Explore Alastair White’s fashion-opera ROBE in this collection of essays, films and excerpts

April 10, 2020 in All Opportunities, awards 2020 blog, featured, guest blog by mwhiteside




NMS Time Out Residency – 2020

April 8, 2020 in featured, guest blog by mwhiteside

I was invited to take part in NMS’ latest Time Out mini-residency in Greenlaw (sympathetically restored and very comfortable cottages – I can thoroughly recommend them for family gatherings!)

NMS says that ‘essentially our peer to peer weekends aim to give composers/performers/promoters the opportunity to work together, share their difficulties and benefit from each other’s strengths in a safe non-judgmental environment’.  The focus for this weekend was ‘emerging creators and promoters’.

I shared the weekend with 4 composers (Anthony Cowie, Neil Smith, Ruta Vitkauskaite and Matthew Whiteside) and our facilitator, Kirsten Hunter.  Looking back, it had a feeling of time out of time, because it was the last moment people could gather together in a way that we had all taken for granted but now, in this extraordinary time, is no longer possible.

So it was a very special residency – not least because of the collegiate feeling between the composers. Issues were explored frankly and throughout the weekend we kept sight of following up on ideas that we unlocked.  Shared concerns included

  • raising a composer’s profile outside the immediate community within which they are working
  • time management: an urgent issue, this one, of trying to free up time to compose amid the demands of running an ensemble, taking on performing projects or fulfilling academic commitments
  • funding, of course!
  • networks: expanding from chamber to wider contacts – conductors, orchestras, major festivals (especially outside the UK), radio
  • European residencies
  • the importance of visual stimuli
  • issues of legacy

I enjoyed the weekend very much and really hope we will all remain in touch.  I invited everyone to come with me to concerts and meet performers and organisers when they are on visits to London.  I fully intend to come up for one of The Night With…gigs. Richer contact between Scotland and London needs constant nurturing.

Sally Groves

Alec Frank-Gemmill on James MacMillan’s Horn Quintet

February 28, 2017 in featured, guest blog by mwhiteside

BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist and Scottish Chamber Orchestra Principal Horn Alec Frank-Gemmill will be in front of the orchestra this week for the first performances of a new arrangement of James MacMillan’s Horn Quintet.  NMS Board member (and horn player) Andy Saunders put a few questions to Alec:

How did the idea of expanding the Horn Quintet rather than writing a completely new piece come about?

I think that the SCO (specifically Roy McEwen, who retired as Chief Exec last summer) approached James MacMillan with the idea of commissioning a concerto. Having written a quintet for horn and strings not so along before, James had already been toying with the idea of expanding it for horn and string orchestra. Abracadabra!

Without giving away any spoilers, what’s the advantage of playing a piece like this in a larger version?  Does it have a radically different impact to the original chamber version?

I’ve performed the Quintet only once before. That piece needs every player to know everyone else’s part as well as their own. This the kind of thing that you often about music, but in the case of the Horn Quintet it’s no exaggeration. You can lose your way in almost every bar. The great advantage on a practical level is that for the Concertino there will be a conductor. So if he (in this case it’s Andrew Manze, a hero of mine) keeps his place hopefully everyone else will too! On a purely musical level, I think that expanding the piece like this makes sense because the strings often act as a unit independently of the horn. Finally, theatrically there is something brilliant about this work being presented with lots of noise (I.e. massed strings) and the horn blasting at the front. Spoiler alert…

A piece like this is technically very challenging and explores the extremes of your instrument’s range.  How do you go about preparing for it in amongst the other repertoire – much of it very different to this – that you have on the go during the same period?

Well that’s perhaps a bit negative! I love the variety of having lots of different music on the go at once. Actually, as with the Ligeti Trio, I’ve found that having the Quintet/Concertino “on the chops” keeps me fit for other music. In other words, if I am in shape to play this piece I’ll be in shape for pretty much anything else.

The horn writing here is vintage-MacMillan – shades of Isobel Gowdie and Rio Sumpúl throughout.  Is there anything in MacMillan’s horn writing that you think identifies it as uniquely him…?

Great question. There is probably a Master’s thesis in there. From my experience performing JM’s music (rather than employing post-Schenkerian head-scratching) I’d say yes, definitely, but I’m not sure what. Perhaps it is the way he treats the horn as a cross between a standard melodic wind instrument and an out-of-control wild animal. In this way the writing is challenging but always appropriate to the horn, rather than something that could be transferred to trumpet or trombone (as can often be the case with new music).

It’s interesting to see that, other than exploring the extremes of the range, there aren’t any extended techniques used in the solo part. Have you any thoughts on how effective (or not) the use of things like multi-phonics, half-valving and such like can be?  Do you think that it rests more with the player or the composer to make it work?

Ha! Leading questions from another horn player! It’s of course a shame when composers write extended techniques for the instrument for the sake of it, rather than to produce an effective musical expression. Another pitfall is introducing these kind of techniques in a context where they aren’t clear to the listener (and instead sound like the player struggling to do something more straightforward). That said, if the composer writes it, we’ve got to play it. It’s all too easy for us players to give up, believing a particular effect is impossible rather than really committing to mastering it.

The SCO’s core repertoire includes a lot of classical and romantic music.  Do you feel that there is a natural line through the concertos by Haydn, Mozart, Weber and Richard Strauss to pieces like this one, and Ligeti’s Hamburg Concerto?

Ligeti actually mentions Weber’s Concertino when discussing his Hamburg Concerto. The connection to earlier composers is a result of the natural horn writing that Ligeti employs. Strauss has a link to the past in his horn writing since he accompanied the Mozart concertos on the piano while his father played the horn part. What I really like about JM’s Concertino is that there is a much less obvious link here to previous horn music. It’s really NEW and that is a real achievement when writing for the horn.

Give us an insight into the mindset of a soloist about to give a world premiere of a high profile composer…what will be going through your mind as you walk on stage?

Not a lot, hopefully. New music is often very challenging and, therefore, has the advantage that most of the mind is taken up with getting the notes right and not with the importance of the occasion.

If you could commission a piece for solo horn and orchestra from any living composer (other than James MacMillan or the SCO’s resident composer, Martin Suckling), budget and timescale not an issue, who would it be?

Hans Abrahamsen. He has written a magical trio for violin, horn and piano. I’m sure he would write something beautiful, and of lasting significance, for the instrument.

If you have one crucial piece of advice to give to composers writing for horn, what would it be?

Don’t write anything that would sound better on the trumpet or trombone!


The SCO have kindly offered a 2 for 1 ticket deal for NMS members.  Details are in the Bulletin update sent out on Monday 27th February.



Sauchiehall – Oliver Searle

January 9, 2017 in All Opportunities, featured, guest blog, Oliver Searle by mwhiteside

Oliver Searle

Oliver Searle

I moved to Glasgow in 2001, and since then, have witnessed the music scene flourish (to perhaps the second largest in the UK, although I only have anecdotal evidence to support this statement), and encountered a certain amount of backtracking and surprisingly positive comments about the city from those who might once have slated its history and outward image. I never expected to end up living here and am unsure if it would have had the same draw as a city in attracting people to stay even 20 or 30 years ago, particularly in the way in which it has fostered an ever-growing community of artists and musicians.

Sauchiehall Street was always a mythical place when I was younger, alive with stories of nights out and goings-on, delivered to me by older people on return to my home town. I remember on occasion passing through Glasgow (on a bus back from a sporting event when I was a young teenager), and looking out of the window in awe (and with some trepidation) at Sauchiehall Street on a Saturday night.

The street has obviously had various heydays, high points and low points, but still seems to be a watchword for the city itself, regardless of its fortunes. It has an amazing history of events and the steady stream of people and businesses that have frequented it over time (and continue to do so) have left their mark in many ways.

When I was approached in 2015 to write a new work forrsno-logo_125 the RSNO (as part of their 125th Anniversary celebrations), Sauchiehall Street seemed like an obvious starting point for me. The orchestra has moved from one end of the street to the other (Henry Wood Hall, to the GRCH), past many music venues and sites of historical interest; the name itself is also iconic and a little unusual (apparently a rough translation from Scots would be ‘willow grove’).

Although the work has been performed live, the principal function of the piece was for a recording, which would be included in an App, to help introduce a wider audience to the orchestra, as well as to new music. Within the App, a listener can choose their own path through the work, making decisions about where they would like to sit within the orchestra during the course of the piece.

I spent a day with the Orchestra in February 2016, recording with binaural microphones (the ones that are rather freakishly shaped like disembodied human ears!), in their new hall at the GRCH, which entailed a certain amount of stopping and starting to try and allow the individual ideas contained within the work to be conveyed as clearly as possible.

Sauchiehall is a homage to the street (and perhaps, therefore, the city of Glasgow), and the music venues here or nearby that have called it home over the years, attempting to give a short musical snapshot of the area, both past and present. Having considered how listeners might experience this work within the App, I decided to draw on a number of musical references, which are overlayed and juxtaposed, presented by different sections of the orchestra at the same time, thus allowing listeners to focus more closely on one layer at a time.

img_4411These references include:

  • A Reel melody (a reference to Scottish traditional music, which is heard in full at the end, in the high strings)
  • A fragment of a short song by Gustav Holst (The Thought; a homage to Holst, who used to play in the orchestra), the opening gesture of which opens the piece, then returns with a longer phrase in the middle section
  • A brass fanfare, based on the Hallelujah Chorus (the first piece of music performed by the orchestra)
  • A rock drum rhythm and accompanying bass-line (a homage to the amount of rock and metal bands I have seen performing live in Glasgow)
  • 1930s dance-band material (a reference to the number of dance halls and cinemas on Sauchiehall Street at one time).
  • A hymn tune (a reference to the long-gone churches that are sadly a lost part of Glasgow’s heritage)
  • A simple Buddhist melody in the horns towards the end (there is a Buddhist centre on Sauchiehall Street, which I have walked past for many years!), which gradually builds, as if starting from afar and moving past in a procession
  • Orchestration in the style of Copland’s Corral Nocturne (from Rodeo; he conducted the work with the orchestra in 1964), in the slower middle section
  • The ‘Humming Chorus’ from Madam Butterfly (the first production by Scottish Opera, for which the orchestra performed under the baton of Alexander Gibson), this is also overlayed with Copland and Holst in the middle section of the work

I initially began experimenting with an online device called a ‘YouTube doubler’, in which you can run two music videos simultaneously; this was the starting point for the work, putting img_4410the Corral Nocturne alongside the Humming Chorus and enjoying the result so much that I began to notate sections of it for use in the final piece.

It is not the first time I have incorporated references to Sauchiehall Street or Glasgow in my work; I have increasingly become interested by our attachments – socially and culturally – to the places we were born, grew up in, or live and work, and how these may change over time. I am quite inspired by local history, or places I have visited, and how this might trigger musical references from personal memories.

In 2007, I also wrote Pride, Poverty and Pianos, a large-scale work for choir and orchestra (for the BBCSSO), drawing on the history of the East End of Glasgow and stories from local residents, which also included a live recording of boy racers on Sauchiehall Street, mixed with fragments of an Orange March and percussive rock rhythms.

Sauchiehall can be heard by downloading the RSNO 360 App, available from the Apple App store.

Red Note’s Review of 2016

December 23, 2016 in All Opportunities, featured, guest blog, News, review - rednote by mwhiteside

Welcome to Red Note’s 2016 Review of the Year! It’s been an amazing 12 months full of challenge, excitement and new things for everyone. We thought we’d share some of what happened with you to help you while away the long Winter evenings.

From all of us in the Red Note team, we’d also like to to wish you a very happy Christmas and Best Wishes for 2017!

