I am not intending to be back to the blog for a few days yet, but it seems to be the right time to reflect a little on the year, on how it has gone, what went well and what did not quite go as expected. Apart from the You Know What it has been an interesting time for me, a year in which I stepped back from work as I celebrated (in muted fashion) my fiftieth birthday in order to take stock, to focus more on composition, and to attempt to work out how I want the next period of my life to be.
In the event, the decision to disappear for a few months was immaculately timed, given that from March onwards there was more or less no work to be done. While I spent the first three months of the year writing fluently and productively, something changed in March – possibly the You Know What but also, I think, linked to other factors – which caused my writing to dry up. I remember very clearly beginning a new piece and suddenly coming up against a wall in terms of new ideas, the fluency of previous months suddenly gone.
I spent a little time on technical writing, my safe place when I run out of puff, and then came back to things, attacking my first symphony at last and with renewed energy. Until the end of the summer I worked on this, the preliminary piano score possibly two thirds written, and I would like to imagine that the piano version might be complete by the end of March and that maybe, just maybe, the work will be finished by the summer. I have spent less time on it since September, instead writing works for Christmas concerts that never happened, but at least I am ahead of the carol game for 2021.
Looking back in the final hours of the year it does not feel as if I have written much, but apart from two thirds of a symphony (!) there have been several other pieces in all genres, mainly competition entries but also some commissions as well, even it was a shame that the first performances of Cantata Of Saint Dunstan and Missa Clemens were cancelled, also that the Anghiari Festival did not take place, one of the great professional sadnesses of the year. Of the new pieces I think that I would have to choose The Book Of Hours as one of the highlights, an accompanying suite for Tony Boydell’s forthcoming game, entwining play and composition, two of my favourite things. It may seem odd for a pianist and organist, but I do not write a great deal for piano or organ, so I am very pleased with the way that this piece has turned out, also with the recording, which was both a learning experience and great fun and which made contributing vocals to a track by James Hollingsworth a possibility. It was a pleasure to be asked to do both of these and a delight as well.
There was also, of course, the win in the Cork competition for the Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis on Bb and the accompanying CD release, even if the festival for which the competition was run did not happen because of…well, you know why. And finally, but certainly not leastly, there was the book, which became an Amazon bestseller and took pretty much everybody by surprise and which people went out and bought in multiple copies, for which hugest thanks.
In the end the sabbatical and the year all worked out okay, and as I look back I think that things have gone well, albeit with the caveats that will forever now accompany mentions of 2020. Most importantly of all, though, I have missed performing and being with people, even if I must admit that I think I have managed to achieve a decent balance of quiet and industry in my life by pulling back from some work and do quite like being at home. The few Christmas concerts in which I managed to perform also reminded me how much music is about audiences and non-professionals, how it has never been the exclusive abode of career musicians. I am glad that the book has gone some way to illustrating this, that it has brought new figures to life who might otherwise have remained known only to specialists, but especially because, as was pointed out to me in an online comment, maybe some young readers will find themselves inspired to follow a route into music that they might never otherwise have considered. Just like I did.
Lastly, thank you to each and every one of you for following, reading, commenting, supporting and so many other things besides. I genuinely wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2021. See you soon.