I was in Bristol yesterday to have some work done on the car which meant that I had to get there early and kill time during the day, so I headed to the nearest coffee retailer, found a table in a corner with some power and reliable wifi, and spent the day catching up on a few things. I also took the day off from orchestrating the cantata (which is slightly ahead of schedule) in order to take a look at a submission which has to be in by the end of the month.

This is for a chamber work, and although I would have to say that choral writing has become my forte I think I have also come up with a few decent chamber pieces along the way, including the prizewinning but still unperformed Quartet For Four Saxophones which won me a week in the lovely Welsh countryside and a lovely piece of crystalware which has pride of place on my bookshelf. Young Composer Of The Year it says, and who am I to argue?

Instrumental music demands a different set of criteria in the writing, I tend to find, the lack of a text meaning that the intent of the music needs to be communicated in other ways, if you are trying to communicate something, of course. I still begin with structure, some kind of framework on which to hang the whole edifice, but at least when you have a text to set there is usually a structure baked into those words before one begins to set them.

Instrumental writing also offers some freedoms that are not necessarily there with choral writing. Difficult intervals for singers remain exactly that, while difficulty for a pianist (for example) has nothing to do with the relationship between the notes but is instead wrapped up in the physical mechanisms of the hands and fingers.

I would hesitate to say that instrumental and chamber works are therefore bound to be more ‘modern’, whatever that means, but it does mean that they can express themselves in a different way. Whether this current submission ends up having any success only time will tell, but it is still refreshing to spend time in a new area and with new instruments and, after all, what one learns in one place often has an impact on what one does in other places as well.