One of the knock on effects of my move to Somerset, given that I have kept a large chunk of my work in London, has been an increased amount of driving and travel. It was always my intention to stay out of the busier hours as much as possible and that approach has proven to be successful thus far, even despite the roadworks on the M3. Travelling back on what was a gloriously sunny Christmas Day was a delight, the greens of Wiltshire and Somerset overcoming the lowering greys of Hammersmith, with all that massively intrusive advertising, and the cloud-capped towers of Basinggrad. Stonehenge, in particular, looked very fine indeed, and my heart still skips a beat every time I pass it, and I think of Hardy’s poetry – well, that and those poor souls who dragged the stones all the way from Wales.
Various of my carols were performed over the Christmas days, of course, and A Sad Carol is on the menu at Mary Abbots today, but then, as the festive season dies away, it is time for other works to come to the fore, and we only get a few days into the new year before my notes get played to another unsuspecting audience. against the pull of silence, for string orchestra, is part of the programme for a concert in Rieti on the first Saturday of January, and it is a good start to the year, the third performance in six months for a piece which seems to be gathering pace. It may well be that it does not get performed again in 2015, but, like a Mexican wave, maybe, just maybe, it is picking up enough momentum to sustain itself.
I am on the final stretch of the piano score of the Carta Cantata, which is probably going to function as the rehearsal score while I get the orchestration done in the first weeks of the new year. Out of curiosity I did some basic formatting yesterday and found out that the piece currently runs to around 80 pages in this version, so the orchestral score is going to be a weighty tome. As I have been adding details and textures, all the while trying to ensure that there is some kind of consistency in the piece, it has been instructive to find out that material which can sound unpromising on its own, in isolation, can be given colour, light and shade by the addition of supportive lines, cohesive harmony and rhythmic counterpoint. In other words, it doesn’t sound quite as threadbare as I had feared and, in some places, has come together pretty decently, I would say.
The next few days will be full of this piece as I try to get it ready to send by the time those revellers cheer in 2015, but also because I need to get cracking on the new piece for the Parliament Choir and the orchestration for the Carta Cantata. I am fairly confident that I will be able to run these two tasks side by side – one of the benefits of having spent over six months on the cantata is that I already have a very strong idea of how I would like the orchestration to work. As for the Parly Choir piece, a Purcellian verse anthem for the twenty first century, bits of it are already sketched and I am happy with what is sitting there on my USB stick. As a lighter side dish to the recent main fare of the cantata it is providing happy refreshment.
In many ways this is my favourite time of the year, those crisp days just tailor made for walking, handy when, as is the case now, there is superb walking to be had only three minutes down the road and a magnificent local oh so handily located on the way back. On Christmas Eve, before coming into London, I set off on a four mile traipse, exploring a little of the East Mendip way and Ham Woods, where our (I presume) ancestors have left their ancient marks on the landscape, less obvious than the henges, but there none the less. I stood on a ridge and looked out towards Wells and Glastonbury, the layers of hills like so many strata of grey in a watercolour, while birds wheeled overhead. It put the soul into a resilient frame of mind for the onslaught of the capital, a balance of ease with which to soften the hard edges of work and stress. Soon – but not yet – I’ll look back over the past year and try to put it into some kind of perspective, but I know for a fact that I never expected to be here now, either professionally or geographically.