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April 2019

Woodwind concertos are like buses...

When Mikey Sluman asked if anyone wanted to write him a concerto for bass oboe, I jumped at the opportunity. The trouble was, I was already committed to writing a clarinet concerto for Thomas Carr & NSO. I did the only logical thing for any composer to do, and wrote two totally different, wildly contrasting woodwind concertos during April.

For Tom's clarinet concerto I already had an idea. Newbury Symphony Orchestra had commissioned me to write a piece to fit with a space-themed concert (involving some outstandingly able students from St Bartholomew's School, as well as the regular members of the orchestra) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landings in 1969. I'd been toying with the concept of a sprawling, multi-movement work around the moons of Jupiter, but this was to be a shorter piece. Inspired by the continual tectonic upheavals of Jupiter's volcanic moon Io, I created a piece from fractured fragments of music. At the heart of the work I placed a song - a lyrical, freely floating passage for the solo clarinet, and surrounded it with stomping grooves, volcanic outbursts and sparkling cascades of notes. The first rehearsal (see picture above) was amazing! I really can't wait for the premiere on June 8th.

On the other hand, Mikey is a very different character to Tom, and he wanted something more lush, romantic, perhaps even beautiful. I wrote "Looking For More" for bass oboe and strings with a totally different palette of harmony and texture to "Io". The influence of RVW, Elgar, Tippett and others is strongly felt in the melodic lines and overall texture, but the whole harmonic language is that of modal jazz, soul & funk. I'm so excited about this piece - I know Mikey will play it totally beautifully up in Leeds with the St Michael's Orchestra in July. It was really wonderful to be given the opportunity to compose for the bass oboe. If you want to know more about it, Mikey gives a great interview on Composition Today which is well worth a read.

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