This year we’ve been travelling far and wide…

2016 was the year that Red Note truly got out and about. First of all we visited India to develop a new project for future years, and then we had three different international tours in the Autumn: to Canberra and Bermagui in Australia for two weeks of workshops and performances in September with the Griffyn Ensemble; to Belgium and Holland with Freedom O(r) Speech in October and November with I Solisti and Song Circus; and to France with KEIN.

Oh, and we went to England. Twice!

powerful, provocative and confident”   David Kettle, The Scotsman  ★★★★★

Freedom o(r ) Speech, in partnership with I Solisti del Vento from Belgium and Norway’s Song Circus, performing in Aberdeen, Ghent, Antwerp, Bruges and ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands.

… and we criss-crossed Scotland

This year we’ve brought Red Note’s stuff, in various forms, to quite a number of different areas of Scotland. In total, we’ve worked out that this year we’ve performed in:

The Western Isles | Aberdeenshire | Fife | the Highlands | East Lothian | East Renfrewshire | Glasgow City | Edinburgh City | Aberdeen City | Perthshire and Dumfries and Galloway

Working with Red Note requires a strong pair of shoes!

We performed the work of many composers …

Almost too many composers to name! However, here is an incomplete list in no particular order (with many apologies to anyone who has been missed out):

Bela Bartok | Louis Andriessen | Mauricio Kagel | Gareth Williams | Sally Beamish | George Crumb | John de Simone | John Mayer | Witold Lutoslawski | Edgar Varese | Fraser Fifield | François Sarhan | Jackie Shave | David Wilde | Arvo Part | Paul Stanhope | Kara Taylor | Lewis McLaughlin | David Sawer | Virginie Lesaffre | Kyle Berry | Armando Lobo | Misha Doumnov | Aggelos Mastrantonis | Arvin Papelli | Kuljit Bhamra | Paul Cowell | John Gourlay | Afrodita Kathmeridou | Derek Ball | J Simon van der Walt | Hilario Flores Conti | Vroni Holzmann | Simon Opit | Cheryl Loke | Bill Thompson | Conner McCain | George Handel | Matthew Whiteside | Robert Irvine | Olivier Messiaen | John Cage | Jonathan Harvey |Karlheinz Essl | Peter Longworth | Timothy Cooper | Denis Smalley | Henry McPherson | Martin Keary | Shona Mackay | Gregor Forbes | Taner Kemirtlek | Luciano Berio | …

“a most brilliantly moving of elegies” Neil Cooper. The Herald  ★★★★★

The 306: Dawn. World Premiere. National Theatre of Scotland, 1418 NOW and Perth Theatre
co-production, in association with Red Note Ensemble.  (Image: Manuel Harlan)

In all sorts of different partnerships …

Oh my word yes. This year we worked with:

Film-makers: With Eggbox for their absolutely brilliant film to accompany Louis Andriessen’s Workers Union in the Concorde Hangar at the Lammermuir Festival in September.
Dancers: With the hugely talented company for the Dalcroze-inspired Sally Beamish commission Ringtime
Actors: And not one but two national treasures – Simon Callow for Freedom O(r) Speech in Aberdeen, and Crawford Logan for The Sins in the Cheltenham Festival.
Theatre Companies: One company really, but it’s a big one: the National Theatre of Scotland for the staggering site-specific The 306:Dawn
Schools: This was the year that our Schools composing project New Music Makers also got out-and-about, working with students and teachers from Kirkland High School in Leven, and Woodfarm, Lochend and Barrhead High Schools in Glasgow. That’s in addition to all of the schools we worked in as part of The 306: Dawn education projects, Go Compose! taster sessions in Aberdeen, and Knox High School in Haddington.
International Music Conservatoires: Not only our long-standing partnership with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, working with their emerging professional conductors, performers and composers, but also this year we partnered with the Paris Conservatoire and the Helsinki Sibelius Academy for our first international Red Note Advanced Academy, bringing students from across Europe to work with us at the Lammermuir Festival. That’s also not to forget our partnerships with Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities too.
Start-up Entrepreneurs: Yes indeed. We were delighted to perform and present our work at the Scottish EDGE awards this December.
Other Ensembles: in other countries, primarily – I Solisti del Vento from Belgium, SongCircus from Norway, and Griffyn from Australia.

And many apologies to everything and everyone we have accidentally left out!

… in all sorts of venues

We go where audiences go. This year we played in:

Pubs | Aircraft Hangars | Very Large Sheds on Farms | School Halls | Conference Centres | Art Galleries | Churches | Theatres | Science Museums

That said, we do also play in concert halls! Just not all the time.

And many many thanks to our Festival partners – in particular, sound in Aberdeenshire, who reached their 10th anniversary this year! – but also the Lammermuir, Huddersfield, Cottier Chamber Project, Loch Shiel, November Music, Four Winds, Musiques Démesurées and Cheltenham Festivals, all of whom hosted us this year.

“A magnificent achievement in a dazzling venue”      The Scotsman ★★★★★

Music & Film at Concorde, Lammermuir Festival.

Here’s a list of most of what we did this year:

NOISY NIGHTS – Summerhall, Edinburgh, The Byre, St Andrews, Cottiers Chamber Project, Glasgow and Australia!  |  RED to REID – Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh  |  VIVE LE DIFFÉRENCE, March, RCS Glasgow  |  REELS TO RAGAS 3, March & April, Ardfern, Aberfeldy, Ullapool, Isle of Harris, Sleat, Isle of Skye, Glenfinnan  |  THE NIGHT WITH…. April, Glasgow  |  PLUG FESTIVAL – OPENING CONCERT, May, Glasgow  |  THE 306: DAWN, throughout May, Perthshire  |  THE COTTIER CHAMBER PROJECT, June, Glasgow  |  THE SINS BY SALLY BEAMISH, July, Cheltenham Music Festival  |  NEW MUSIC MAKERS, Fife – February and Glasgow, September – November  |  LAMMERMUIR FESTIVAL PROJECT with Knox Academy, Haddington, September  |  MUSIC AND FILM at the Concorde Hangar, Lammermuir Festival  |  FOUR WINDS FESTIVAL, CANBERRA with the Griffyn Ensemble, October  |  GO COMPOSE! Workshops and Concert, sound Festival, Aberdeen, October  |  FREEDOM O(R ) SPEECH, October & November, World Premiere at Sound Festival Aberdeen, European Premiere at deSingel Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent and November Music Festival  |  OAKLAND PRIMARY SCHOOL PROJECT, Glasgow, September – November  |  KEIN BY FRANCIS SARHAN, November, World Premiere at 18ÈME Festival Musiques Démesurées, UK Premiere at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival  |  RING TIME and  RING TIME WORKSHOPS, Dumfries Edinburgh and Banchory, and Drygate Brewery, Glasgow  |  LEVERHULME CONDUCTING FELLOWS WORKSHOPS, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow, January and December  |  SCOTTISH EDGE AWARDS, RBS Gogarburn, December

And we also released our 3rd CD with DELPHIAN RECORDS!

On November 18th we released The Cellist of Sarajevo: chamber music by David Wilde on Delphian Records (DCD34179). David Wilde is the veteran of nine Delphian piano recordings, documenting his remarkable Indian summer as a performer. For this project we survey the works of Wilde’s ‘Bosnian’ period – when he travelled to besieged Sarajevo to help preserve the city’s cultural life, earning him the friendship of colleagues including the heroic members of the Sarajevo String Quartet.

To purchase please visit Presto Classical


Jan Tait and the Bear – Emily Doolittle

September 28, 2016 in All Opportunities, Ensemble Thing, featured, guest blog by mwhiteside

Jan Tait and the Bear is a new, 50-minute chamber opera based on a 15th century folktale from Fetlar, one of the North Isles of Shetland. At that time, Shetland belonged to Norway, and Shetlanders were required to pay tax to the Norwegian king in the form of barley, sheep, and butter. Jan Tait is accused of cheating on his butter payment, argues with and kills the tax officer, and is taken to Norway to be sentenced to death by the king. After performing an act of humorously grotesque bravery, Tait is granted a last minute reprieve if he can rid Norway of a ferocious brown bear that has been wreaking havoc in the mountain villages. I won’t give away the ending here, but will say that butter features prominently throughout this tale!

Jan Tait and the Bear has its origins in 2010, when I went to Shetland for the first time. I was there looking for killer whales with some biologist friends, and also doing some of my own musical research. While there I met pianist and illustrator Meilo So, who lives on the isle of Yell and organizes the amateur chamber ensemble ffancytunes (the northernmost ensemble in the UK!) She asked if I would write a piece for them, and we decided a chamber opera about Jan Tait would be perfect for the circumstances. I was fascinated by the story’s ancient origins and timeless appeal, its rough, earthy humour, its blending of truth and fiction, and the way it can be interpreted on multiple levels. I adapted long-time Shetland resident Peter Guy’s theatrical version of the same story for the narrated portion of the libretto, and though I had never previously written song lyrics, soon discovered that I loved doing so. I made several research trips to Shetland, and asked numerous questions of the director of the Shetland Museum, Ian Tait (possibly a relation?), to make sure I had the details of life in medieval Shetland right. ffancytunes workshopped sections of the opera as I completed it, and gave an in-progress concert performance of Jan Tait and the Bear at the Sellafirth Community Centre in Yell in July, 2015: this was an enormous help in figuring out how I wanted to finish the piece, and how it might eventually be staged. Due to the transitory membership of ffancytunes, we decided that the staged version would be best performed by a professional ensemble, and I was so thrilled when Ensemble Thing agreed to give Jan Tait’s public premiere, with Alan McHugh (narrator), Catherine Backhouse (mezzo-soprano), and Brian McBride (baritone), directed by Stasi Schaeffer. Come to the CCA on Oct. 6 (8PM) or Oct. 8 (1PM) to follow the adventures of Jan Tait and the Bear!

Tickets: http://www.cca-glasgow.com/programme/ensemble-thing–jan-tait-and-the-bear

The development of Jan Tait and the Bear received funding from OPERA America’s Opera Grants for Female Composers program, supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Hinrichsen Foundation. My heartfelt gratitude to these organizations for believing in this project and making it possible!



NMS Day 2016 – Nicola Henderson

September 14, 2016 in All Opportunities, featured, guest blog, Nicola Henderson by mwhiteside

nms_logo_blackOn 2nd September this year, we held our third networking and discussion a day. We aim to hold at least one of these a year, where the membership and the wider sector can come together to discuss the most pressing issues and help shape the way we can tackle them together.

The day had three main segments: The AGM, a panel discussion on ‘Working in Europe – post Brexit’ and a discussion around ‘Making a living in New Music’. Here is a brief summary of what was discussed on the day – we are inviting a couple of panellists to send some more in-depth insights to share with you and they will appear on the blog shortly so I will keep this overview relatively short.

We started the day with the AGM. As a cooperative, the membership shapes the activities and actions we undertake. A lot of the business of the day was gone through – sharing the accounts, procedures of the board meeting, updating on plans for this year etc. We then had an in-depth discussion regarding future activity. A lot of ideas were shared:

Ideas for our next Conference (or could be for a future NMS Day):

  • Barriers to access
  • Educational background barriers – how to build a portfolio of work to become an “emerging” composer.
  • How to present new music to make it more accessible.

We invited anyone with case studies on projects that represent best practice to share those with us.

Peer-to-Peer Residency weekend

  • Discussion over stratification – are the peer-to-peer crv6eg6uaaic0hlweekends too “stratified”? But they are “peer-to-peer” and overall the group felt there was value in the safe sharing between individuals of a similar level. Perhaps an opportunity to develop residency’s across levels, separate from the “Peer to Peer” model.
  • It was felt that opportunities should be widened – possibly to young promoters and/or young composers/promoters (or even performers/composers/promoters?).
  • Women composers or people coming back into composing after a break.

These were all topics discussed and the list is not exhaustive, so please feel free to add to this! Send ideas to nicola@newmusicscotland.co.uk

We also discussed NMS lobbying for more support for composers to reduce marginalisation.

