Winners Announced for the First Scottish Awards for New Music

March 9, 2017 in featured, safnm2017 by mwhiteside

Winners of the first Scottish Awards for New Music have been announced following an event hosted by internationally acclaimed Scottish-based opera star, Andrea Baker, at the Drygate Brewery in Glasgow on Wednesday 8 March 2017. The event featured performances from the award-winner of the recorded new work category, cellist Robert Irvine, and award-nominee performance artist and musician, MacGillivray.

The seven winners of the Scottish Awards for New Music 2017 are, in no particular order :

Red Note Ensemble

Help Musicians UK Award for New Music Performers of the Year, presented by Claire Geveaux

Ailie Robertson, composer and curator

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Award for Achievement in New Music, presented by Janet Archer, Chief Executive, Creative Scotland



Holiday Inn Award for Sound Art / Electroacoustic Work, presented by Oliver Searle, Chair of New Music Scotland


Robert Irvine for Songs and Lullabies, Delphian Records

EVM Award for Recorded New Work presented by Alan Morrison, Head of Music, Creative Scotland


Drake Music Scotland – Wagner’s School of Cool

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Award for Community / Education Project presented by Gordon McPherson, Head of composition, RCS.

David Fennessy for Panopticon

Dorico Award for Small/medium Scale Work sponsored by Steinberg, presented by Richard Llewelyn


Helen Grime for Two Eardley Pictures: Catterline in Winter and Snow

Large Scale Work sponsored by PRS for Music presented by Stuart Fleming and Harriet Wybor

The Awards were created by New Music Scotland with financial support from Creative Scotland, to celebrate and champion the highest standards and achievements of Scotland’s composers, musicians, sound artists and ensembles. They highlight and showcase the innovative, experimental and ground-breaking work taking place in Scotland, as well as the depth and breadth of the country’s contemporary music scene.

Alan Morrison, Head of Music, Creative Scotland, said: “With such an amazingly strong set of nominees across each of the categories, the inaugural New Music Scotland Awards have instantly claimed their place on the classical calendar. These are the performers, composers and ensembles who are driving forward one of Scotland’s most exciting and experimental music sectors. Congratulations to tonight’s winners and also to the venues, festivals and record labels who bring their work to an increasingly eager public.

Alongside the presentation of the awards the Musicians’ Union supported the performances by Robert Irvine and MacGillivery.

There were over a hundred and eighty nominations submitted by artists, audience members and the general public, reinforcing the depth and breadth of new music activity in Scotland. Nominations ranged from amateur musicians and emerging artists, to major organisations and household names and covered a wide-range of new music.

Pipeline – Pete Stollery shortlisted for Sound Art / Electroacoustic Work

March 4, 2017 in safnm2017 by mwhiteside

Pete Stollery

  1. How did the piece come about?

For ages I’ve been meaning to write a piece for Roger Williams and his Aberdeen Organ Book project. Each year, he has an organ recital as part of the sound festival and I finally got around to completing it for his 2016 recital. It’s written for organ and digital sound and is a piece which looks at the similarities between the organ recital and the concert of electronic music performed over loudspeakers, where the object making the sound is hidden from view. Organ sounds come out of the loudspeakers as well as the organ pipes and the organ is required to produce sounds which sound, at times, as if they have been transformed by technology. The resulting ambiguities and the lack of anything to look at allows the audience to concentrate more on the listening experience – a running theme in my work.


  1. Was the piece written for a specific space, and if so, how did that influence the work?

I composed the piece for the premiere on the Aubertin organ at King’s College, Aberdeen and all the sound recordings for the digital sound part were made there. At one point in the piece the organist holds down a high G flute sound which I then bring into the 8 loudspeakers rotating it and shredding it; the technology extends the capabilities of the organ, seamlessly, or at least that’s the plan. The piece is going to be performed again later this year in Union Chapel, London, which will probably mean a trip to London to record the same things I recorded in Aberdeen, so that I can make up a digital sound part specifically for that organ.


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

I’m working on a piece for bandoneón (the accordion used in tango) and electronics for the amazing Eliseo Tapia in Buenos Aires as well as tidying up a few of my soundmapping projects around Aberdeen and writing a piece for eight bassoons entitled You’re a Fisherman’s Bassoon to be performed as part of sound’s celebration of the bassoon in November.


  1. Who are the upcoming Scottish creators to watch?

Of course, I’ll have to namecheck some of my students here…Ross Whyte’s work with Alasdair Whyte (no relation) is really innovative and he’s part of a real groundswell over recent years of Aberdeen composers and sound artists, like Luca Nasciuti and Maja Zećo. I’ve also been really impressed with creations by younger people as part of Sound & Music’s Go Compose! project such as Clara-Jane Maunder and Kara Taylor and I’d be in real trouble if I didn’t mention Joe Stollery.


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

John De Simone – The F Scale

Graham Fitkin – Vamp (album)


  1. What is the piece that you would most like to write?

The yoghurt chiller cabinet in Tesco, Inverurie hums a minor third continuously. I don’t think anyone else knows this so I want to write a choral piece (to be performed as a flash mob – by a choir looking as if they’re buying yoghurt) lasting a couple of minutes, to be accompanied by this drone. At the end, the choir dissolves into the aisles of the supermarket leaving the minor 3rd a little more audible than before.

