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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!

I am currently going through the painful process of finding raw material for this piece (in other words trying to get a good idea!). One of the problems I’m facing is that I’ve never written for such a large palette before. I keep having to remind myself the depth of sound I’m dealing with here.

I’ve also had a possible title for the work for quite some time but I’m not sure if what’s ending up on paper is exactly the same piece. Maybe at this stage it’s more important to get stuff ON paper but I think the title is lingering at the back of my mind during this process and certainly helps in giving me a direction.

I’ve managed to arrange a meeting with Colin for next week so it’ll be interesting to find out what he has to say about my scribblings! 

Last Sunday morning, all the houses were covered with snow; during the week, there was plenty of sun. It felt like spring has come and gone, and back again, in the space of one week, even though it felt longer. Changes of weather are like music – they distort our sensation of natural time flow.

My first meeting with Colin Matthews happened three days ago. Other than getting some interesting tips on ‘What and What Not’, we had some interesting discussion on music by other composers – some dead, some alive – and it transpired to be a very helpful exercise. We both agreed Nielsen’s Sixth Symphony is an underrated masterpiece; I would go as far as saying all Nielsen’s symphonies are underrated masterpieces, as well as his three concerti, two operas, and other orchestral pieces. Nielsen and Sibelius should be on equal ground. How long will we have to wait to hear the next Nielsen Symphony Cycle in London? Well, at least something is happening across the Atlantic, according to Alex Ross.

The title of the my piece, Xocolatl, came to me when I was re-reading Philip Ridley’s The Pitchfork Disney. On the day I went to see Colin, I found the perfect little preface to the score:

In that November off Tehuantepec
Night stilled the slopping of the sea.
The day came, bowing and voluble, upon the deck,

Good clown … One thought of Chinese chocolate
And large umbrellas. And a motley green
Followed the drift of the obese machine

Of ocean, perfected in indolence.
What pistache one, ingenious and droll,
Beheld the sovereign clouds as jugglery

And the sea as turquoise-turbaned Sambo, neat
At tossing saucers – cloudy-conjuring sea?
C’était mon esprit bâtard, l’ignominie.

The sovereign clouds came clustering. The conch
Of loyal conjuration trumped. The wind
Of green blooms turning crisped the motley hue

To clearing opalescence. Then the sea
And heaven rolled as one and from the two
Came fresh transfigurings of freshest blue.

Sea Surface Full of Clouds, Wallace Stevens

There will be no Holloway; instead, just a little help from Mozart.

August 2020
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