The first panel discussion was ‘Working in Europe post Brexit’. The discussion was chaired by Laura Metcalfe from the BBC and panellists were Susanna Eastburn from sound and music, Norah Campbell from the British Council and Geoffrey Brown from Euclid. This was a lengthy and passionate discussion on where we are and trying to explore the issues most important to the sector and how we best prepare for what may happen – it was agreed it was very difficult to do this at this stage, given the many different scenarios on the table, but if we agree on certain issues we can start lobbying and being ready for what may happen. Key points covered were:

  • Look to make alliances across sectors on shared issues such as VISA’s and free travel – shouting together will help influence government decisions.
  • Current view of Britain in rest of Europe is negative and already impacting partnerships and people working here – we need to shout ‘WELCOME’ as loudly and as often as possible
  • Key organisations work together to lobby government on needs of sector – sound and music, NMS, SMC.

You can watch the facebook LIVE video to hear more:


The second panel discussion was around ‘Making a Living in New Music’. The discussion was chaired by composer Oliver Searle and panellists were composer Aidan O’Rourke, Susanna Eastburn, Alan Morrison from Creative Scotland and Kyle Brenders from the Canadian New Music Network. The conversation was fairly broad, but did focus around support for composers to experiment and create new music – an activity that in itself does not generate much of an income. So how can we lobby to ensure composers are supported? Key points covered were:

  • Discussion around need for support for composers – the more high risk the work, the less the money to be made. Support around experimentation and the chance for composers to make mistakes at low levels.
  • Revolved a lot around funding. As funds get even tighter, how do we raise value public put in the arts? How do we stretch what is there? How do we lobby for more? How do we lobby to get music back in schools to nurture long term relationships with the genre?
  • How do we show something to be a success as a project? How do we measure this and is there a more effective way to make funders aware of the activity that we as artists have found to be successful experiences for us?

You can watch the facebook LIVE video here:


We hope to bring you some blogs which explore these issues in the near future, so keep your eyes peeled. And remember, you can get in touch with ideas and thoughts anytime. You shape what we do!

Echoes and Traces – Ailie Robertson

August 27, 2016 in All Opportunities, featured, guest blog by mwhiteside

ailie robertsonEchoes and Traces is a project that began almost 2 years ago, when I began my production/curation company, Lorimer Productions. It’s key aim is to increase the profile and visibility of new music in Scotland through commissioning, collaborating and forming partnerships with other organisations.  I was finding it increasingly frustrating that new music in Scotland was so often either totally ignored, or jammed into classical programmes almost as a token gesture, so wanted to curate a range of events where new music was the focus of the whole programme, and both composers and performers were well supported. Scotland seems to be lagging behind other parts of the UK in its engagement with contemporary music, so it is hugely important to me to help highlight the wealth of composition talent that Scotland boasts and encourage the public to take an interest in the new music of their country. Through curating these New Music events we also aim to support and provide opportunities for  both established and emerging composers, from a variety of genres.

My personal key interest as a composer has always been in finding ways to connect the past and the present to create something new. Having grown up playing traditional music, the stories, songs and poems of Scotland hold great resonance for me, and I am continually using these influences in my work. Several years ago, whilst researching ancient Scottish music for another project I came across a fragment of Scottish plainsong chant, and was immediately drawn to the idea of using this archive material in a contemporary music context. The fragment was Nobilis Humilis, written in honour of Orkney’s Viking saint, Magnus, thought to have been martyred in Orkney in 1117; The song is found in a 13th-century manuscript at Uppsala University, making the song at least eight centuries old, and is the oldest known example of Scottish song to feature harmonies.

A project inspired by the Nobilis Humilis fragment began to emerge in my mind, and I spent almost a year putting together the project plans, applying for funding to support the project, and developing partnerships with Historic Scotland, Creative Scotland and Sound & Music. We raised enough funds to be able to commission eight composers to write a new work for Cappella Nova, and the choice of composers draws upon those working within the contemporary classical, folk, electronica and world-music genres, so as to represent the wealth and breadth of compositional talent currently in Scotland.

Echoes and Traces will feature choral responses to the ancient Orcadian piece written by such established figures as Sally Beamish, Stuart MacCrae and Rory Boyle, as well as electroacoustic composer Matthew Whiteside, composer-performer Hanna Tuulikki, fiddler Aidan O’Rourke, of the folk power trio Lau (who has also worked with string quartets), and two composer-harpists, Savourna Stevenson and Ailie Robertson. capella nova

What’s exciting for me is seeing different ways the various composers have reacted to it; some have directly referenced the melody and transformed it, others have taken the text and given it a different melody, some have simply used the idea of St Magnus as a starting point for other lyrics or musical ideas. We’re also delighted to have musicologist and broadcaster John Purser with us for the concerts, which will help the audience understand the context of the piece in history.

We’re incredibly excited to have world-renowned choral group Cappella Nova as our performance partner for the project. They are hugely committed to supporting Scottish contemporary composers and we are delighted to have them performing the new works. The support of Historic Scotland has also allowed us to tour the work to some of Scotland’s most stunning venues across the country.

As the concerts approach, the planning now begins in full force. I am so excited to see the composers’ scores arriving, and to work closely with my amazing production team to bring this project to reality.

We are so privileged to live in a country with an enormous wealth of music, both past and present. I am thrilled to be able to bring eight of Scotland’s brightest and best composers to the fore with this project, and to bring innovative new choral music to the length and breadth of the country.

Echoes and Traces has partnered with New Music Scotland to offer anyond attending the New Music Scotland day on the 2nd September ‘Pay What You Want’ tickets.

Wed 31 Aug, Dunfermline Abbey (Nave) – 19:30

Thu 1 Sep, Stirling Castle –20:00

Fri 2 Sep, Glasgow Cathedral – 19:30

Sun 4 Sep, Duff House –13:00

Mon 5 Sep, St Magnus Cathedral – 19:30

Wed 7 Sep, Iona Abbey – 15:00

Thurs 8 Sep, Greyfriar’s Kirk, Edinburgh – 19:30

Tickets £10-£15, with a 10% discount for Historic Scotland members, available from: www.historicenvironment.scot/echoes-and-traces (31 Aug, 1-4 Sep, 7 Sep)

www.thequeenshall.net/elsewhere (8 Sep)

Tickets for 7 Sep are available to buy in advance in Kirkwall, Orkney, from The Reel, William Shearer’s, and The Orcadian Bookshop.

Tickets are also available to buy on the door at every concert.


Distil Showcase Blog by Judith Walsh

April 11, 2016 in All Opportunities, featured, guest blog, Judith Walsh, Opportunity by mwhiteside

This annual musical get-together at Stirling Tolbooth – the Distil ShWP_20160408_013owcase – has a bit of magic about it. As far as new music events go, this one combines an addictive mix of contemporary artistic thought with a relaxed gig night. It draws a regular, committed, audience that includes a lot of industry people – artists and promoters, agencies and sponsors.

Run by Hands Up For Trad, the Distil project is now in its tenth year and, during that time, has helped create over 100 new pieces for mixed chamber ensemble. Ostensibly, it opens its doors to folk-rooted artists looking to develop their writing however, as has been so well-expressed over recent years, artists are now rarely defined by one genre. The concert on Friday night showcased nine new pieces, performed by Mr McFall’s Chamber and guests from the folk circuit. The eclectic ensemble has been the house band for a number of years, and its players (Robert McFall & Jackie Norrie on violins, Mairi Campbell on viola, Su-a Lee on cello, and Rick Standley on double bass) work closely with the composers in the run-up.

mcfalls distilThe composers are all gigging performers, most writing for their own concerts and bands, with some pursuing dedicated composition careers and training. From speaking with the artists, it seems the process of Distil – the atmosphere and resources it provides – is the most valuable part of the experience. Before their workshopping-rehearsal week with Mr McFall’s Chamber and the public showcase concert, they spend time at a residential in the beautiful surrounds of New Lanark. This time out is focused on thinking outside the usual creative parametres, by spending time with visiting high profile composers and creators in the fields of contemporary composition, world music, and improvisation.

From an audience perspective, the energy and experimentation of the featured artists is what dominates the Showcase. The pieces themselves may or may not have a longer life but the process shines through. That, coupled with the obvious enjoyment of the house band in presenting the new works, creates a great night of live music premieres.

Lauchlan’s Waltz Stuart Macpherson
Haven Ailie Robertson
The Road to Dalginross Karen Marshalsay
Seeking the Ice, Questing for the Sun Catriona Price
Hebridean Collective Mhairi Mackinnon
Still Joy / The Night of the Bright Mystery Fiona Rutherford
Distilled Alana MacInnes
Pingvellir:Thingvellir Tom Oakes
The Merry Lads of Ayr Simon Thoumire

Judith Walsh is on the board of New Music Scotland, General Manager of Mr McFall’s Chamber and Ludus Baroque, Project Manager of Live Music Now Scotland, and supporter of independent artists and arts projects.

Young musician inspired by Jimmy Reid wins this year’s John Byrne Award

December 8, 2015 in All Opportunities, featured, guest blog by mwhiteside

IMG_2651Ruairidh Macleod’s improvised violin response to trade unionist’s famous ‘Alienation’ address hits the right note.

Ruairidh Macleod,a sixth year student at St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, has won the prestigious 2015 John Byrne Award for his musical improvisation, De Profundis.

Now in its sixth year, The John Byrne Award challenges 16-19 year olds in Edinburgh to confront, develop and express their values in response to a given stimulus by producing a creative piece of work in any medium – a painting, a dance or even an HTML code. Work is carried out independently of teachers or parents.

The awards, sponsored by Cairn Energy and University of Edinburgh, were presented by the artist and playwright John Byrne at a ceremony at The Playfair Library in Edinburgh on Thursday 12 November at 19:00hrs. Educational consultant David Cameron hosted the awards evening, with John Byrne and Hamish Matheson, Chairman of the judging panel and senior geologist at Cairn.

The 2015 Awards stimulus for entries was Scottish trade unionist Jimmy Reid’s famous ‘Alienation’ Rectorial address, given to students at the University of Glasgow in 1972. Reid delivered his speech on his inauguration as rector of Glasgow University in 1972. The following day, ‘Alienation’ was printed verbatim in the New York Times and described as “the greatest speech since President Lincoln’s Gettysburg address”.

This year’s winning entry was 17 year old Ruairidh Macleod’s improvisation on his violin, De Profundis. Ruairidh receives the £1000 award to spend on his personal development. Three shortlisted individuals/teams each also win a commendation prize of £500.

The three shortlisted John Byrne Award entrants who were commended this year are:


  • Bella Baillie: commended for her ‘passion, wisdom and intelligence’ for the painting entitled ‘The Malcontent’, portraying nude figures in an abstract landscape and symbolising a discontent from a common humanity.
  • Susie Bradley: commended for her ‘insightful interpretation of a complex contemporary issue’ for a piece of creative writing entitled ‘Identity’. Identity describes a fictional character, Ola Zeinah, from Syria. Her identity is portrayed through the eyes of a variety of strangers, her mother and herself. The piece explores identity, belonging, power, responsibility and equality.
  • Steven Dale: commended for his ‘portrayal of a marginalised group in society” for a painting entitled ‘The Hysteria of Youth’, portraying a male youth sitting alone with a computer in a room, and making a statement about the amount of time that adolescents spend socialising online.


Each commendation winner receives £500 for their personal development.

Each entrant had to submit a detailed report explaining how they responded to the stimulus and researched the issues. A shortlist then presented their work to the judges . This year’s judges were:

  • Hamish Mathieson, Senior Geologist at Cairn Energy
  • Florence Ingleby, Director at Ingleby Gallery
  • Stuart Ferguson, Director, Aker Solutions ASA
  • Emma Currie, Director, Acting Up
  • Maidie Cahill, Director of Corporate Services Scottish Qualifications Authority
  • Andrew MacDonald, The 2014 John Byrne Award winner.


