV Galebovi (Seagulls) ‘Dancing with the birds’

Steve Larson & Kevin Bishop

February 2018

Premiere of The Oldest Song in the World in Connecticut, USA

Kevin Bishop and Steve Larson will be giving the work its premiere on 16 February 2018 at the Lutheran Church of St. Marks, Glastonbury, Connecticut and again on 23 February at Christchurch Cathedral in Hartford, USA as part of their series The Near East in America.

This brief work for 2 virtuoso violists was written at the request of violist and Director of Cuatro Puntos, Kevin Bishop, as part of a concert programme entitled Near East in America. It weaves together two ancient Arabic sources, the ancient Syrian Hymn to Nikkal reputed to be the oldest notated song in the world dating from c. 1400 BCE, and لما بدا يتثنى (Lamma bada yatathana: When she begins to sway) which was written sometime in the 9th-10th centuries ACE. The lyrics of both songs celebrate women - the Hymn praises Nikkal, the Semitic goddess of fertility and orchards, and لما بدا يتثنى compares the beauty of a lover to the swaying branches of a tree.

The Hymn is heard at the centre of the work, a transformed version that brings out the unusually diatonic and expressive harmony of the music (most probably played on a lyre or sammûm). By contrast, the melody of Lamma bada yatathana is highly rhythmic, with its 10/8 metre (samai thaqil) punctuated by the accompanying viola as drum, emphasising the ‘doom’ on beats 1, 6 and 7 and the ‘tek’ on beats 4 and 8. The work ends with increasingly virtuosic counterpoint, the melody thrown between the two instruments with abandon!

Rose Garden of Light - Eastern Connecticut State University

February 2018

Gulistan-e Nur at Eastern Connecticut State University, USA

Many thanks to Cuatro Puntos for giving Gulistan-e Nur (The Rosegarden of Light) another performance on 23 February 2018 at Eastern Connecticut State University.

On 23 June 2014, Kevin Bishop, Samim Jafar and Madhurjya Barthakur gave the premiere of my Dast be Dast in the Istiqlal School, home to the French Cultural Centre in Kabul. On 11 December 2014, several young musicians from ANIM were performing at the same School. The venue was the target of a serious attack that left ANIM's founder Dr. Ahmad Sarmast with severe injuries. Gulistan-e Nur was devised as a musical response to this attack. It is a joyful celebration of the diversity, vivacity and beauty of the country’s musical heritage, also being a testament to the courage of the students and tutors who continue to make music in the most difficult of circumstances.

Gulistan-e Nur is in three sections, each containing a paired interlude for youth ensemble and a movement for string sextet which develops the interlude’s material. The first pair is based on an Afghan instrumental work known as Bahar-e nastaram-bihag or simply Radio Piece. I transcribed the melody from a private performance of the piece that John Baily (rubab) and Veronica Doubleday (daireh) gave me in February 2015. John had learnt the piece in the 1970s from the work’s likely composer, Ustad Mohammad Omar. The second pair of movements takes a beautiful love song as its inspiration - Shirin dohktar-e maldar (Sweet Nomad Girl). I know this song very well, having heard colleague and friend Veronica Doubleday sing it many times. The opening melody (heard again at the end) is an elaborate, decorated transcription of one of her particularly moving renditions.

The final movement is a whirling attan dance entitled Watan Jan (Dear Homeland), heard first in the Interlude with its joyful 7/8 rhythm (characteristic of this national dance of Afghanistan) and then in a virtuosic development played by the sextet. I found the tune in an anthology ‘Afghan Songs and Melodies -1965’ published by the Press and Information Ministry of Afghanistan. As well as providing an appropriately celebratory ending to the work, Watan Jan also purposely recalls the circumstances which brought about Gulistan-e Nur’s composition, being the same melody used in the final movement of Dast be Dast. A return to music and a Dear Homeland triumphant! The commission was generously supported by The Ambache Charitable Trust and an Arts Council England International Development Grant. (SH)


February 2018

Premiere of NMSW Commission Coretta in Bristol and Bath

Coretta was commissioned by New Music in the South West with generous support from Arts Council England and receives its premiere on 4 February 2018 at the Victoria Rooms, Bristol, (with a further performance on 11 February at St. Michael’s Church, Bath) performed by Andy Keenan, Alison Holford, Michelle Ezigbo and Tomáš Klement.

Coretta is a collage of fictional musical recollections given to Coretta, wife of Martin Luther King, following the assassination of her husband on 4 April 1968. It is not so well known that Coretta King (née Scott) was a fine classical singer and pianist, referred to as ‘a talented young soprano’ in a January 1964 Time Magazine article. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in music and education from Antioch College, Ohio and supported by a scholarship, she undertook a second degree in voice and violin at the New England Conservatory of Music in the early 1950s, meeting Martin Luther King during this time in Boston. Although Coretta has envisioned a life for herself as a musician, she realised that such a career was not fitting for a Baptist minister’s wife. However, following her marriage on 18 June 1953, Coretta continued to perform in concerts and religious services as a form of non-violent protest, giving audiences ‘an emotional connection to the messages of social, economic, and spiritual transformation’.

Martin Luther King also valued music as a force for political change and spoke publicly about its importance for the Civil Rights Movement. On 13 September 1964, he met with the organisers of West Berlin’s first jazz festival, contributing the foreword for the programme. He wrote ‘When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument….Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life's difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.This is triumphant music.’