Go compose! – sound (in partnership with Red Note Ensemble) shortlisted Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Award for Community / Education Project

March 3, 2017 in safnm2017 by mwhiteside

1.       How did the project come about?

Go Compose! was an initiative of Sound and Music who wanted to expand some compositional activity for young people into Scotland. They contacted us and Red Note Ensemble and the first Go Compose! course took place in 2011. It fitted in perfectly with our aim of nurturing young talent, and the course has taken place every year since.

2.       What made this project special?

Apart from learning to compose in school, there is very little available outside of the central belt for secondary school aged young people to develop their skills and explore their creativity. Go Compose! is a unique opportunity for those interested in composition to work with experienced professional musicians and composers over a concentrated 3-day period, and to have their works performed publically at the end of the course. They all say how beneficial it is to be allowed to “just compose” and to be able to work with such inspirational professionals. Red Note are partners on the project, and three of their musicians take part each year. Composers who have led the course include David Fennessy, Gabriel Jackson, Kerry Andrews, Pippa Murphy, Gareth Williams, Oliver Searle, Usui Shiori, Brian Irvine, Tom Butler and John de Simone. We now have a number of young composers who come back every year, and are really developing their own styles.

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

We’re planning to build on Go Compose and expand it into a year-round compositional development programme for young people in North East Scotland, following demand from our participants.

4.       Who are the upcoming Scottish composers to watch?

Where to start?! Three of our Go Compose participants from last year have had or are having pieces performed in public. Kara Taylor and Lewis McLaughlin had their works performed by Red Note at the Scottish EDGE Awards ceremony in December 2016, and Clara-Jane Maunder has written a new work for her school’s concert band, string ensemble and choirs called Song of the Sea which will be performed at her school on 22nd March. But that’s just three, and there are many others to watch out for!

Ailie Robertson Shortlisted for the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Award for Achievement in New Music

March 2, 2017 in safnm2017 by mwhiteside

Ailie Robertson

  1. How did Echoes and Traces come about to begin with?

Echoes and Traces really evolved over several years. I had found the Nobilis Humilis plain chant a few years ago while researching another project, and thought it would be a great idea to use for a piece, but it wasn’t the right fit for that project. Then in 2015 I was thinking about how many fabulous composers we have in Scotland, and how rich our musical heritage is, but how little New Music gets a high-profile public stage, or repeated performances. So Echoes and Traces gradually came together, as a way to highlight and promote Scotland’s New Music Talent. 

  1. What were the highlights of the 2016 performances?

There were many: the amazing venues we got to perform in, particularly places like Iona Abbey and Dunfemline Abbey which are so atmospheric, the opportunity to hear the pieces grow and evolve over 7 performances, the amazing audience responses we had, and the excitement of seeing so much press and media coverage for Scottish New Music. 

  1. You’re also a composer in your own right – what pieces did you write in 2016?

In addition to my Echoes and Traces piece I wrote a range of other works including Scathagh for String Quartet and Harp, Flickering Blazing Burning for The Bozzini Quartet, a piece for the London Contemporary Choral Festival and a 60-minute programme of new works for harp for the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. 

  1. What piece/project/performance did you see this year that you wished you had programmed or been involved in yourself?

The tribute to Tony Conrad by Charlemagne Palestine at HCMF was one of the most powerful perforamnces I’ve seen all year.

  1. What is the project that you would most like to do?  The Dream Project…?

I think my dream project would be to collaborate with Scottish Ballet on writing the score for a new ballet. The relationship between music and movement is fascinating to me, and I would love the chance to work with such an amazing company!


Since it was the Day of Preparation… – Sir James MacMillan / Hebrides Ensemble / Synergy Vocals (Delphian) shortlisted for EVM Recorded New Work

March 1, 2017 in safnm2017 by mwhiteside

James MacMillian and the Hebredies Ensemble
Credit – Tim Morozzo

Responses from William Conway, Artistic Director Hebrides Ensemble


  1.    How did this recording come about?  

From the moment Hebrides Ensemble commissioned it, I planned to record it but wanted to give the performance some time to mature before commuting it to disc.

  1.    What were the challenges in recording this repertoire?

The instrumentation is highly unusual which posed some problems finding a good corporate sound whilst being able to highlight details. Delphian Records provided the expertise in this area and the instrumentalists of Hebrides Ensemble and singers of Synergy Vocals delivered stunning all-round performances of extremely challenging music.

  1.    This must have been a very intense project to have been involved in – what was it that made it special for you?

To have dreamt of it, instigated it with the support of the Edinburgh International Festival and co-commissioners Kings Place and Soli Deo Gloria, to have received a stunning score from James MacMillan and to perform it at such a high level with fantastic musicians.

  1.    Who are the upcoming Scottish composers to watch?

Matthew Grouse, Tom Harrold, Findlay Spence.

  1.    What other recordings (from other performers/labels) have you heard this year that you found exciting and inspiring? 

Bach’s ‘Christmas Oratorio’ recorded for Linn Records by Dunedin Consort, the BBC Radio 3 broadcast of Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s ‘Last Supper’ and Gregory Porter ‘ Take me to the Alley’ on Bluenote  (Decca).