John Byrne Award winner, Ruairidh Macleod, said: john byrn award

“The preoccupation with my piece was to create a work that profoundly showed the effects of our unfeeling, bureaucratic society upon individuals, and how this creates isolation, desperation and alienation. To truly convey my feelings, I felt the best approach was to create a piece as spontaneously as possible, so did this by recording an improvisation.

“For this piece, a storyline evolved: it opens very simplistically in order to create a sense of nostalgia for a sense of community and unstressed rural-ness that is lost in the sleepless cities of today. This soon develops into the sounds of industry, as the individual begins to seek work, but still with a sense of community.

“I was inspired for this by Jimmy Reid’s background in the Glasgow shipbuilding, and so imagined it on a shipbuilding site with sounds of hammering. Computer keyboards also reflect work, but introduce a more mechanical, unfeeling element. With the ‘persecution’ of these workers by commercial interests and government, the music becomes filled with a sense of terror and uncompromising power, which introduces the feelings of alienation. These cause the character to become more desperate, while the music reflects a sense of mounting insanity until the character decides to shoot himself; he is so unhappy with his isolated and desperate life.

“Having suffered from depression, I felt particularly moved by the words of the speech in describing the isolation, and so drawn to reflect this as much as possible in my creation. However the key values of hope and kindness are the most important, and hope returns in a final requiem for the individual ending on a major chord, that mourns his death, but also reminds that the last, most important value is that in the end there is always hope.”


John Byrne, said: “The John Byrne Award is a competition for the times. Its important that our young folk engage with their values in a creative way. Ruairidh’s improvisation on the violin is a great example of this. Well done Ruairidh!”


Simon Thomson, Chief Executive of Cairn Energy PLC said:

“We are delighted to continue our support of The John Byrne Award, an award which inspires Edinburgh’s young people to develop their own values and to strive for positive change in society expressed through a creative medium.”

New Music Scotland In Cahoots

November 11, 2015 in All Opportunities, Conference, featured, guest blog by newmusicscotland

Beginning with a weekend in collaboration with New Music Scotland, In Cahoots, which explored the potential for collaboration between ‘new music’ and other art forms. From a mini-opera – also part of the A Play, A Pie and A Pint programme – through to gallery-based audio-visual installations, sound and New Music Scotland presented a dense two days that was supported by workshops and lectures.

Theatre and New Music – Bill Banks-Jones

October 22, 2015 in All Opportunities, Conference, featured, guest blog by mwhiteside

BBJ-web-portrait-by-Hugo-GlendinningFrom pretty much the beginning, one of the most substantial strands in all my work with Tête à Tête has been the introduction composers and makers of new music and opera to the theatre.

After spending much of my geeky teens making and absorbing lots of arcane contemporary music, I was sucked into the theatre and spend my first few years after university [Philosophy at St Andrews] making shows and leading workshops all over Scotland while running the Scottish National Association of Youth Theatre. After being drawn down south by the National Theatre and then ITV Regional Theatre Young Directors’ Scheme, I was headhunted by English National Opera towards the end of its glory Powerhouse days in the early nineties as a staff director. I guess many strands drew together for me when I was assigned as staff director to most of the annual new commissions that were premiered during my time there.

And I guess it was what I witnessed then that drove Tête à Tête’s first forays into new opera. Pretty much the only new operas being made then (in the early 90s) were these colossal commissions made by ENO. Pieces often 15 years in the making, composers were chosen only for their credentials in the concert hall, symphonic and proms triumphs, intellectual prowess and irrespective of their level of experience in the theatre.

Week 2 Round-up from Tête à Tête on Vimeo.

This caused some absolutely dumbfounding situations, where these great auteurs were making what to me, with my professional training and experience in theatre, were clod-hopping mistakes.

I remember vividly a show-down I had with David Pountney when he was directing a prime example of this. The very lovely eminent composer/librettist (always a mistake to combine those jobs) had created a situation where Richard Van Allan, a great friend and wonderfully recalcitrant artist, was required to sing:

“…long ago he told my grandmother once that time was just an impression of change in the changeless, of time in the timeless…”

Despite my lowly status, with my long background in theatre and new writing, I knew full well that this was absolute garbage and that there was no way we should be forcing Richard into a situation where he had to perform this in front of thousands, and so I insisted that DP went to the said eminent auteur and told him this line was to be cut. Which did indeed happen.

But anyway, with my probably disproportionate sense of justice, I felt very strongly that this and so many other terrible wrongs could be easily corrected if these great composers had at least some experience in, if not training in, the art of theatre before they started making opera.

And that’s it really. Very early on, after making a joyously triumphant small-scale Fledermaus, I steered Tête à Tête towards making new works which drew operatic music-makers into theatrical environments at an early stage, and/or in places where risk could be embraced, stumbles excused and genuine gambles could pay off. This grew from the commissions of the first decade to the hosting of the festival I now run alongside this producing, where dozens of other artists and companies come together to pursue the same dreams.

My Mother My Daughter – outdoors from Tête à Tête on Vimeo.

Taking stock, it’s hard to believe quite how successful the enterprise has been. When once short and small-scale new operas didn’t exist, now they are commonplace. We are just finding out, not only in the UK but all over the world.

And not only that, but while “traditional” opera, ie endless regurtitations of a small and antique repertoire is in a state of panic about its audience being on the brink of death, all over the world young and funky people are flocking to make and enjoy young and funky new opera. It’s AMAZING.

This is the story I would like to trace in further detail in my In Cahoots! Session on Saturday, also allowing the lot of us to share our own stories and experiences, so we can together arrive at a deeper understanding both of what is going on in new opera, and what we can go on to do.

Bill Bankes-Jones 22nd October 2015

Part of the In Cahoots New Music Scotland Conference: http://www.newmusicscotland.co.uk/conference2015/








Spoken Mirror

October 13, 2015 in featured, guest blog by newmusicscotland

mcfarSpoken Mirror – is the project that Allon Beauvoisin and I created to channel some of our energies into a more free flowing and open musical environment where we contrast acoustic and electronic sounds and textures. In part the idea was to take us away from some of the more traditional places that you might have heard us in before like Allon’s ‘Brass Jaw’ or my ‘Scottish Guitar Quartet’. Our fascination with the implications of how current digital technology could be used to create a new sonic context is a big part of us coming together. Despite the fact that Allon plays an acoustic instrument, the baritone saxophone, he is a real driving force in always looking to the next step in the use of electronics so there’s much more to come too!

We began with some individually composed pieces, ran through them and then looked at how we could then incorporate some of the latest apps that we’d found for our iPads – this produced some good results and we did a couple of gigs to gauge how well this translated to a live situation. As usual this prompted more questions, some rethinking and, of course, many more conversations of what we were ‘about’ and were trying to achieve and how we might do it!

Then, thankfully, we had a bit of a breakthrough moment when I showed Allon some of the work by a great friend of mine, the artist George Birrell.  Not too surprisingly Allon was knocked out by what he saw and dropped an interesting bit of info from his past, that he’d done quite a lot of visual work prior to deciding to focus more on music! So with that in mind we came up with the idea of using George’s paintings in some way to create a film for us to then compose a ‘spontaneous’ soundtrack to. After more meetings (this time with George too who was super excited about the whole thing) then a good chunk of time for Allon (he’s a very busy man!) to come up with some visuals based on deconstructing and re-inventing the paintings in some short ‘movies’. These were later connected into a sequence for the whole work.GB lo res

When Allon came back with his ideas both George and myself were blown away with what we saw. He’d managed to create short films (each based on an individual painting) that variously contained: movement, abstractions, emotions, different atmospheres, even some mystery and an occasional narrative here and there but all had a really great vibe to them. These were perfect as a new way of looking at George’s paintings and ideal, and ‘open’ enough, for sparking lots of different soundtrack moods that we could create on the spot. We recorded some demos and we were considerably encouraged that this was a project that would continue to bear fruit.

Next we had to try this out live and figure out the technical side of showing the finished film to an audience whilst also having monitors so that we could do our ‘thing’ too (our improvisations are reactions to the film so we need to see it in real time). Allon’s tenacity and technical skill triumphed (although each live venue, with different kit, made for some stressful pre-gig moments!). We’d decided initially to work with a couple of preconceived musical ideas so that we had a ‘fall back’ position just in case inspiration didn’t descend upon us but after the first gig was under our belt we reverted to a much more free approach with the absolute minimum of any kind of ‘script’ to follow – this resulted in gig 2 being, for both us, some of the most enjoyable music making in years with our 35 minute film sequence feeling like about 5 minutes. Thankfully the audiences had a good time too with the overall experience being a very chilled one! Some of one demo recordings are on our Facebook page.

So, where are we at now? Well, for this particular Festival we’ll be without the film (due to time restrictions) but we’ll give the musical flavour of what we do by doing improvising with some of the themes, concepts and musical ideas that were used for the project.

Oh yes, just in case you’re wondering about our name. We spent a long time discussing this too needless to say. We tried to find a name that didn’t have any particular connotation genre-wise so that we could go wherever we wanted to, that didn’t really relate to other contexts that you might find us in and one that, hopefully, nobody else has used.

Malcolm MacFarlane – Edinburgh 12/10/15

Spoken Mirror is part of the New Music Scotland In Cahoots Conference and Showcase at 4pm, 24th October. More information on the full programme available here: http://www.newmusicscotland.co.uk/conference2015-programme/

Nicola Henderson Joins NMS as Network Coordinator

August 8, 2015 in featured, guest blog by newmusicscotland

Nicola HendersonWhere do you start a blog to introduce yourself? I guess with a hello! I am Nicola and I’ve just started working for New Music Scotland as Network Coordinator. That sounds a bit like I’ve just joined a group therapy session, but sometimes looking back over your career so far, as you open up to an invisible audience, is a bit like that.

I have been working in Scotland’s arts sector for around 13 years and before that I completed my degree in music from Glasgow University. I spent four years working for The Arches in Glasgow where I was given incredible opportunities to learn about all aspects of working in the arts – programming, marketing, HR, administration, management, funding, commissioning, I could go on, but you get the picture.

It was an amazing introduction to the world of supporting artists and bringing art to people. As someone who only knew how to perform and tinkle with composition in the safety of my own bedroom (and who quickly realised that it was best those sounds stayed there!), but who had a passion for viewing and hearing art in all its different forms, it was an essential nurturing experience that helped grow my passion for ensuring everyone (no matter where they live or how they live) had access to high quality arts experiences.

As my interest in this area grew, I took a leap and moved to Skye to work with An Tuireann on their audience development programme. A visual arts organisation rooted in the community, but with an international outlook. I had a wonderful time there. Bringing challenging contemporary art to a remote island location has its challenges and I relished the opportunity to overcome those barriers and create new ways to encourage the community and visitors to engage with the programme and become part of the organisation. As part of my role there, I set up and ran a contemporary music programme and the Skye Jazz Festival. Thus gaining experience in all the various organisational skills required to put on such events including supporting the artists involved and generating audiences for the work.

I took an even bigger leap after my time there to move to Helmsdale in Sutherland and become director of Timespan Museum and Arts Centre. A place where heritage and contemporary art were just beginning to come together. Together the staff, board and volunteers worked to maintain and enhance the way the local story was told through the museum and archive and to bring opportunities for artists to reinterpret these stories and help create a vision of the future. It was a wonderful time, in a wonderful place. And around all the heritage and visual art, we brought some music in too as no matter where I go I want to bring sound into that place too. I do miss Helmsdale.