Coretta begins and ends with Martin Luther King’s favourite song Precious Lord, take my hand. King’s last words prior to his assassination were a request that it be sung at a mass he was to attend that night. The hymn is initially heard transformed by Coretta’s grief into a dark lament, followed by hazy memories of music that she may have shared with her husband - a blues waltz, quirky bebop ‘improvisation’, a dance from a 1950s musical, a quote from There is a Balm in Gilead (the only recording we have of Coretta’s singing voice) and fleeting harmonies taken from Verdi and Rossini soprano arias. These memories gradually transform into a joyful version of the opening hymn, dissolving into its 1932 setting by Thomas Andrew Dorsey. The very first notes of the piece - CorEttA - are heard throughout as a leitmotiv, eventually transformed from the minor into the major, mirroring the journey from personal grief to a public celebration of the First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement, Coretta Scott King (27 April 1927 – 30 January 2006). The work is dedicated to NMSW’s founder and director Julian Leeks.

Composition & Craft

December 2017

The Rosegarden of Light on documentary soundtrack ‘Laila at the Bridge’

I am very honoured indeed that two tracks from The Rosegarden of Light CD (featuring American ensemble Cuatro Puntos and Ensemble Zohra from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, conducted by Camilo Jauregui) have been used for another film, this time an important documentary directed by Elissa Sylvia Mirzaei entitled Laila at the Bridge.

Set against the backdrop of the drug war in Afghanistan, Laila at the Bridge is the story of an Afghan woman working against all odds to care for the thousands of men and women addicted to heroin who live under an infamous bridge in the heart of Kabul.

Filmmaker Elissa Sylvia Mirzaei, born in Pennsylvania, has lived in Afghanistan for eight years. She speaks fluent Dari and is drawn to intimate stories that reveal the complexity, beauty and tragedies of Afghanistan from an Afghan perspective. Shocked by the number of drug addicts using openly on the streets, Elissa felt helpless witnessing passersby step over the huddled and skeletal masses of dying junkies. She and her husband, Gulistan Mirzaei, founders of Mirzaei Films, met Laila in 2012 and were inspired to make their first feature-length documentary, Laila at the Bridge. Elissa had worked on the BBC World Service documentary The Killing of Farkhunda, which aired in August 2015. The Mirzaeis' first film, Stranded In Kabul, was one of 10 films from across Asia selected for Al Jazeera English’s Viewfinder Asia workshop in South Korea and was broadcast on AJE in 2013. Their second film, Farewell Kabul, premiered on AJE in 2014.

Toccata Classics released The Rosegarden of Light in 2016 and it is receiving a great deal of international critical acclaim. Tracks have been used on three films - The Staging Post (Australia), The King of Kabura (Afghanistan) and now Laila at the Bridge (Afghanistan/USA).

Kantos Chamber Choir - The Silver Stars at Play

December 2017

Excellent reviews for As-salāmu ‘alaykum Bethlehem on Prima Facie

I am absolutely thrilled that my new Christmas Carol released on Prima Facie this month has been receiving fabulous reviews. As-salāmu ʿalaykum Bethlehem combines selected words from O Little Town of Bethlehem (written by Phillips Brooks after his visit to the town in 1895) with the Islamic greeting meaning ‘Peace be unto you’. At a time when Bethlehem is beset with troubles, this optimistic carol brings together the two traditions in a spirit of solidarity - ‘Peace be unto you O little town of Bethlehem!’ The work was premiered on 16 December at St. Ann’s Church, Manchester, performed by the excellent KANTOS conducted by Ellie Slorach.

Simon Cummings 5:4 (13.12.2017)
‘Tis the season and all that, and while the majority of festive new releases are concerned with reheating the usual fare, there’s one new Christmas disc that I particularly want to single out. Called The Silver Stars at Play, it’s a collection of 23 contemporary Christmas carol settings, performed by the Manchester-based Kantos Chamber Choir, conducted by the choir’s founder Elspeth Slorach...for me, the most striking carol on the album is Sadie Harrison‘s As-salāmu ʿalaykum Bethlehem, which doesn’t merely challenge the conventions of Christmas music but boldly sets out more or less to ignore them completely (brava!). Combining words from ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ with an Islamic greeting, its music – though contemplative at its epicentre – is daringly wild, so ebullient and confident in its expression of joy and optimism that the carol’s culmination sounds positively feral. Utterly amazing...The effect of Harrison’s carol is only as powerful as it is due to the astonishing determination and fervour that Kantos Chamber Choir bring to it, and that’s just as true for the more introspective and meditative performances captured on the disc as it is for firecrackers like this.

Christian Morris Composition Today (14.12.2017)
'The Silver Stars at Play’ from Prima Facie Records features 23 world premiere carol recordings. At over 70 minutes it is a generous programme, with a cross-section of both significant and lesser-known mostly British composers...Perhaps my favourite was Sadie Harrison’s As-salāmu ‘alaykum Bethlehem, a riot of sound that bows least to the saccharine tendencies of the season. Even whilst pushing the harmonic envelope the result feels like a great shout of joy.

Planethugill (22.12.2017)
I was very struck by Sadie Harrison's As-salamu 'alaykum Bethlehem which combines O Little Town of Bethlehem with the Islamic greeting meaning 'Peace be unto you' to striking effect.