Paul Baxter – Delphian Records

  1.    How did this recording come about?

I’ve been in discussion with Hebrides for some time about a collaboration. This is the first in a series of three planned single composer recordings of new music associated with the Hebrides Ensemble themselves. The opportunity to have in the catalogue such a large scale work of James’s, hitherto unrecorded, was a huge draw.

  1.    What were the challenges in recording this repertoire?

James’s lineup for this piece is, frankly, unconventional. Theorbo + harp? What an inspired combination. We recorded in a studio environment, which made it easier for me to curate a balance that I think is successful – but the musicians were all in the same space; managing the balance between a clarinet and horn at double forte and a theorbo required a bit of work in post production.

  1.    This must have been a very intense project to have been involved in – what was it that made it special for you?

It’s a great honour to record, for posterity, a major new work such as this. That in itself is special; not to mention the artistry of the team at Hebrides. The interlinking cadenzi in this piece are not easy! They nailed it!

Two Eardley Pictures: Catterline in Winter and Snow – Helen Grime shortlisted for Large Scale Work sponsored by PRS for Music

February 28, 2017 in safnm2017 by mwhiteside

Helen Grime

  1. How did the piece come about?

The piece was a joint idea and commission from the BBCSSO and NYOS. The idea was for the pieces to be linked in some way as well as having a Scottish connection. It really appealed to me as I played with NYOS for several years as a teenager and have also worked with the BBCSSO previously. I wanted to write something based on different scenes of the North Eastern coastal town catterline, by Joan Eardley, an artist I’ve been very fond of since chinlhood.

  1. What is the most exciting aspect of writing for full orchestra?

The limitless possibilities!

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

I am writing a new orchestral work for the LSO and a song cycle for Wigmore Hall. A small part: ‘Fanfare’ for LSO will be premiered to open Sir Simon Rattle’s first season, with the whole work being premiered in April 2018. The Wigmore cycle is for Feb 2018.


  1. What is the piece that you would most like to write?

Something really immediate, yet also subtle, complex, striking…it doesn’t matter what for. I’m always striving to write this piece but I expect I might never quite fully get there. It would probably be a large orchestral piece or maybe an opera, although there are no opera plans at present!


SOURCEMOUTH : LIQUIDBODY – Hanna Tuulikki shortlisted for Sound Art / Electroacoustic Work

February 27, 2017 in safnm2017 by mwhiteside

1. How did the piece come about?

SOURCEMOUTH : LIQUIDBODY is a new place-responsive work commissioned for Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016. My starting point was to research and explore India’s ‘mnemonic landscape’, and in particular, how river-systems are represented within the languages and traditional performing arts of South India.

Early on in my process, I met Kapila Venu, a leading practitioner of Kutiyattam, which is a form of Sanskrit drama told through codified gestures of hands and eyes. Performed in Kerala, it is one of India’s oldest living performing arts. Kapila demonstrated a sequence from Kutiyattam known as Nadi Varnana – River Description. Embodying the watershed mimetically, it represents the river cycle as a succession of stylized movements – the first rain on the mountaintop, rivulets becoming mountain streams, fast flowing river, and, the completion of a slow meander to the sea.

Over the course of a residency in Kochi, Kapila became my guide and mentor, tutoring me in the Nadi Varnana cycle, which formed the nucleus of my project. I began to conceive of an audiovisual installation that combined three things: a series of films; vocal compositions; and visual scores. I realised the idea of the river flowing from source to mouth could be the key metaphor to hold these different elements together – flowing along the carrying stream of tradition, teacher to novice, observing eyes to embodiment, score to performance.

Adapting the traditional sequence into a performance-to-camera, I created three interlinked films. In the first, my silver-costumed figure traces a fluvial line that enacts each stage of the river’s journey. Alongside this, I created a vocal composition from multi-layered vocals, imitative of the percussion (drums and cymbals) that traditionally accompanies the sequence, evoking the river’s formation and flow. The second film is a startling close up of my open eyes performing choreographed gestures that signify the same transition from river source to mouth. As my eyes close shut, and the stage falls empty, on a third screen, my disembodied mouth incants instructions for the performance with a melody that draws on the vocal chanting style of Kutiyattam: “take your eyes to the top of the high mountain, trace the summit with your fingers, open the brow, wait for the rain to fall…” Two visual scores are displayed nearby, transcribing the stages of the river embodied movement. As the mouth closes, bringing an end to the song, the body gives expression to the lyrics, beginning a new cycle of the river score.

2.     Was the piece written for a specific space, and if so, how did that influence the work?

The whole process responded to both place and space – place in terms of the ‘mnemonic landscapes’ or ‘riverscapes’ of India and the cultural traditions of Kerala; space in terms of the physical site of the installation.

The space I had been assigned for the biennale is in Pepperhouse, located on the waterfront. Made up of two rooms, it is divided by a central wall and doorway. For my installation, the three films, and two pieces of music were split across the rooms. One area became a kind of source, the other the mouth, with each one being activated at different times within a repeating cycle. Accompanied by the layered vocal composition, the large screen portrays the full river sequence, opposite a smaller screen with the eyes, situated above the central door. Through this doorway, in the other room, the third screen portrays the disembodied mouth singing instructions for the performance. In this way, the liquid body’s cycle becomes continuous: from source to mouth to source to mouth to source….