I left there to follow my husband’s career – we had ended up living apart as finding jobs for both of us in remote locations had not proved possible. After a year apart, we wanted to be back together and I followed him (after his years of following me around the Highlands) to Aberdeenshire, where I got lucky with a position opening up at Woodend Barn. And this is where my story back into music and specifically new music begins. Woodend Barn is a multi-arts venue in Banchory and home to sound. While there I looked to work with the existing team to consolidate and push further the arts programme that was already in existence. I wanted to see more new work created from a wider pool of artists. We started hosting more residencies, giving artists a safe space to create, experiment, make mistakes and collaborate. We partnered with sound on new work and audience development initiatives such as Framed Against the Sky. So much was achieved in a relatively short time as life was about to change again.

Last year I became a mother for the first time. A huge life changing experience and one that I have completely adored getting to grips with. Magnus is now my main job and so I have changed the way I work. I now manage a few freelance projects inline with being a Mum and Network Coordinator for New Music Scotland was a perfect project to get my teeth into. I look forward to working with the board to help build on the work being done already – supporting the network of new music professionals and helping build platforms across the country and beyond for those professionals’ work to be seen and heard. It is an exciting time ahead!

John De Simone – Independence

July 30, 2015 in Ensemble Thing, featured, guest blog, John De Simone by newmusicscotland

John De Simone IndependenceIn 2014, the year of the independence referendum, I gratefully received funding from the Katherine McGillivray’s Get a Life Fund to enable me to spend time researching and working towards a substantial new work which was to be about my Scottish background and its influence on my music. Here are some thoughts on how and why Independence came to be.

Having been born and raised in south east England to a Scottish mother and Italian father I have always had a sense of not quite belonging to whichever place I lived in. Brought up in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, I was always well aware that I was not quite a true Englishman – “John Ravioli Desdemoney” was not a name of these isles.

Being brought up bi-culturally, with parents proud of their countries and traditions, I never felt like I understood what it meant to be English. This was compounded by my experiences as a student composer at the Guildhall in London, where I felt somewhere along the line I had missed out on making the right connections, and didn’t have the right story to fit in with the British classical music meta-narrative.

Eventually (after several years in The Netherlands – my experiences there would make another lengthy blog post) I made the decision to move to Scotland and to re-join my family, who had since moved there after my mother’s retirement. I felt in many ways that I fitted in here- so much about the Scottish or perhaps Glaswegian way of life resonated with me – the inherent egalitarianism, sense of social democracy and liberalism. Also, I had a family history here.

My Scottish family have been deeply involved in the nationalism movement since the 1920’s when my grandfather John MacCormick founded the National Party of Scotland, which he then merged with the Scottish Party in 1934 to create the Scottish National Party. My uncle Ian was an MP in the UK parliament from 1974 and my other uncle Neil was both MEP and Vice – President of the SNP.

Yet despite this, I felt like in my art form, contemporary music – I still did not quite belong. It can seem that classical music in Scotland is often an outpost of London, certainly a lot of decisions about what gets premiered up here gets made down there, or from composers who live and work there. Whether or not this is actually the case, or whether I am being paranoid is perhaps not the point – it was this perception that I wanted to explore and ask whether there is such a thing as a “Scottish Music” that can incorporate what I do.independance 2

With this question in mind and a desire to find out more about my Scottish family and their role in the independence movement- I set off on a period of writing and research that culminated in Independence.

The piece itself is an hour long multi-movement work with me talking in between the movements, providing context and a narrative to the unfolding musical events. I also incorporate speech from my Uncle Iain and a beautiful pipe tune written by my Great-Grandfather Donald MacCormick, “The lads that will return home, no more” which was premiered at the opening of the Glasgow Cenotaph in 1924.

It is performed by the wonderful Ensemble Thing, a group I have proudly been involved with for the last 11 years. They are all incredibly talented performers, who I have had the pleasure to get to know very well over the years and they have an innate understanding of how to play my music, which is such a gift for a composer.

And it was at the premiere of the piece at the 17th September in the old hairdressers on the eve of the referendum that the piece took on its own life and let me understand fully what independence meant for me. With the upsurge of community support and political debate, seeing such an engaged audience and ensemble, the festive spirit in town that night, and feeling I was part of something larger and in my own small way contributing to the debate- I realised that Independence for me was not about where you belong, but how you belong.


Independence is on at Summerhall during the Edinburgh Fringe as part of the Made in Scotland Showcase – supported by Made in Scotland and the Hope Scott Trust. For more information and to book tickets if you’re interested click here

Composing With Care

July 29, 2015 in featured, guest blog, Live Music Now by newmusicscotland

lmn_logo@2This month, we’re thrilled to unveil new works that were written as part of our ongoing ‘Composing With Care’ project. It’s a simple concept, where our musicians go into care homes for older people, talk with the residents, then professional composers use their stories as inspiration to write new pieces of music.

We’ve already created several new commissions already – three of the tracks on Live Music Now Scotland’s 30th Anniversary compilation album, Luminate were written after visits to care homes in Islay, Iona and Tiree. Composer William Sweeney wrote the beautiful series ‘From the Islands’ after musicians visited sheltered housing and care homes in the Inner Hebrides. Similarly, composer John Maxwell Geddes’ work, ‘A Castle Mills Suite’ about a WWI rubber factory in Edinburgh was written as part of the Composing With Care project last year, and was given its Australian premiere earlier this year.

As the latest instalment in the Composing With Care initiative, traditional folk singers Robyn Stapleton and Claire Hastings have been working with residents of care homes across West Lothian. Scottish composer John McLeod has drawn inspiration from the stories and recollections of local mining culture that they gathered, and written ‘Songs From Above and Below’. These songs will be performed by musicians in free concerts open to the public, as well as in residential care settings. They are also part of a wider twin project in Wales, which will feature a performance at the Welsh Millennium Centre.

Last week, the composer joined emerging artists Emily Mitchell (soprano) and Geoffrey Tanti (piano) when theycomposing-with-careEmilyGeoffrey performed the songs for the first time in the Peacock Nursing Home in West Lothian. John described the concert as, “the most unusual and remarkable premiere of any work of mine”, and went on to post the following message on his Facebook page.

“There were many with very special needs – but all listened in their own way – some in silence, others commenting as the work went along, some trying to join in! A superb performance from Emily Mitchell and Geoffrey Tanti! In many ways I felt this was just as significant (even more so) as my premiere at last year’s Proms with 6000 in the audience!

As I left, a lovely old lady clutching a doll just said, ‘ Thank you, John.’

A day to remember! Thank you Carol Main and Live Music Now for making music a real communicative experience. It makes one realise from time to time the mysterious and joyful way that music can reach out to everyone – no matter what the human condition!”

August will see two Scottish performances of the ‘Songs From Above and Below’ suite, with Emily Mitchell and Geoffrey Tanti. Both are free to attend, and we look forward to introducing the new works to new listeners. All are very welcome!


The commission is part of The Baring Foundation‘s Late Style Artists Commission Series.


Concert listings info:

Songs from Above and Below, with Emily Mitchell and Geoffrey Tanti

2-3pm, Fri 28 Aug, Howden Park Centre, Howden, Livingston West Lothian



Songs from Above and Below, with Emily Mitchell and Geoffrey Tanti

2-2.40pm, Wed 19 Aug, National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh



This new work of art was created by John McLeod for Live Music Now and is part of The Baring Foundation’s ‘Late Style’ Artists Commission Series. The Baring Foundation has pioneered support for a wide range of arts programmes supporting older people to enjoy and take part in the arts. This series supports leading professional artists, all of whom are over 70, to bring their original and exceptional artistic craft and insights to the theme of ‘Age’. Eleven new works will reach a variety of spaces and audiences, between 2015–2017. Artists include leaders in the fields of Carnival Arts, Dance and Choreography, Digital Arts, Sculpture, Wood Carving, Musical Composition, Theatre and Poetry. 

Free Spirits of the East and West

July 8, 2015 in featured, guest blog, Simon Thacker by newmusicscotland

ST-Fringe2015-MiS-webThe latest chapter in my lifelong journey seeking new soundworlds through the meeting and expanding of South Asian traditions makes its full premiere in Edinburgh at the Fringe Festival this August, as part of the Made in Scotland showcase, with a new trio lineup of Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti. A programme expressly absolutely contemporary, initiating a new tradition, will simultaneously also be rooted in the ancient mystical Baul Bengali folk tradition, a culture that I’ve aspired to connect with in this way for many years.

I’ve always been inspired, fascinated and moved by the diversity of ways people around the world express themselves through sound. If something speaks to me deeply, no matter how counterintuitve, far removed or just plain different to my musical “background”, I immerse myself in it, I ruminate on it, I analyse it (if necessary), I amplify the elements that affect me the most and make them part of my musical language, I make it part of me, of how I express myself on a subconscious level. This has allowed me to successfully compose for, connect, collaborate and perform with a range of performers I could barely have dreamt of when I was doing my music degrees. Whether I’m playing with great jazz performers in my Ritmata quartet (taking inspiration from every imaginable source, medieval Spain, the Middle East, Afghanistan and more, all transformed through the prism of my musical language), with great Indian performers in Svara-Kanti (where I expressly extend, reimagine and subvert aspects of traditions from South Asia), or in my duo with Polish cellist Justyna Jablonska (where I explore my influences in a more abstracted way in a virtuoso chamber music setting), my voice is still unmistakable. Performance, composition and improvisation are inseparable to all of this work.

The programme I am bringing to the Edinburgh Fringe in August will be the most concentrated any of my projects has been on one Indian form (Svara-Kanti and my first Indian group, The Nava Rasa Ensemble, have previously been explicitly wide ranging). Svara-Kanti has, since its inception in 2011, been a quartet of guitar, singer, violin (or cello) and tabla. We made our Indian debut in November 2014 to standing ovations and great reviews. As part of those performances I initiated a collaboration with Raju das Baul as special guest, for two songs. Made in Scotland will be the premiere of the full programme for the trio of me, Raju and tabla master Sarvar Sabri (who himself has a lineage in Indian classical music which can be traced back to the 16th century court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great, and has performed in all of my Indian based projects), a lineup that has massive possibilities in terms of both composition and improvisation. The latter is an area that has become increasingly important in my performances in all of my ensembles (and solo classical recitals) and again this programme will mark another first, where the balance has been tipped in favour of improvisation and spontaneous interaction.

Baul music, which famously heavily influenced and was championed by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, is one of the most emotionally direct, distinctive and compelling forms you will ever hear. Dig a little deeper and you will find wonderful poetry with universal messages about love, life’s mysteries, spirituality and truth, wrapped in symbolism, metaphor and allegory. Baul musicians invariably sing and play a variety of unique instruments, with spontaneous dancing in joyous response to their music. I’m delighted to have connected with Raju das Baul, possessor of one of the most soulful voices on the world stage and a virtuoso of the khamak, a characteristic Baul string instrument capable of a truly remarkable range of sounds, from the most delicate whisper to a ferocious howl.

The Baul repertoire is a vast oral tradition that stretches back hundreds of years. As well as reimagining songs by luminaries such as the great mystic singer Lalon Fakir (c.1774 1890), the programme will include music by the aforementioned Bengali polymath Tagore, who wrote many songs heavily influenced by Baul music and culture, which were subsequently appropriated by and reinterpreted by Bauls themselves. A specially written instrumental showpiece completes the music.

It is a great honour to be part of Made in Scotland, a curated showcase of the best arts across all genres from Scotland at the world’s biggest arts festival, once again representing Scotland to international audiences and promoters (Simon Thacker’s Ritmata was selected last year and as a direct result of those performances we will be touring New Zealand extensively in September).

Svara-Kanti features a very special lineup, with music that will simultaneously connect, expand and transcend the cultural knowledge and expressive means of the peoples of disparate continents and centuries, to arrive at a soundworld that is only possible now. Audiences will experience three kindred spirits creating some of the most liberated, free-spirited new music that the east and the west can offer.

