Yesterday, I realised that I had reached the halfway point of my piece for the LSO. While I do sketch out the whole work in some form or other during the preliminary stages, I usually then return to the beginning and work in quite a linear way – although making numerous drafts of each section as the piece progresses.
If I am to be honest, which I suppose is the point of these blogs, I am feeling extremely relieved to have finally made it this far! Working on a piece tends to fall into two stages: the uphill struggle – the first half – followed by the second half which is usually (or hopefully!) downhill most of the way. While writing the end of a piece sometimes presents its own problems, which I will no doubt discuss later on, I do usually enjoy writing the latter stages of the piece more.
The first half of this piece however, has felt a little more of a struggle than normal. I don’t feel that this is the issue of writing for large orchestra for the first time, or the added pressure (which is certainly there, despite the obvious excitement) of writing a piece for the LSO, or even the conflict of life – i.e. teaching, trying to move house, teaching, mending the shower…and teaching – versus composition time.
It is more that, whilst writing this piece, my ideas have persistently been challenged and turned upside down in ways that I didn’t necessarily expect when I began. For a start, all the composers on the scheme have been incredibly lucky to have had open access to LSO rehearsals and concerts. This is tremendously useful and inspiring, but has constantly made me rethink what I am writing – not only from listening to the sound of the LSO but also by being introduced to new repertoire. Gerald Barry and Helmut Lachenmann are two composers I didn’t really know a great deal about prior to the LSO scheme – but I am very glad that I do now! Then, there are the very interesting conversations I have had with the other composers on the scheme, which raise all sorts of questions. We had a catch up session in June and it was really interesting to discover the diverse approaches that we all have. Finally, of course, there are the composition lessons which are always thought provoking.
Don’t get me wrong, these are all really good things, and very positive. And I do feel that my writing is progressing in the right way, thanks to all these influences. However, they have all contributed to make the journey to the halfway point slightly more unpredictable than normal. But I think that is what makes being a composer so interesting.