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

I am working on a number of new projects, including TideSongs, a vocal work exploring mimetic tidal languages of the north sea with the artist-poet Alec Finlay, and an as yet untitled audiovisual installation, that will feature a composition for voices and singing saws created from fragments of Finnish forest-related songs. This year, I am Leverhulme artist-in-residence in The Centre for Language Evolution at the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences in The University of Edinburgh. And I’m also beginning to plan how I can take a number of older projects on tour and release some albums.

4.     Who are the upcoming Scottish creators to watch?

I’d recommend checking out performance maker Nic Green, whose ecological and political work I greatly admire; vocalist-composer Lucy Duncombe, whose new experimental vocal composition will see an outing in the near future; sculptor Hannah Imlach, whose futuristic sculptures are informed by our interactions with the environment; choreographer Simone Kenyon, who is exploring women’s mountain walking practices; and artist-composer-poets Richard Skelton and Autumn Richardson, who recently moved to Scotland and whose work is investigates landscape and language.

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

I haven’t seen much yet this year, as I have been quite snowed under with work, but last year I really enjoyed Alvin Curran’s ‘Musique Sans Frontieres’ piece at Tectonics Festival Glasgow, who created a series of cacophonous sound worlds for different spaces, inviting the audience to move in procession from room to room. I also loved Baul tradition bearer Parvathy Baul’s performance at Kochi Biennale, whose freedom and power of vocal expression still sends shivers down my spine.

6.     What is the piece that you would most like to write?

I have a dream project that is based around the migration route and compositional ‘approach’ of the Marsh Warbler. This bird migrates from northern Europe to Africa and back every year. What is so fascinating about the Marsh Warbler is that it does not have it’s own song – it imitates fragments of other birds’ songs and threads them together in a very intriguing way, which to my ears, sounds like a avant-garde conceptual sequence. I would love to travel along the same migration route of the Marsh Warbler, and do a similar thing with human music – learning songs from people, and adopting the structure of the bird’s composition to compose with fragments of these songs.

Red Note Ensemble Shortlisted for Help Musicians UK Award for New Music Performers of the Year

February 26, 2017 in safnm2017 by mwhiteside

  1. You had a busy performing schedule in 2016 – what is it that is exciting about performing new music to an audience?

Haha! Exciting or alarming??! They’re emotions rather close to one another … well, there’s no safety net. No “this works if you do it this way” to fall back on. So even if you’re reasonably convinced in rehearsals that something is good and will work, until it’s up on its feet in front of an audience you actually have no idea. What’s most interesting is that often playing it safe is the most dangerous route – our audiences love the sense of not knowing what’s going to happen. They hate it when things start to get routine and, frankly, dull.


  1. Was there a particular performance that stands out for you?

This year? It’s been an amazing year full of doing crazy mad stuff and getting away with it, basically. The most special things for me were forming the Red Note Advanced Academy for the first time and doing a cracking gig under Concorde for the Lammermuir Festival with our players and a bunch of students from across Europe (and a brilliant, brilliant film for Workers Union by Eggbox), and also the really very wild and on-the-edge Freedom O(r) Speech performance in the Sound Festival with Simon Callow playing the part of Kagel’s Tribune to unhinged perfection. We took that programme to Europe and played Louis Andriessen’s de Staat to the composer himself on his home turf – he loved it. I think my abiding image of the year is actually seeing Louis stand up at the first vocal entry of de Staat, turn around to our sound engineer behind the desk, and give her a massive thumbs up and a huge grin. It’s nice to be able to give one’s personal heroes exactly what they want …!


  1. Obviously each project is different, but in general, how do you approach performing music written by someone else?  Particularly if you’ve never met the composer…? 

Hmm. Meet the composer. If they’re dead, that’s hard to do without a decent seance, but luckily most of the people whose music we perform aren’t actually dead yet. Performing new music is a different thing to performing music by dead people; there’s normally a lot less freedom in interpretation, but similarly you get their creative input and they may bring insights that you haven’t had that make your performance far different to what you imagined before talking with them about it. Personally, I like interesting, new and creative things, and I dislike having to pay homage to a “canon” and a way of doing things. Received notions are the enemy of creativity, and the death of our dreams of a better way of things.


  1. What other projects do you have planned for 2017?

Tons of interesting stuff. Not telling! Big things, little things, weird things, complicated things, amazing things … just wait and see.

  1. If you could collaborate with any other performer in the world, ever, who would it be, and what would you perform?

I’m sure other people in the company would say other stuff to me. But I’ve always been transfixed by Jimi Hendrix and his ability to make beautiful/ugly music. God knows what we’d do. He’d probably hate me / us, but if we could occupy the same stage for a while we could maybe do something really intriguing. And noisy. Noisy is good. Sometimes.


  1. Concert halls and theatres are great places to perform as the facilities are all there for both the performer and the audience.  There are lots of other spaces that would be ideal for new music though…are there any of Scotland’s more unusual places that you would be keen to use for a performance?  Why?