The show will be on 15-23/08/2015 21:05 in Summerhall. Tickets available from: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/simon-thacker-s-svara-kanti


Live Music Now Scotland celebrates 30 years – Luminate

April 6, 2015 in featured, guest blog, Live Music Now by newmusicscotland

61JXX+GwYfL._SY300_CD of new works by Eddie McGuire, William Sweeney, Alasdair Nicolson, John Maxwell Geddes and Wildings – released on Delphian label, 6th April 2015. Available from iTunes.

‘It has been my dream to bring live music back into the everyday lives of people of all ages….in those places where most of us spend our time, where we work, study, suffer or celebrate, be it in office or factory, school or prison, parish hall or church.’ These words of Live Music Now’s founder, Yehudi Menuhin, ring as true today in how the scheme operates as in 1977 when his vision began to be fulfilled through the founding of Live Music Now, now a UK-wide and internationally established movement. Through Live Music Now Scotland, for instance, over 600 events are presented each year in places as diverse as those above as well as care homes, day centres, art galleries and museums. Places where audiences have little or no access to high quality live music remain at the core of Live Music Now’s activity. In putting his dream into practice, Menuhin also realised that what highly talented musicians embarking on careers in the music profession really need is performing experience in front of an audience. Live Music Now, from the outset, has always worked to support the early careers of exceptional emerging artists, not only by offering a wide range of paid performing experience, but also training and pastoral support, which all combine to help prepare for a sustainable career in the music profession. Musicians are selected through a rigorous recruitment and audition procedure. Although musical excellence is the bottom line, Live Music Now musicians also have to be able to communicate well with people of all ages and levels of ability, and readily strike up a good rapport with their audiences. Groups who are part of the scheme usually number no more than five and, in Scotland, include classical, Scottish traditional, jazz and rock/pop ensembles. Selection of repertoire is key to successful experiences for musicians and audiences alike, particularly in Live Music Now events when participation or some form of interaction can be vital in engaging with hard to reach groups. Although contemporary classical repertoire is frequently part of Live Music Now Scotland performances – James MacMillan, Peter Maxwell Davies, lmn_logo@2Thea Musgrave are just three Scottish composers who feature regularly – it is generally repertoire which has been written with more mainstream performances in mind. In focussing on the creative continuum that is musicians – audience – composer, each as essential to the other, we realised that there was potential for Live Music Now Scotland to commission music with our typical audiences in mind, but which would also transfer successfully to mainstream concert programmes. With musicians staying on the scheme for around four years and new talent coming through on a regular basis, building a library of specially commissioned music also provides a new resource for up-and-coming artists auditioning to be part of our work, and gives opportunity for multiple performances of new scores. The growing international network of branches of Live Music Now gives a platform for exchange of scores across Live Music Now ensembles in Europe. It is win for musicians in having high quality new music to play, win for composers in having repeat performances and win for audiences who cannot access contemporary music in the concert hall. Already, Eddie McGuire’s ‘Dance Suite for Two’, the first of our commissions with the above in mind, has been performed by the Spencer-Strachan Duo, for whom it was written, for a prison audience in Denmark, for over 100 children and young people with special educational needs in Abu Dhabi, as well as countless rural primary schools in Dumfries and Galloway and members of the general public. The score has gone to a violin and cello duo in Live Music Now Munich, who have sent back one of theirs by a contemporary German composer in return. In commissioning Eddie, the first composer we approached as part of this developing commissioning policy, we gave him carte blanche as to what he’d like to write for from the list of musicians who were part of Live Music Now Scotland at that time. Our next commission was quite different, as it followed a new model, bringing together the creative circle of musicians – audience – composer even closer together. Composing With Care, an initiative developed by Live Music Now Scotland, involves musicians going into care homes and day centres for older people, including those with dementia-related illness, and, through live music, stimulating their memories, emotions and shared social experiences around a particular spence strachentheme. This material is recorded in situ and passed to a composer as the source material to inspire and guide a new piece of music. For Bill Sweeney’s Luminate: From the Islands, two Scottish traditional musicians visited five different Hebridean Islands between them and gathered songs, stories, poems and a myriad of recollections of island life and culture, some of it in Gaelic. Bill used this material to compose his suite of songs for voice – flexibly high or low – and piano. The same method was implemented for John Maxwell Geddes’ A Castle Mills Suite, but this time the focus was on WW1 and the North British Rubber Company in Edinburgh, which made millions of wellington boots and hosing for the British troops. Generations of hundreds of families in west Edinburgh had associations with the North British Rubber Company, which was a major employer even after the war. In commissioning Alasdair Nicolson, we were thinking about Live Music Now’s 30th anniversary and, although the choice was ultimately Alasdair’s, were keen for a string quartet. His The Keeper of Sheep was premiered by the Astrid Quartet at the St Magnus Festival in Live Music Now Scotland’s 30th anniversary year, both publicly and in our outreach programme in care homes and day care centres. This was quickly followed by a second public performance in Music at Paxton festival in the Scottish Borders, demonstrating Live Music Now Scotland’s geographic reach from one end of the country to the other, and again accompanied by associated outreach performances. Different again is Wildings’ Bellany Suite. This was commissioned in association with one of Live Music Now Scotland’s long-established partners, the National Galleries of Scotland, in celebration of the life and work of East Lothian artist John Bellany and written by the three traditional musicians of Wildings collectively in response to his work. It has been performed publicly as well as in education work for East Lothian children in collaboration with NGS.

As the 30th birthday of Live Music Now Scotland approached, it was timely to gather these recent commissions together Edward McGuireonto a cd and Luminate is the result. It is both a snapshot of what Live Music Now Scotland has achieved in commissioning and performing new music since the premiere of Eddie McGuire’s Dance Suite in April 2013 and a springboard for commissioning in the future. Jennifer Martin is currently working on a duo for clarinet and piano, while we are strengthening our relationship with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland so that it is not only performance graduates whose future lives and careers are inspired by the ideals of Live Music Now, but emerging composers too. For the performers who are heard on the cd, being part of Live Music Now Scotland offered a new dimension to their professional development through the exceptional experience of working closely with composers and an award-winning recording label.

The cd could not have happened without the support of those who have funded it and co-commissioned the music. I would like to pay particular tribute to the trustees of Kimie Trust and Bacher Trust, all of whom are much valued, long-standing supporters of our work. They have funded commissions, outreach performances, as well as the recording itself and their confidence in what we do is deeply appreciated. We also acknowledge co-commissioners 14-18 NOW, Luminate Festival of Creative Ageing and the National Galleries of Scotland. Formal acknowledgement of these partners is on the cd booklet, but this blog is a chance to recognise the place of the individuals who have worked with Live Music Now Scotland to build the relationships and fruitful partnerships which make the commissions possible. And, of course, thanks to the team at Delphian who took on what seemed like a bit of an unusual project at the outset, but has resulted in a stunning and impressive recording. Thank you to all.


Carol Main MBE


Live Music Now Scotland/International Development (UK)

4 April 2015

Programming Cottier Chamber Project

February 9, 2015 in Andy Saunders, featured, guest blog by Andy Saunders

cottier chamberStarting with a blank piece of paper (or in my case, a pile of blank post-it notes) is one of the most exciting parts of programming a festival. What shall we do this year? Shall we have a theme? Are there particular composers that we want to feature? Or maybe an instrument? A period? A country? If so, what and why?

When The Cottier Chamber Project began in 2011, there were a few rules that I gave myself, to help guide the programme. Firstly, I was aware of how much interest and passion for chamber music there was amongst orchestral players. Many people had small groups that would do the odd concert here and there, but would love to spend more time rehearsing and performing. Secondly, I wanted to feature a whole load of different line-ups and genres of chamber music, rather than the usual diet of string quartets and voice/piano recitals (there is some cracking music out there for odd combinations…so why not perform it?!). Other than that, I suppose that it struck me that there was a lot of enthusiasm for chamber music that was untapped, and which deserved to be encouraged!

Those guidelines have changed a little, though not a huge amount, as the festival has developed, funding parameters have changed, and various relationships and partnerships have flourished, but the core aims of the festival are still the same.

So…programming the festival. Let’s approach this from two different angles – my point of view, and your point of view.

The Cottier Chamber Project isn’t a new music festival. It’s also not an old music festival though. It’s a very mixed programme, that has the aim of allowing the audiences and artists to explore, experiment, and make some new discoveries along the way. I tend to start off with a few lists – composers and pieces that I’d like to include, ensembles and artists, and maybe some general themes. I’ll begin conversations with lots of groups, sometimes asking for specific repertoire, sometimes asking whether there is anything that they would like to perform. There is then lots of to-ing and fro-ing, until the programme takes shape. I’ll spend a lot of time cottier 2listening to things on-line and researching various links between composers and pieces. I’d like to go to more concerts to hear new groups and composers, but I’m often working when they’re on, so that’s a little trickier. I’ll make sure that the whole programme has a wide variety of repertoire, period and instrumentation, and I’ll try to find strong ways to include and link trad, world and jazz music to the chamber music programme. Last year, we expanded to include a dance thread (The Cottier Dance Project – you can probably see what we did there…!), which is curated by Freya Jeffs. We’ll have a look at possible collaborative pieces, see who we think would work really well together, and then start off those conversations as well. We’ll put together an outline draft of our dream programme in March/April (so 14/15 months before the festival), which will then constantly be tweaked until the print deadline (next week – aaaargh!). When all’s said and done, it’s surprisingly close to the original plan.

We’ll put in a few big funding applications early on. If they’re successful, then it means that we’re in a good place and can start moving on things. If not, or the money is less than we need, we’ll need to put a few things onto the backburner. In terms of commissions, it’s been a slow process to build it up to the point that we’re at this year, particularly as our funding has been so tight, and we’ve been partnering with another organisation. For this year, we’ll have 4 purely musical commissions. One from a well established international composer, one from an established Scottish composer (Scottish meaning ‘lives and works in Scotland’), one from an emerging Scottish composer and one from our composition competition (the only restriction here is that composers must live in Scotland – any age, background, experience is fine). We’ll also have one commission from a trad composer working with a group of dancers, and then we’ve got 3 new dance commissions (again from variety of established/emerging, Scottish/overseas choreographers) and one commission from a puppeteer.

cottier danceOf course, funding is a major issue when it comes to commissioning. If I can’t make a strong enough case to a funding body or supporter to commission someone, then that’s the end of it, which is one of the reasons that I try to put together a balanced selection of commissions.

Our audience is also very mixed. We get a lot of people who are either industry professionals themselves (performers, creators, administrators, etc) or regular audience members at the national companies and main venues. We also get a lot of people who live locally and want to try something unusual, and increasingly we’re getting cultural tourists from overseas. We’re beginning to develop a reputation for programming some unusual and surprising pieces which always turn out to be good, so hopefully that means that audience are beginning to trust that whatever is on the programme will be worth hearing. Obviously, it’s important to get an audience to turn up (the more the merrier!), but I’m also happy to programme things that I know fit into a definite niche. They may not be as attractive to a large audience, but they’re important to some people, and are therefore important within the context of the whole festival’s programme.

