Alasdair Nicolson – The Iris Murder (with libretto by John Gallas) Shortlisted for Dorico Award for Small/medium Scale Work sponsored by Steinberg

February 19, 2017 in safnm2017 by mwhiteside

Alasdair Nicolson

The Iris Murder is a chamber opera which is set in the realms of fairy tale meets psychological drama meets ghost story. It’s a tale which set around a protagonist whose name is Rolly Bones middle aged man rather arrogant, rather vain with not much care for those around him or the world but who also seems to be slightly disturbed and anxious. We meet him initially searching around a woodland in a clearing with lots of mounds of earth where he seems to be reflecting upon many previous visits but also a whole set of ladies’ names which happen to be names of flowers. What he has done with these people we don’t know, but we assume they are people, and then Iris arrives in human form to reflect upon what happened to her, which was not very pleasant. He dismisses this and effectively gets rid of her and goes home to celebrate his birthday feeling he’s had rather a good year and it was rather exciting. Unfortunately, the Green Man arrives at his front door to take him away to pay for is crimes and takes him away to a court where he is presented with a parade of all these women named after flowers. He’s convicted of the crime of murder and his sentence is to go and see the world in its true horror to see man’s disruption of the planet and the life many lead. Having been presented with this he is set free. We next see him getting dressed up and getting excited about his latest date on New Year’s Eve. He doesn’t realise it yet but when he goes to meet at the usual spot his new date is actually Iris masquerading as somebody else and she plays along with this date to a degree but then gets her just revenge.


  1. How did the piece come about?

The piece was a commission from the Hebrides Ensemble and Will Conway who asked me if I would write something which was music theatre or opera, an area in which I had worked very much as a practical musician both in theatre and opera as répétiteur. Having been commissioned I then went looking for someone to write the words and during the previous year I had been working as a conductor on a piece of music with words by the poet John Gallis. I had been struck at that point by how good they were as text to set to music but also in working with him practically how collaborative, easy, speedy and cleaver her could be with very few words. Always good for a composer because the danger is you get too many words to work with. John and I set about looking for something which was in the world of goth tails of the unexpected, fairy tale, psychological drama and came upon a story which is very brief which tells the story of a man who is walking out and about and treads on a flower and that action triggers lots of other unpleasant things that happen to him. We used that as the basis to develop out into the piece that exists now.


  1. It’s a very unusual instrumentation – can you tell us a little about that?

The instrumentation for the Irish Murder is quite an unusual combination and was driven by the need for the piece to be contained and small enough to tour, it has three singers and four instrumentalists (cello, clarinet, percussion and accordion). I was looking for an instrumentation to create an interesting soundworld. Something that could be magical, in the world of magic realism, something that could provide interesting textures, great sonority and good support for the singers. The accordion provides many facets of the score because it has many voices from the very high to the very low. It also provides many different colours and the possibility to play more than one note at a time which means you can fill out a texture when you only have four instruments and provide a very full colourful score.


  1. What other projects do you have on the go at the moment?

I’ve just completed a piano concerto for Inon Barnatan at the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields which is a companion piece to the Shostakovich concerto for piano trumpet and strings. It is an exciting collaboration with Inon and the 12 performances are in the United States. I’m also writing a piece for the BBC Singers and the Trondheim Soloists in collaboration with the write John Foster, one of Norway’s greatest playwrights at the moment. We are writing a piece which is about pilgrimage in its oldest, religious sense, combined with the idea of contemporary pilgrimage such as that of the migrant or the refugee, the pilgrimage being to a better place. The piece will be performed later in the year in both the UK and Norway.


  1. What other pieces have you seen this year that you found exciting and will stand the test of time?

One of the great pieces I saw in the last year was McNulty by Jo Cutler which I think will become a repertoire piece because it was a really exciting energetic and dynamic and serious piece of music written for a straightforward ensemble, the piano trio. It draws on folk music, minimal music in a combination which gives you a very energetic burst of dynamic contrasted music. Because of its style, content and energy and the fact it is for an ensemble which regularly meets in our music world it will probably sit in the repertoire very quickly as a piece lots of people will want to play.