I wouldn’t go quite as far as Boulez and say that All Opera Houses Should Be Burnt, but “proper” performance spaces are a mixed blessing as they are easily made as much places for the production of art as a means of excluding people who might otherwise want to see it. You have to work very, very hard to make concert halls and theatres in to inclusive public spaces rather than exclusive temples with walls to keep the undesirables and ill-informed out.

I’d like to see us working in much trickier public places like shopping centres, as well as produce more “sited” work that frames the event as an event as much as a performance on a stage – so anywhere spectacular, really. Top of Ben Nevis?


  1. Why do you think that it’s important to perform new music?

Because otherwise we only perform old music.


BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra shortlisted for Help Musicians UK Award for New Music Performers of the Year

February 25, 2017 in safnm2017 by mwhiteside

BBC SSO Players Group Shot with Thomas Dausgaard

Laura Samuel, Leader – BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

1.      You had a busy performing schedule in 2016 – what is it that is exciting about performing new music to an audience?

I think the BBC SSO is really associated with performing new music and that’s particularly taken off in the last few years with the Tectonics Glasgow festival. It feels that the audience is incredible loyal and open to all sorts of different things and it feels that you can almost chuck anything at them and they will still want to come and explore different things together. I think for us as an orchestra, Glasgow is an incredibly supportive environment to try new things. I feel we can invite different composers to write for the group and that always brings up totally different atmospheres and types of music.

2.      Was there a particular performance that stands out for you?

I really loved playing the Fennessy piece in the Old Fruitmarket as part of Tectonics in 2016. It was a strings only group, we were in a circle throwing musical ideas off each other and responding to each other. Within that the audience surrounded us and also they sat in the middle of us. So for us as performers that was incredibly intimate because we are used to having a front row quite close, but to be completely absorbed by people, front, back and sideways, whichever way you looked, it felt truly interactive. I think that’s what the composer was after.

3.      Obviously each project is different, but in general, how do you approach performing music written by someone else? Particularly if you have never met the composer?

It can be tricky because of course with a more conventional composer or someone with a great history of works that have been played you have an idea of their musical language. With new music there are often clues are in the score. If the composer has done their job very well and been very specific about what they want, you can approach it in the same way like you might do a Beethoven or Mozart symphony because articulation, sound and colours are often expressed. What we are so lucky to have at the BBC SSO is that often when someone writes us something they come and then work with us on it. It’s an incredibly exciting process and can make you completely change how think you should be interpreting something.

4.      Why do you think that it’s important to perform new music?

I think it’s totally crucial to perform new music in the same way it’s vital that people make new instruments and all those sorts of things. We are constantly based on performing things that are very old. Most of our output is things that have stood the test of time and lots of different people have tackled them and approached them in completely different ways. I think really truly excellent new music is brilliantly exciting on the first hearing but then has a life after that. It’s really exciting to think that particularly in this orchestra, with the BBC commissioning so many new works, that we played them first, but in 100 years they also might be performed by people like us who are also exploring new things. I think you have to appreciate that there’s not going to be the consistency of not always having something wonderful to play, but it’s always going to be interesting and stimulating.

5.      What other projects do you have planned for 2017?

To name a few.. Matthias Pintscher conducts a programme of Ligeti, Henze and Olga Neuwirth, the UK premiere of Langgaard’s Symphony No.6 with our Principal conductor Thomas Dausgaard, a day exploring Langgaard’s music and Tectonics Glasgow in May co-curated by Ilan Volkov and Alasdair Campbell.

Piano Concerto – Martin Suckling – Shortlisted for Large Scale Work sponsored by PRS for Music

February 24, 2017 in safnm2017 by mwhiteside

Martin Suckling

  1. How did the piece come about?

I am the Scottish chamber orchestra’s associate composer so I’ve been writing quite a lot of music for them over the past several years.  Robin Ticciati called me up about two years ago to say ‘Martin I’d like a big piece from you, maybe a piano concerto for Tom Poster’. That was over two years ago now and I’ve tried to figure out what a piano concerto could be. I eventually wrote this piece for them.


What is the most exciting or challenging aspect of writing for full orchestra?

One of the big challenges with writing this piece was, how do you write a contemporary concerto for this Mozartian orchestra?  It’s one of these genres that’s had an unbroken tradition for more than a hundred years…how can you find your own space within it? It’s terribly exciting, obviously, to write for players like Tom Poster and the SCO but to find your own creative space within that very traditional world was one of the big challenges for me writing this piece.


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

The piece I’m really looking forward to writing over the next 18 months is again for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and is part of their Armistice 2018 commemorations. It’s going to involve people from all over Scotland sending in recordings of bells from their local communities, which I’m going to use to make an electronic tapestry for the SCO to play a song over. We are going to use that basic material with the electronics to do lots of education and creative projects where people will be able to write their own pieces based on this material.


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

I don’t get to a great many concerts because I have two very young children but one concert I did get to was Stuart MacRae’s The Devil Inside when it came to Manchester and I found that thrilling. I was also really delighted to hear Helen’s orchestral pieces broadcast on the radio from the proms. They have been two of the highlights of the pieces I’ve heard over the last year.


What is the piece that you would most like to write?