Now, if you’re a composer, then you’d probably quite like to be on the list of people that I ask. I can imagine that it’s pretty frustrating – you can write pieces, and then persuade groups to play them, but that only pays the bills if someone pays you to write them in the first place (or you get lucky and the BBC use it as a sound track to something lucrative!). You’ve probably got good connections with some really good performers, who would be quite happy to programme your music, but haven’t got the funding to pay for it. Long term funding for composers is a different issue than the one in this piece of waffle – one that is constantly at the forefront of discussions within NMS. In no particular order, a few things to keep in mind might be:

  • If you would like a promoter to consider commissioning you, invite them along to a performance of your music that you know will be good! Sending an email without any opportunity to hear your work isn’t going to work. That goes for performers too!
  • If there are groups that you know already play regularly in a festival or venue, collaborate with them on a pitch for a commission – having someone to play the piece that you want to write will be useful.
  • Bear in mind the context and style of the festival – will your proposed piece fit well with the overall vibe and scheduling of the festival? Will it need loads of complicated electronics, lighting and staging that will make the producer’s life a misery and blow the budget? What else will be in the programme for that concert?
  • Artistic Directors regard their whole programme as a piece of art in itself, so if they say ‘no’, it’s probably not a reflection of whether you are any good or not. It’s just that it’s the wrong fit for this particular festival programme. There are many more composers and pieces than slots in the schedule, so the majority of composers are going to be disappointed.
  • I’ve got long term plan for the festival, and I’d imagine that most other festivals do as well. That means that I’m planning to be commissioning people for a fair few years to come, so I might well get to you at some point. I’m assuming that composers would still like to be being commissioned 10 or 20 years down the line…I realise that this isn’t much help immediately, but it’s the reality of things.
  • Funding doesn’t guide the programming, but it’s an essential component in making it happen. If you’ve already got a commitment (or at least strong interest) of some part funding already, then that is attractive to a festival. Co-commissioning or co-producing something is perfectly possible, and probably increasingly a good idea.
  • If you see a call for scores that has specific parameters, it’s probably not worth trying to persuade a festival that your piece really does fit, even though it’s for different instruments, the wrong length, about a different subject, and you don’t live in the specified region! Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised…

cottier 3

As with composers, there’s a huge amount of work that goes on to make a festival happen that the organisers aren’t paid for. Obviously that’s not an ideal scenario, but it means that there is a huge amount of artistic integrity in the programmes. It’s certainly the case for me, and I’d imagine that it’s the same with other festivals, that every piece and performer is there for a reason, and it all fits into a plan and a story. I’d love to commission everyone every year, even people whose music I don’t particularly like, but is obviously well crafted and has something original to say (I’m not the greatest fan of Tchaikovsky, but I can concede that he was a good composer!). Sadly, the reality of it is that I can’t.

The programme for the 2015 edition of The Cottier Chamber Project will launch in the first week of March. There’s a fair amount of new music in there, some of which is hopefully a pleasant surprise, so I hope that you’ll grab a copy of the brochure or look up the website (www.cottierchamberproject.com) and mark up your diary for June! If you’re planning to enter the composition competition that we’re running in collaboration with the RSNO, good luck!



Out of the Silence – John McLeod

December 17, 2014 in featured, guest blog, John McLeod by mwhiteside

John McLeodComposer John McLeod talks about his latest commission for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, ‘Out of the Silence’ – a homage to Carl Nielsen whose 150th anniversary is celebrated in 2015.

When Roy McEwan, got in touch with me early in 2013 to ask if I would like to write a new orchestral work as a tribute to either Sibelius or Nielsen, both of whose 150th anniversaries would fall in 2015, I was intrigued and delighted. I’m always in awe of Sibelius’s works which I adore, but I had no hesitation in choosing Carl Nielsen as the subject for my tribute. His musical language and maverick ideas have always appealed to me. Also the more deeply I probed into Nielsen, the more I became aware of how much the state of silence crops up.

Most of us in our daily lives strive for it but hardly ever experience it – except probably, and this fascinated me, in musical performance. The awe inspiring silence and atmosphere just seconds before a piece begins is extraordinary, and the more people involved in this the more unique is the experience.

So ‘Out of the Silence’ starts in silenceleading the way to an imaginary conversation between me and Nielsen – quite a formidable undertaking when one thinks about it! My ideas started to develop the more I pursued this direction and, as the work took shape, they were often, quite naturally, overpowered and trounced by ripostes (albeit in different orchestrations and different guises) from two works – the Symphony No.4 (The Inextinguishable) and the Clarinet Concerto. The whole piece revolves around these sources until the conversation comes to an end and we reach again a prolonged silence at the conclusion of the piece.

John McLeod’s ‘Out of the Silence’ will be performed by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Joseph Swensen in Perth Concert Hall (January 22nd), Glasgow City Halls (January 23rd) and Edinburgh Queen’s Hall (January 24th) with the composer in conversation at each venue at 6.30 p.m. The other works on the programme are Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto (soloist Maximiliano Martin) and Sibelius’s 4th Symphony.




Time Out Residency

October 20, 2014 in featured, guest blog, Jo Buckley by Jo Buckley

Francis MacDonald, Sonia Allori, Colin Broom, Drew Hammond, John De Simone and Oliver Searle

Francis MacDonald, Sonia Allori, Colin Broom, Drew Hammond, John De Simone and Oliver Searle

Earlier this year we put out a call for composers: rather than a call for scores, we were looking for composers seeking ‘time out’. Composers who were keen to take a break from the day-to-day challenges of composing, to get together with other like-minded folk and to share, explore and discuss what it means to be a composer in today’s modern world. As one of the participants at the residency announced on arrival: ‘I just want the chance to have a total geek-out and talk about composing all weekend’.

And this is just what we did. We gathered together six composers in the beautiful surroundings of Cove Park, near Helensburgh on Scotland’s west coast. Situated on a hill overlooking Loch Long, where the mist lingers in the morning and gradually lifts by the afternoon to reveal the real beauty of the loch beneath, Cove Park is a haven for artists of all kinds. As well as offering great communal spaces for group work and social sessions, the centre also has self-contained accommodation ‘pods’ and ‘cubes’ for individuals to hide themselves away from the world and get stuck into their personal projects. Left to our own devices over the course of the weekend, we were able to roam the rural, wooded site, gather in separate places for one-on-one sessions and come together in the lovely studio space for dinner, listening, talking and sharing.

The aim of the residency was not to teach anyone anything, but to allow the composers to learn from one another, and to share their ideas and concerns about their work in a supportive environment. Along with Fiona Robertson, I helped shepherd the group sessions and together we structured the discussions around issues that were high on their agendas, which included: How do you promote yourself and find new commissions? How do you create? How do you use technology in your work? When do you find time to compose? The composers were also paired off for one-on-one sessions, where they had the opportunity to swap skills with one another, offer support and learn from one another’s particular expertise. We were also delighted to welcome Sally Beamish for the Saturday morning, when she spoke openly about her own path towards life as a professional composer, the challenges she met on the way, and the techniques and tools she developed to overcome them. Inspiring and intriguing in equal measure, Sally’s session provided a platform from which much of the weekend’s discussions emanated.

There was no shortage of talking in this weekend ‘geek-out’ and by Sunday afternoon we had covered everything from how to orchestrate music for strings to the challenges of composing within the constraints of family life. But everyone – and I include myself and Fiona in this – left the residency inspired, rejuvenated and ready to tackle our work with a renewed sense of purpose and determination.

Here is what the six composers had to say about their own personal experiences at Time Out.

Francis MacDonald

If I wasn’t careful I was in danger of morphing into a character from Little Britain, prefacing almost every comment with “I didn’t study classical music, you know” (“I’m the only only gay in the village!”). This is a reflection of my own circumstances and my wrangling with the idea of Who Or What Defines A Composer. It was reassuring to know that is a fluid concern for both part-time and professional classically-trained composers:

“Sometimes you feel like a fraud? Me too!”

“But you’re not.”

“Neither are you.”

“Let’s bond.”

I only knew the lovely Sonia Allori (from the EIFF Composer’s Lab 2013 but I found everyone else in the group – John, Oliver, Drew and Colin (and Jo and Fiona and Donald) and Sally Beamish – to be welcoming and generous in sharing their knowledge and wisdom. Writing music can be a solitary concern. Bringing people together to discuss and share, in a conducive environment can only be a good thing. This residency was planned and organised extremely well. I am still processing everything that I have managed to soak up. But first thing’s first: I’m off to buy a Pomodoro Kitchen Timer.

Sonia Allori

The New Music Scotland “Timeout Composer Residency” has given me a unique opportunity. Composing as a creative practice can be an isolated endeavour and yet during the last few days I have found myself amongst a group of exceptionally gracious and incredibly supportive kindred souls, with whom sharing process, thoughts and music was a truly organic and intrinsic outcome. This should happen every year as a means to connect, to laugh and to normalise “being a composer”!

Drew Hammond

I tend to believe that a set of ideas arrived on through open and honest discourse will be far more robust than the individually held predilections and biases that constitute personal dogma. One may understand this, it may even be kind of obvious, but it is nevertheless gratifying to engage with such a discourse about creative practice in a setting set aside specifically for that purpose. For me it has had the effect of eroding some of my own hidden, vague, but nonetheless poisonous notions of artistic practice in Scotland, primarily the vision of practitioners as competitors only, each of us sorting out how to maximise our own slice of the ever-diminishing pie of public funding. One short weekend of chatting about, thinking about, and in essence living in the kind of environment we normally may only hope for brings me face to face with the blinding truth: if we choose to see ourselves exclusively on their terms, the terms of the neo-liberal capitalist priesthood – that old Social Darwinist chestnut – we will be choosing our own ultimate extinction.   We may at times bemoan the dire financial straits that The Arts is now apparently in, but we mustn’t forget that societal patronage is a two-way street where our vibrancy and our creativity will deeply impact the future of the arts in Scotland, and leave aside any tendency toward despondency and inaction. A true forwarding of the arts will not be achieved on those therms, in the dumbed down notions of market economics and football relegation that make up so much of the way we are constantly told to think about the world. No, what we need is much better encapsulated in the language of “scene” and “community.” And our scene must be one that chooses a deeper meaning for human activity; we are after all either fools, or not actually here for the money.

Colin Broom

I applied to for a place on New Music Scotland’s Time Out residency for a couple of reasons: I was interested (as I always am) in discussing composing, methods and practice and careers with other composers. Secondly, I was interesting in hearing other composers’ experience (and indeed the experience of the facilitators, Fiona and Jo) of self-promotion, which, for all the reasonable confidence I have in my own practice as an artist, is an area I feel I could be better on. Finally, I was interested to have some discussion about a piece I’m currently working on, and get some objective thoughts on what I’m doing from other composers of similar levels (if different areas) of experience and an open, comfortable environment.

I found the residency was hugely worthwhile. Despite the variance in backgrounds of many of us, several common themes emerged across the weekend, one strong one was that of self-promotion, creating and pursuing opportunities. Everyone shared their own experience of this, and it’s always reassuring to hear others voice similar discomforts about “putting themselves out there” but also to offer some thoughts on ways in which they have handled this. IT was also useful to hear Fiona and Jo’s (of NMS) take on this from the promoter, festival/record label running perspective.

It was also good to hear Sally Beamish’s thoughts on this from her perspective as a more experienced professional composer. Sally was open and very generous in her discussion of her own career, and it was interesting and good to hear the route she has taken, as well as her own working practice.

It was also good to discuss many of the more composition-specific aspects of our practice, from the minutiae of day-to-day practice (starting work, the usefulness of procrastination) to the much larger and wide ranging themes such has how we perceive our work in the larger musical or artistic context.

Across the weekend there was a real openness and generosity of sharing practice and sharing music, and this for me was what made it an insightful, constructive atmosphere and a consistently engaging dynamic. It was hugely helpful to have a group of composers of similar age and experience round the table and in this respect the “peer to peer” aspect of the residency was for me very useful. The fact that it took place in the beautiful misty surroundings of Cove Park, with excellent facilities certainly helped as well.

I’m grateful to have been selected by NMS to attend the residency, which I feel I got a lot of information and ideas from, all of which I will continue to think about, and plan informed by what I have heard and considered over the weekend.

Some of the other composer I knew before the residency, but I expect I will keep in touch with all of the composers, and with NMS.

All of this, in combination with future NMS residencies with other participants (which I hope happen), and related events, should I hope contribute to the consolidation of a sense of a community of composers working in Scotland but worthy of notice much further afield. A hugely successful and useful residency.

