Experimenting with some jazz ideas.  The plan is to try to use them at three different strengths.  At the moment it is the extra mature variety: rich chords, moving fast, similar to what I would write for my jazz group.  It has been an interesting LSO week so far. Phillip Glass and Franz Lanting.  I have learned a lot by just going to the rehearsals and seeing where it takes my ear.  I have come out with impressions that I did not expect to have.  Up until this week, I never realised how much I liked the triangle.

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Here’s the plan. 3 minute piece, so only 3 minutes to write each blog entry…… Firstly, the title of this blog was going to be ‘What would Frank Zappa say?’, but then I changed my mind. The theme is the same though: how do non-classical musicians/composers write for classical musicians? At the moment I’m listening to A Fiddler’s Tale Suite by Wynton Marsalis. Full with New Orleans rhythmic stye, it shows a very interesting solution. Marsalis writes for non-jazz musicians, and does not include himself (its always easier to import your style when you are there to do it). Useful for me? Can’t say: 3 mins is up…..

This year’s participants are:
Nancie Gynn
Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian
Christopher Mayo
Edward Nesbit
Dan Stern
Elizabeth Winters

The 2010 composers commenced their participation on the Panufnik Young Composers Scheme with a Reality Weekend in February. This included meeting James MacMillan (this year’s Guest Composition Director while Colin Matthews is on sabbatical) and Camilla Panufnik (Project Champion), as well as meeting LSO players to explore their instruments. The composers also had practical sessions on presentation and communication skills.

The composers are now in the process of writing their pieces and will be meeting in June to catch up on progress. They are attending LSO rehearsals and concerts as well as regular tutorials with James MacMillan.

The new pieces will be rehearsed in a public workshop on Friday 7 January 2011. In addition to the six composers writing a three-minute piece, Vlad Maistorovici, a participant on the 2009 scheme, is working on a 10 minute commission for the LSO which will be rehearsed and performed at an LSO concert at the Barbican.

My new work has taken me longer than expected, as I had a change of heart regarding the overall style of the piece.  The draft I had been working on felt too similar to my other orchestral works, and I thought to make the most out of this project I really ought to explore some other possibilities.  So while my new new work retains my initial overall structure, its soundworld is somewhat different.  My music is often highly lyrical and delicate with fairly transparent instrumental texture, but since I felt I have already demonstrated my ability in writing such music in the past, I concentrated instead on trying to bring out the raw energy available from a symphony orchestra in this piece.

(You may sample my previous works here.)

I think we’d all agree that the LSO Panufnik scheme is a truly amazing opportunity – to be one of just six composers chosen to write a piece for one of the best orchestras in the world does sound rather mind-blowing. And of course it is! But they don’t like to make it too easy for us . . . as I imagine nearly every other blogger in this forum will have remarked, this ‘commission’ has been made exceedingly tricky to handle, not necessarily due to the complex nature of the orchestral palette we’re dealing with, or even the balancing act many of us are undertaking (between this and the various other simultaneous commissions). No, the Devil, for us, appears in the apparently benign form of the number 3. Or perhaps, more accurately, that obscenely small time limit of just 3 minutes long! This might be an irritatingly recurrent theme throughout the Panufnik blogs (and I apologise for bringing it up yet again), but really, it is such a tricky problem to address. Full-length piece with beginning, middle and end, or short, exploratory study? “Show ‘em what you can do”, maverick-style, or aim for a strong, cohesive piece of stand-alone music? Or both?

I’ve foolishly plumped for the latter. My first draft score was submitted yesterday to Colin Matthews, and I wait with trepidation to see if he thinks I’ve succeeded – I shall, no doubt, post all ensuing criticism here very soon!

The main challenge of this project for me is to produce a valid orchestral work of such short duration (~3 minutes), as my music often has an unhurried nature.  In the case of my last major orchestral work, it doesn’t “get going” until the eighth minute into the 23-minutes piece.  In fact, there are very few larger ensemble works of <4 minutes duration by other composers that I feel are musically satisfying on their own.  Off the top of my head, I can think of John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine and either of Oliver Knussen’s Two Organa.