It would be quite exciting to be involved in the first concert on the moon. I’m not sure of how you would deal with the logistics of it, but if we are going to set up a base there, that would be an interesting project to be involved in.

Fiona Robertson Festival Director of sound – Shortlisted for Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Award for Achievement in New Music

February 23, 2017 in safnm2017 by mwhiteside

Fiona Robertson








  1. How did sound come about to begin with?

Sound was created in 2004 by Pete Stollery from the University of Aberdeen and Mark Hope from Woodend Barn. There was little new music happening in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire and they wanted to find a solution to bring more innovative performances to the North East. I got involved with them immediately, and we did a pilot 4-day event in November 2004 called “Upbeat”. Following that we launched the first ever sound festival in 2005, and it has been an annual event ever since. 

  1. What were the highlights of the 2016 performances?

It’s always really difficult to choose highlights as there are so many varied events, and the artists and composers who take part give each soundfestival it’s unique feel. However, highlights for the team are often the concerts we have put the most time and effort into – and these tend to be our commissions. So this year, highlights were: our international project with Red Note, I Solisti del Vento (Belgium) and Song Circus (Norway) performing Andriessen’s De Staat, John de Simone’s The F Scale (world premiere) and Mauricio Kagel’s Der Tribun with Simon Callow narrating; pianist Rolf Hind’s tribute concert to Peter Maxwell Davies with new works celebrating the composer by Sally Beamish, Rolf Hind, Alasdair Nicolson and Gemma McGregor; Graham Fitkin’s new work Recur for harp and string quartet performed by Ruth Wall and the Sacconi Quartet; Bill Thompson’s Overland for organ, electronics, bagpipes, and cello; and Patricia Alessandrini’s Esquisses d’Artaud for voice, alto flute and live electronics. There were of course so many other highlights…

  1. Although the festival only takes place once a year, can you tell us a little about the year round impact of it?

Sound doesn’t just organize a festival, but organizes events and education work throughout the year. The festival is just one part of what we do, and the impact we want to achieve is to bring more new music to more people, and to give people opportunities wherever possible to participate. Both the festival and our other events contribute to this.

  1. What piece/project/performance did you see this year that you wished you had programmed or been involved in yourself?

I really wished I still (or ever?) played the viola well enough to take part in Andriessen’s De Staat. It was such an exciting performance, I’d have happily paid to be playing and not just listening!

  1. What is the project that you would most like to do?  The Dream Project…?

I’m not sure what the organisation’s dream project is apart from doing what we do better (and having lots of money to make that easier!). Personally I’d like to open and run a sort of Cove Park for contemporary composers and musicians…!


Ūhte – Henry McPherson / RCS (RCS / BBC Scotland) shortlisted for EVM Recorded New Work

February 22, 2017 in safnm2017 by mwhiteside

Henry McPherson

  1.     How did this recording come about?

I was approached in the summer of 2015 by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and asked to write a short opera, specifically for film, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the composition department’s contemporary music festival, PLUG, which would be taking place in 2016. I was overjoyed to find out that we’d be recording with the BBC SSO and Martyn Brabbins-  after a few weeks of rehearsals with the chorus and soloists, we launched into a one-morning recording session in City Halls (Glasgow). Post-mastering, we took the BBC recording and began the process of filming on site at Dumbarton for the visual side of the piece.


  1.     What were the challenges in recording this repertoire?

I think the first challenge was the time-frame. All our soloists and chorus members are students at the conservatoire, and are constantly either rehearsing for or performing in some kind of work pretty much all the time. We had a very condensed rehearsal process, which I know for the singers, most of whom had little experience of recording contemporary music beforehand, was certainly challenging. For myself and Ray also, pulling together a work with so many people involved in a matter of a few months was certainly intense!

I think the most prominent challenge, however, actually came in the filming process, not in the audio recording. We debated long and hard about how to film the singers on site – whether they would lip sync, sing live, etc. In the end we settled for a combination of both – with the majority lip sync’d save for a few sections of spoken material towards the end of the piece. This was a massive challenge for the singers; syncing to their own recorded voices take after take must have been exhausting, not to mention incredibly difficult! However, they pulled it off in spades. I’m really incredibly grateful for the immense amount of work which everyone put in to making the project a success.


  1.     This must have been a very intense project to have been involved in – what was it that made it special for you?

Firstly, I think it was seeing my concept come to life not just in the concert hall but on screen. I thought for quite a while about the story of the piece – I considered setting a few short-stories, a couple of older texts I know also, but in the end devised the scene myself. I then took this to Ray and he derived the screenplay from my sketches – the visual story of the piece really belongs to him, I feel that I did a lot of scene setting, musically, but I was keen that the story-line really came from his end, as director. Seeing that world come alive was really quite magical.

I think the most special part, however, was the attitude of everyone involved. Moving from the concert hall to the set was amazing. Aside from the constant supply of hot coffee (much appreciated in December weather), the buzz on set was incredible. Everybody was committed, even though the soloists and other cast members sometimes had to wait for hours to film a very brief take. I cannot reiterate enough times how touched I was that everybody invested so much time, and fully committed themselves to the spirit of the project. That to me is what true collaboration is, and I certainly felt something special at the premiere, knowing how many people had been involved, especially behind the camera.