John De Simone

With some trepidation, I set off to Cove Park on Friday 10th October. Not sure what to expect, wondering what could come of 6 composers in a room spending time together, rather than in our more usual solitary confinement. I was anxious about sharing my work and experiences, and unsure about what people would make of what I do and have to say. My trepidation was immediately dismissed when I got there and felt at ease and comfort in the beautiful surroundings.

What an amazing bunch of people that were there! From Fiona and Jo’s amazing organisation and cooking, to Sally Beamish’s inspiring and impressively honest reflections about being a professional composer- the participants were in a really great, safe space to enable an honest sharing of experiences, needs, and advice. I have been in a bit of a rut recently, wondering why I do what I do and the wonderful support I got this weekend from Sonja, Colin, Drew, Francis and Olly has me going back to Glasgow newly energised, committed, and enthusiastic about pushing forward with my career as a composer. I had a fantastic time. Thanks NMS!

Oliver Searle

Although I speak to composers a great deal, it is often in passing; over a quick coffee, in a concert interval, walking through a corridor, or through a mouthful of sandwich, with the occasional idea and thought thrown out fleetingly, as I rush headlong into the next activity.

There is very little time to get to the end of a conversation, reach a natural conclusion, or draw a tangible outcome or response from a group discussion, where everyone present has the chance to voice their opinions, concerns and ideas.

This residency facilitated these conversations, providing an opportunity to not only find the negatives in the current working lives of composers, but navigate a way through the quagmire of expectations, to reach positive goals, which we can hopefully take forward to begin making an affirmative change to new music in Scotland.

It was a fantastic chance to meet new composers and their work, but also to hear those I already knew talk more about their processes and activities, as well as hear their concerns (I particularly appreciated Sally’s honesty about her own career path).

The biggest positive outcome for me is the realisation that we can and should be positive about new music in Scotland. There is a diverse range of work being created, and it is all too easy to write much of this off as ‘not within my field’. My greatest hope is that we can support each other’s practice, act as advocates of each other’s work, and actively help each other in finding more/better opportunities to create new music, while crafting careers for the future.

hst-logoNew Music Scotland gratefully acknowledges the support of the Hope Scott Trust, who provided the funding to make this residency possible.

sound festival

October 6, 2014 in featured, Fiona Robertson, guest blog by Fiona Robertson

new sound logoIt’s the beginning of October already and this year’s sound festival is fast approaching.

We’re 10 years old…it’s very difficult to believe that in 2004 we did a small weekend taster to see if there might be an interest in North East Scotland for new music, and then launched the festival in 2005.

It’s strange looking back…so many things have changed, yet the structure of the festival was already there. 2005 was 20 days long (this year will be 19!) and we’d already created a network of local organisations around sound – –involved that year were Woodend Music Society, Aberdeen Jazz, Interesting Music Promotions, Monymusk Arts, Angus Arts, Strathdee Music Club and of course the University of Aberdeen and Woodend Barn. As well as concerts in Aberdeen, there were performances and workshops across Aberdeenshire.

That was the year we jointly commissioned Sally Beamish to write Trance O’Nicht for percussion and orchestra, performed by Evelyn Glennie and the BBC SSO. The Edinburgh Quartet performed new works by Naresh Sohal and Kenneth Dempster, the Hebrides Ensemble performed works by Haflidi Hallgrimsson, Marina Adamia and Olivier Messiaen. Other performers included Bill Thomspon, McKenzie Medboe, the Barbican Trio, the Glasgow String Quartet, Paul Anderson, Frog Pocket and La Boum…! But the most intensive and involving event was an afternoon’s rehearsal and informal performance by a scratch community orchestra of James MacMillan’s Into the Ferment, conducted by the composer, which remains one of my all-time favourite sound highlights. It involved local musicians from 11 to 88 years old, and even I got my viola out and took part (I can’t quite imagine doing that anymore!).

So what has changed since 2005?

The range and scale of the festival is very different. That year there were 27 events, this year there will be 47. In 2005, there were 2 world premieres, this year there will be 19.

sound has been growing up, little by little. It’s gone from being an enthusiastic youngster to a more mature (although still enthusiastic!) festival. It’s moved from being a local festival with a local network to a national festival with a strong network throughout Scotland and abroad. There has of course been a significant addition to that network since 2009. It’s difficult to imagine Scotland without Red Note, who are now our Associate Ensemble and one of our key partners. The local network has not been neglected and has grown over the years, crucial to what we want to achieve…and that is bringing in new audiences.

sound will always be a bit different from a number of other new music festivals. Maybe a little more gentle and less hard-edged. We still sometimes programme old alongside new, with the aim of introducing people gradually to contemporary music. Possibly a contested way of doing things, but it does seem to work for us. And we still have a variety of types of new music and events, aimed at attracting different types of audience.


And this year?

Strangely we don’t seem to have any of the same performers or composers at the festival this year as in 2005 (although many have returned multiple times). 2014 is an ambitious, more international festival with a cross-cutting theme of new approaches to traditional music (think harp or fiddles with electronics or works for bagpipes written by major international classical composers…).

The event I’m looking forward to most, though, epitomises where we’ve come to. It’s the result of partnership with Musiques Démesurées, a new music festival from Aberdeen’s twinned city Clermont-Ferrand. We’ve commissioned new works by French and Scottish composers to be performed by the combined forces of Red Note and the Orchestre d’Auvergne. It’s been a major, year-long project, and to see it come to fruition will be great. And the partnership with Musiques Démesurées will hopefully go on long beyond that – helped by sound’s French-speaking (and wine-loving!) team!

Meanwhile, we’ve got our heads down doing all the necessary nitty-gritty stuff – sourcing enormous amounts of percussion, fixing rehearsal times, booking accommodation, organising transport, printing more fliers. After months of planning and fundraising, everything is suddenly very real, very close and rather stressful. So please wait until late November to contact me about future festivals! Unless of course you’re planning a trip to the festival – it would be great to see more of our central belt colleagues making the trip North to hear some exciting new music. Aberdeen’s not that far away, honest!


New Music Scotland Day 2014, Review

September 23, 2014 in featured, guest blog, News, Stuart MacRae by Stuart MacRae

NMS Day 2014A couple of weeks ago I attended the first NMS Day in Glasgow, hosted by the recently formed New Music Scotland. Run as a cooperative, New Music Scotland is unusual in including among its membership not only composers, but promoters, ensembles, performers, festivals and other professionals with an interest in new music.

This spirit of new music as a shared enterprise was apparent throughout the day, which began with a broad discussion of what the fledgling organisation had been set up to do – namely, to foster and encourage opportunity, networking and dissemination among Scotland’s new music practitioners and organisations – and how the board planned to put these aims into action over the coming years. All of which sounded to me like something that should have been done A Very Long Time Ago, so I stumped up 20 quid and became a member there and then.

A longish lunch break provided plenty of time for networking (I don’t like the word, but it’s essential nonetheless!). However the real substance of the day was in the afternoon panel sessions chaired by John Harris and Oliver Searle, which were billed as discussions of the opportunities available for the development of new music, both in Scotland and internationally.

Let’s deal with the massive elephant in the room – at least for the composers – first.

The recent Sound and Music commission fee survey, which revealed the average composer’s annual income from commission fees to be a paltry £3689 (for an average of 2-3 pieces), may have come as a bombshell to many outsiders, but to composers it was merely confirmation of what was already suspected: that the funding available for new commissions is hopelessly incommensurate with the number of new works being written, asked for, performed and commissioned. Not only that: nearly half of the survey’s respondents didn’t get paid for their work at all.

It seems clear that most composers would like to be busy and in demand, but also to be paid fairly for their work. And promoters, performers and festivals say they’d like to do more new music, but that it’s expensive to rehearse, to commission, to hire and to promote. Where there is a limit on available funding (and there always will be) something has to give; and it’s evident that composers bear the brunt of this mismatch, lowering fees and in many cases foregoing them entirely for the sake of having their work performed. Such devaluation of new music surely cannot be acceptable.

Susanna Eastburn, Chief Executive of Sound and Music, stressed in the first panel discussion that what is required is not an imposition of minimum fees, but a change in the value society places on new music: this, it seems, could come about if we find new ways to engage our audiences, to reach a global market through online dissemination and social media, to transform the live experience of music by taking it away from the traditional concert hall.

Clare Hewitt from Creative Scotland, who was also on the panel, echoed this in her emphasis on cross-artform work, citing the recent Commonwealth Cultural programme as an example of how artists and organisations could contribute to public events on a large scale.

But first composers need to decide what value they place on their own work.

Some commissioners of new work really don’t know how much they should be paying for a commission, and this makes it impossible for them to budget appropriately and take the necessary steps to secure funding in good time. I can’t think of a way to improve this that doesn’t involve a set of guidelines of some kind – or at the very least a collective effort between composers and commissioners to decide what is acceptable and reasonable.

The panel’s third contributor, James Hannam from the PRS for Music Foundation, told us he had seen a 300% rise in funding application activity over the last three years, and that there are also fewer festivals across all genres of music. This chimes with anecdotal evidence I’ve heard that as funding sources dry up or tighten their belts (for example private endowments, estates and trusts) there is increasing pressure on large funders such as PRSF and Creative Scotland as commissioners are bottlenecked into the same funding streams. On a more positive note, he pointed out that international interest in UK music is increasing, which suggests there is a wider international market for ensembles and composers out there if we can break into it.

It strikes me that all of the above leaves three options: the status quo, in which many commissions are not paid at a sustainable rate; far fewer, better paid commissions; or finding ways to make new music more economical, more attractive to alternative funders and promoters, and more ‘useful’ as composer John De Simone put it on the day.

The last option surely seems the most positive, and there was much advice to this end during the day, particularly with regard to the use of the Internet as a promotional and dissemination tool with truly global potential. The trick seems to be in learning how to use it effectively; and those who have done so are often now promoters in their own right, far more in control of their own work and opportunities (and income…?) than composers who are more dependent on the traditional system of commissions from established institutions.

(One caveat here: we don’t really know whether these empowered composer-curators who might just change the paradigm for new music are paying themselves either enough, or at all, and it would be interesting to know what goes first when there’s pressure on the budget.)

Next up was Graham McKenzie, Director of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, who was not short of advice for ensembles and composers alike: make sure project proposals are as well targeted as possible; try to give a clear impression of the composer’s influences and approach; think internationally.

There were two headline figures from Mr. McKenzie’s talk:

  • 1%: the proportion of unsolicited project ideas that end up in the festival.
  • €2000: the amount he expects to contribute to a commission fee for a work to be premiered at the festival.

The first of these gives an indication of the enormity of the task facing big festival directors in choosing what to programme, and should encourage us all to work hard to make proposals as distinctive and necessary as possible.

The second figure, €2000 (yes, that’s Euros and not Pounds, which is revealing in itself) is meant to be just a part of a co-commission, the rest being made up of similar sums from as many as six international partners, which Mr. McKenzie says he works hard to persuade once he has decided to back a project. He didn’t say what size of piece this scenario would relate to (but it seems likely to be something quite substantial such as a full-length string quartet) but pointed out that a successful co-commission benefits everyone involved: more performances, international exposure, and lower costs.

And what if the international festivals don’t want to join in? Well, then the composer might end up with €2000, or no commission.

This all feels quite a long way from the empowered composer-curator mentioned earlier (in fact it seems like good old-fashioned patronage with a bit of modern venture capitalism thrown in) but perhaps that’s the price of finding a top-notch international platform.

Whatever conclusions can be drawn from the day, one thing is certain: the more we talk to each other about how to create and develop a healthy, thriving new music environment in Scotland, the more progress we will make, and the more confident we will grow.


New Music Scotland is proudly powered by WordPress and BuddyPress. Just another WordPress Theme by Themekraft.