I like to construct my music using limited amount of raw materials.  For this short piece I am concentrating on two simple ideas, a zigzag melodic shape and an accelerating rhythmic motif.  The overall structure  is straight forward:  one main build-up with a short coda.

Since this is my first post here, I shall introduce myself briefly.  My biography can be found at my website www.funglam.com, but here is some extra info…

I started playing the piano at the age of six while I was in Hong Kong, but cello has been my major instrument since I took it up at 10.  While I wasn’t especially interested in contemporary classical music in general at the beginning, I was very keen to explore the cello repertoire, old and new, especially those which have been premiered or performed by either Yo-Yo Ma or Mstislav Rostropovich, two of my favourites.  Soon I found myself ordering random CDs and scores of composers I had never heard of!  Fittingly, I shall mention that it included the Andrzej Panufnik’s Cello Concerto recorded by the LSO and Rostropovich, which remains one of my favourite contemporary cello concertos, alongside other ones by composers such as HK Gruber, Stephan Albert and Gavin Bryars.  My interest in contemporary music just grew from there, and eventually started composing slightly more seriously after my undergraduate studies in music.

The 2009 composers commenced their participation on the Panufnik Young Composers Scheme with a Reality Weekend in January. This included meeting Colin Matthews (Composition Director), Camilla Panufnik (Project Champion), Lucy O’Rorke (Helen Hamlyn Trust) and Raymond Yiu (2008 Panufnik composer), as well as meeting LSO players (David Alberman, Patrick Harrild, Neil Percy and Bryn Lewis), to explore their instruments. The composers also had practical sessions on presentation and communication skills.

The composers are now in the process of writing their pieces and will be meeting on 14 May to have a Gamelan session and to catch up on progress. They are attending LSO rehearsals and concerts as well as regular tutorials with Colin Matthews.

 The new pieces will be rehearsed in a public workshop on Monday 5 October 2009.

In addition to the six composers writing a 3 minute piece, Andrew McCormack, a participant on the 2008 scheme, is working on a 10 minute commission for the LSO which will also be rehearsed on Monday 5 October before it is premiered with Francois-Xavier Roth and the LSO on Thursday 10 December 2009.

The Panufnik Young Composers Scheme 2008 is a thing of the past – the workshop took place over three months ago, and I have already met the six Panufnik Young Composers of 2009 (Francisco Coll Garcia, Edmund Finnis, Fung Lam, Vlad Maistorovici, Max de Wardener and Toby Young) last weekend, shared my experience on the scheme and gave (hopefully) useful tips. An impressive brunch, and apparently for the time since PYCS started an all-male selection. Their new pieces will be something one looks forward to.

 

PYCS has been a wonderful experience, as well as having my first orchestral piece played by the London Symphony Orchestra, the best thing for me was to meet the five wonderful fellow composers – Andrew McCormack, Ayanna Witter-Johnson, Joshua Penduck, Matthew Sergeant and Sasha Siem; each one of them with has an individual voice, and I would be delighted to share platform with all of them sometime in the future.

 

Out of the six of us, Andrew received a commission to write a 10-minute piece for the LSO, which is to be premiered later on this year. And I have the honour to receive a commission to write a piece for the Chinese pianist Lang Lang and the London based Silk String Quartet. It is a piano quintet with a difference as the four members of the quartet play not violin, viola or any familiar Western instruments; instead, the quartet is made up of four Chinese string instruments – erhu (二胡), pipa (琵琶), yangqin (揚琴) and guzheng (古箏). An interesting combination, and a challenging piece to write. I hope the end result, Maomao Yü, is going to turn out alright.

I met the writer Nicola Christe on a conducting course at the Morley College this year. When she mentioned a project (co-ordinated and presented by her) involving composers ‘rewriting’ the classics featured at this year’s Proms, I agreed to take part as soon as she mentioned Brahms’ Third Symphony. Black Wings is the result.

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