  1.     Who are the upcoming Scottish composers to watch?

Now that’s a tough question. Honestly, I really have to point to those young composers studying in the composition dept. at the RCS. Every year young composers from across the world enter the department, and every year incredible new work gets produced. The students aren’t phased really by anything! Last year a bunch of us wrote for the Ensemble Modern – which was an honour and delight. Even working with such a prestigious ensemble, the students’ attitude was one of complete dedication to the performance, and to the propagation of new music in Scotland, regardless of their ethnic or cultural backgrounds. They’ve chosen to study here, and they clearly are producing a varied and colourful body of work. I suppose I may be slightly biased (!), but I really think the young composers at the RCS, and those who’ve graduated, deserve a mention.


  1.     What other recordings (from other performers/labels) have you heard this year that you found exciting and inspiring?

Barbara Hannigan’s recording of Abrahamsen’s “Let me tell you” from 2016, which I heard recently. Absolutely astonishing performance and piece. I was incredibly moved by the coming together of the text and music, and the expression that Hannigan brings to the work is beyond good. I think it’s one of the best pieces of recent years, and the recording certainly does it justice.


  1.     What is the piece that you would most like to record?

I’m writing a string quartet at the moment, which is becoming a very personal piece, so at some point I’d love to have that performed and recorded. Also, there are some beautiful piano portraits written by Mats Lidström which focus on six prominent women from history. As a pianist, I’d love to sit and record them too.


Wagner’s School of Cool – Lewis Forbes and Drake Music Scotland. Shortlisted for Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Award for Community / Education Project

February 21, 2017 in safnm2017 by mwhiteside

1.     How did the project come about?
Drake Music Scotland’s Artistic Director Pete Sparkes and Lewis Forbes, who was previously one of our Associate Musicians, came up with the idea together.  We were planning our  Edinburgh schools project in special schools and thinking about how we could use Wagner’s ‘Ride of theValkyries’ theme, which was one of the BBC Ten Pieces.  The aim of Ten Pieces is to ‘open up the world of classical music to the next generation’ and the way you can do it is wide open, you’re free to be as creative as you want to be.  The idea occurred that for our secondary-age pupils using jazz techniques and instrumentation could be a good way in to exploring the Wagnerian characters and their sound world. It seemed an unlikely juxtaposition but in fact it worked really well.  We commissioned Lewis to write a new work keeping in mind what he knew from experience the pupils could achieve and bringing the various technologies we use together with electronic instruments and the forces of Edinburgh Schools Jazz Ensemble. He came up with 3 movements written to meet the capabilities of all young musicians involved: Lullaby of Valhalla, Brunhilde’s Stomp, and Siegfried’s School of Cool. Sketch 2016-02-29 12_53_11

2.     What made this project special?
What makes it special is that it beautifully exploits the creative potential of these technologies, which give access to playing instrumental music to pupils with physical disabilities and limited movement.  But the work moves beyond just enabling the pupils to play in an inclusive ensemble, towards embracing the wide sonic and improvisational possibilities of the technology.  Like the Soundbeam for example – an ultrasonic movement sensor – with a small hand or foot movement it can blare out a whole brass section by itself.  It’s amazing what you can do with an iPad with the Thumbjam app – when swiped or  strummed it can produce a shimmering cascade of sound,  or switches that can be triggered by a gentle touch including the squeezable Skoog.  Fit all of these into a score and it means that pupils with significant additional support needs can play alongside their peers on an equal footing.  We also use the very accessible Figurenotes notation which means even pupils with learning difficulties and autism can learn to read music and play conventional instruments.  (See sketch for stage plan with instrumentation attached).
3.     What other projects do you have on the go at the moment?
Since Wagner’s School of Cool was such as success, we have commissioned Lewis again for this year and we’re currently rehearsing ‘Jazz Jigsaw’ – again with ESJO – which will be performed at the Queen’s Hall Edinburgh on 15th March.  We’ve also been successful in a bid to PRS for Music Foundation funds to commission Scottish composer Sonia Allori to work on a new piece ‘Lost & Found’ based on experiences of people who like her have had a stroke, and in some cases lost – and regained – the capacity for speech.  She will be working with the Strokeness group which is based near her in the Highlands.  We are preparing for the Easter course of our flagship ensemble the Digital Orchestra who devise their own new music – this time collaborating with electro-acoustic violinist Ian Peaston. The Digital Orchestra are also going to be working with NYOS and Oliver Searle later in the year.  As usual we’re working on a variety of creative projects in special schools in partnership with local authorities around the country and plans to celebrate our 20th anniversary next year.
4.     Who are the upcoming Scottish composers to watch?
Of course as you might expect the composers we would mention as ones to watch are disabled composers such as Sonia Allori, Clare Johnston, Amble Skuse, Kris Halpin (who works with Drake Music in England)  – and would love to hear from any others.

5.     What is the project that you would most like to do?  The Dream Project…?
We are already working with Sir James MacMillan as part of his Cumnock Tryst festival with pupils from a special school in Cumnock working regularly with Matilda Brown to create new work each year, which is amazing and we hope this relationship will continue.  We would love to do something more in the rock/pop/electronica area with the Digital Orchestra that would push the limits of what they can do using their digital devices – maybe triggering some fantastic visual effects at the same time?  The possibilities are endless – we’re open to ideas.

