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.