We said farewell to Paul Sartin on Monday afternoon at a packed church in a gorgeous corner of the Hampshire countryside, the early morning rain giving way to a gloriously crisp autumn afternoon. The music at the service was a fitting reflection of the versatility of the man – recordings, compositions, collaborations – and it was wonderful to be able to catch up with many people I have not seen for a long, long time, an opportunity to find out who is doing what and to recalibrate my memories and check that they are correct. As I left the reception and pointed the car westwards I could hear the music-making begin through the open windows of the hotel, and I am sure that it went on long into the evening and possibly even beyond that. Paul will be, indeed is, hugely missed, but his influence will live on for many years, something totally in accord with the ‘mission statement’ that his son found in Paul’s violin case.

I sent off a couple of small arrangements on Tuesday which had kept me occupied at the end of the previous week, and also finished the first draft of a new carol which will be submitted to one of the calls for scores which happen to be around at this time of year. The piece reminds me a little of A Sad Carol For This Distracted Tymes, but is more involved than that work, even if at times it inhabits the same landscape. It might well not be good enough to be selected by the panel, but I think that it is probably in line to be performed somewhere, and, if not this year, then maybe next year instead.

By the middle of the week the carol was proofed and set and, denuded of its identifying marks, ready to go off to its call for scores, and I will keep it up my sleeve for a carol service later in the year in the likely event that it comes back with a thanks-but-no-thanks attached to it. Happily, though, it opened up my schedule so that the next deadlines are far enough away for me to get back to doing some serious work on the symphony, pushing ever onwards in the hope that this might be complete by the end of the year. Even if not, I would like to have a hearty and hale bound paper copy in my hands for some proper proofing by the time 2023 rolls in, not least so that I can wave it under the noses of anybody who might be interested, and maybe even some people who are not interested (yet).

By the end of my stint of work on Thursday morning, however, I had, at last, a completely orchestrated first movement of the symphony, and was already pushing forward into the second. These are merely the initial attempts at getting the piece away from the abstract and into something approaching a version that an orchestra could perform, so there is still a very long way to go, but it was satisfying to have been able to make good progress in relatively short time, which makes me hopeful that the piece might be close to finished by the end of the year.

I continued work on the second movement over the weekend, gradually adding detail, correcting a moment here and there, and generally getting much further and thereby generating much more enthusiasm for the whole project than I might have expected. Each extra stint of work genuinely does make me believe that this might actually be done by the end of December, which would make the piece a rather neatly packaged product of the pandemic, I think. The main writing, after all, was done from April 2020 to July 2021, right in the midst of it all, while the tidying and the orchestrating is taking up the long tail of the whole experience, and perhaps, like the symphony, that looming shadow of Covid might start to shift by the time we bring in the new year.

As I pootled up to Hampstead on Sunday morning to direct some Darke and Brahms I continued reading the Murakami/Osawa book that my uncle has given me as a present (he is a “visionary guru” and has the award to prove it, after all), and I am making slow progress on it, but only because it is so engrossing and keeps sending me to recordings I had never encountered before, also making me think about music in new ways, each page an education at worst, a revelation at best. Also, while reading one particular chapter I listened to a little of that piece of music in my head and was struck by a sudden realisation – “My symphony quotes Brahms!” I genuinely had no idea. I knew that I leaned towards Sibelius and Lutosławski by design and that the third movement sounded a little Brahmsian, but a quotation? I now see the work in a completely new light and remain fascinated by what my brain gets up to when I am not paying attention. At moments like this, despite all the frustration, despair and setbacks I really must admit that I love this whole composing thing.