I am freshly back in the burrow following the first performance of the Cantata Of Saint Dunstan at the Mayfield Festival, something delayed for over two years. After spending the morning at Hampstead I drove down to Mayfield, witnessing some truly dreadful driving on the M25, but arrived in time to catch all of the rehearsal, which marked the first occasion – three years after I wrote it, you’ll note – that I heard it with the orchestra.
For me this moment is always a chance to calibrate where I am in terms of my writing for an ensemble of instruments, for unless you have a tame orchestra to hand (“guys, can we just check the balance on this chord?”) you need to trust to training, experience and intuition. Thus far it has always gone right, and thankfully everything seemed to work yesterday as I had expected it to – better, in fact, apart from one missed accidental, which was completely my fault.
It was intriguing to hear, because I have not spent any time with the cantata since 2019, but that (large-scale) piece led to the (large-scale) symphony which, in turn, led to the (large-scale) new cantata, Sight Adjusts Itself To Darkness. It is hard to put my finger on it exactly, but there is a breadth of expression in Dunstan which I think formed the start of the journey to Sight, so it was fascinating to hear it again and to experience how my tentative explorations of a larger canvas have gradually become more secure.
Despite being a little wary of the orchestra in rehearsal, the textures being so different from those they have rehearsed with, the choir really went for it in the concert, and I was able to relax into the listening experience early in the first movement, enjoy the journey of the drama and take stock of what I had written. It helped that, in addition to the choir, conductor (Jeremy Summerly), soloist (Angus McPhee) and orchestra were in glittering form.
So this would be the end of the current run of performances, were it not for the fact that I have picked up another one at the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music, the première of my organ work An Exaltation Of Skylarks, complete with choreography from the London Contemporary Dance School. Unfortunately I shall be unable to attend, plying my trade at another organ console, but 15th May looks like being one of those rarest of things – a day with three separate performances of my music, all of different pieces, and Skylarks on the 10th as well. Maybe I’m not so bad at this composing (sky)lark after all.