The Devil Inside – Stuart MacRae (with libretto by Louise Welsh) – Shortlisted Large Scale Work sponsored by PRS for Music

February 20, 2017 in safnm2017 by mwhiteside

Stuart MacRae

  1. How did the piece come about?

Louise Welsh and I had started working together on Scottish Opera’s Five:15 project, writing Remembrance Day, followed a few years later by Ghost Patrol. When Scottish Opera asked us to come up with an idea for a new, full-length opera, we tried out a few ideas but none of them felt exactly right. Then Louise suggested basing our story on The Bottle Imp by Robert Louis Stevenson – a story Louise had known well since childhood, but which was new to me. I loved the mixture of magic and the ever-present threat of damnation with the very real human dilemmas and emotions of the main character – all of this seemed perfect for the operatic medium, with a few adjustments: for our opera we expanded on these experiences and emotions by spreading them among the main characters and revealing them through their interactions, which effectively meant re-writing the story, particularly in the second half. We also updated the setting to the present day and made a completely new ending which brings the drama to its highest point just before the final curtain.

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

Louise and I are working on a new idea together…also I’ve just written a new piece commissioned by Enterprise Music Scotland for soprano Alison McNeill and guitarist Sasha Savaloni, and The Lammermuir Festival has commissioned a piano trio for this year’s festival.

3. Who are the upcoming Scottish composers to watch?

There are so many! I can’t single anyone out as there’s a wealth of composing talent in Scotland, both young and older, and I’ve had the good fortune to be a teacher or mentor to some of them.

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

I went to see the revival of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin at the Royal Opera House recently and was deeply impressed. Who knows if it will stand the test of time? But for now it’s a great, subtle and very moving work, and it rewrites a lot of the rules of opera without, you know, becoming something other than an opera, which often happens.

5. What is the piece that you would most like to write?

This changes all the time – often, as now, it is the piece I am working on! But I have one big project in mind, for voices and instruments, that plans are coming together for, so hopefully we’ll be seeing that in a few years. I’ve also wanted to write a clarinet concerto and a piano concerto for quite a while; but I don’t think about them too much until I know they’re happening.


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

February 19, 2017 in safnm2017 by mwhiteside

Alasdair Nicolson

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


  1. How did the piece come about?

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


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

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


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

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


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

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




Ilan Volkov and Alasdair Campbell – Shortlisted for Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Award for Achievement in New Music

February 18, 2017 in safnm2017 by mwhiteside

We talk to Ilan Volkov and Alasdair Campbell about their work in the run up to the first Scottish Awards for New Music.

Ilan Volkov (IV)

  1. How did the Tectonics come about to begin with?

IV For years i wished for an event that would combine my love for classical new music to other musics and finally in 2012 the first Tectonics Festival happened in Reykjavik with Iceland Symphony. Since then there have been 18 events in many cities around the world.

AC  Ilan contacted me about doing it in Glasgow with the BBC SSO with my role to work closely with the BBC SSO, with the local artists that were involved and to work with him on the balance of the programme between the orchestral world and the more out there experimental practitioners.

Alisdair Campbell AC

  1. What were the highlights of the 2016 performances

AC The whole thing is one big highlight. It is hard to tear it a part but Alvin Curran’s jamboree of sound and spectacle, Musique Sans Frontieres, was something special. Nate Young’s piece with the orchestra with Ilan heading out in to the crowd with his shaker. David Fennesy’s Hirta Rounds was sublime as David’s work always is. Always hearing John Tilbury play. Andy Moor’s piece on the rings of hell and meeting Annea Lockwood.

IV for me it was  firstly Alvin Curran’s large scale piece for amateur brass bands, bagpipers and orchestra. And Ande Somby amazing solo vocal performance was a truly moving moment.

  1. You are both involved in a lot of other projects throughout the year – can you give us a quick summary of these?

IV besides conducting various orchestras in mainstream repertoire I also premiere quite a few pieces.A special two days this year will be playing at the Venice Bienalle in the french pavillion with 2 friends from Israel.

AC Most of the year I spend organising my festival Counterflows with Fielding Hope which is now on its sixth edition. I also have a residency series to support artists to develop ideas. I also develop new commissions and projects. So this year will see the fruition of a project with Mark Fell exploring South Indian carnatic traditions. The project will be premiered at Counterflows this year and will then tour to Kolkata, Chennai and Fort Cochin in India in the Autumn and involves India musicians as well as UK artists.

  1. What piece/project/performance did you see this year that you wished you had programmed or been involved in yourself?

AC The Supernormal festival in Braziers Park was a wonderful experience with Asiq Nargile a very special moment. The whole festival has a great spirit.

IV Mike Huckaby Reel-To-Reel performance in a place called a Teder in Tel Aviv.Totally amazing set!

5. What is the project that you would most like to do?  The Dream Project…?


AC I’m doing them now. And for me each new project is the next dream.

IV Hoping for a Tectonics like residency where many of the artists we work with develop and create new work and new collaborations begin.


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