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In May 1999 Warwick and Leamington Festival asked if I would compose a work for soprano and 8 cellos, the instrumental combination memorably used by Villa-Lobos in his Bachianas Brazileiras no.5. I began to think and dream about the sound of the grouping, which itself seemed to conjure up the world of dreams-cellos effortlessly evoking the surreal landscape of the unconscious, through which a woman walks, singing wordlessly with closed eyes, like a painting by Fuseli or Delvaux.
As it begins she lies in a deep untroubled sleep (Tranquillo). Images of childhood (Allegretto) give way to memories of a great occasion -perhaps a marriage? (Maestoso). A crazily-animated helter-skelter of notes suggests laughter and gaiety, yet with fears and dangers (Vivace). There is a memory of tragic , yearning love (Adagio) but the memory is broken by nightmare images of vengeance and death (Allegro Furioso). There is a waking moment, then return and sleep (Tranquillo).
John Bradshaw in The Birmingham Post wrote of the first performance: '... Sleepwalking describes in its seven continuous movements a world of dreams in which a woman moves from deep sleep (depicted by an eerie, unearthly sound created through the use of harmonics) through a series of episodes, half-forgotten memories and a brief wakefulness, returning at last in a final movement to sleep. The 12-minute work is technically demanding and Blake uses to wonderful effect the dark rich sonority of the ensemble to suggest night and the woman's hazy dreams...a marvellous and evocative work.'
This new arrangement for Soprano, cello and piano was created in response to a request by Gillian Humphries for a work to feature in a concert of young Concordia Foundation prize-winners at the Wigmore Hall on 11th February 2010, which will be the first performance of the piece in this instrumentation
|2nd October 2016
- 3rd October 2016
|Nicolas Dautricourt(violin), Lech Uszynsky (viola), Benedict Kloeckner (cello), Edicson Ruiz (double-bass), Howard Blake (piano), Sophie Witte (solo soprano), Internationales Musikfestival Koblenz
Sunday 2nd October, 21.00 pm - late-evening concert
[Notes by the composer]
A work for soprano, cello and piano
The work's title is also the title of this late-night concert -'Sleepwalking', the European premiere of a work for soprano vocalise, solo cello and piano. It conjures up the world of dreams, evoking the surreal landscape of the unconscious through which a woman walks, singing wordlessly with closed eyes like a painting by Fuseli or Delvaux. As it begins she lies in a deep untroubled sleep (Tranquillo). Images of childhood (Allegretto) give way to memories of a great occasion -perhaps a marriage? (Maestoso). A crazily-animated helter-skelter of notes suggests laughter and gaiety, yet with fears and dangers (Vivace). There is a memory of tragic , yearning love (Adagio) but the memory is broken by nightmare images of vengeance and death (Allegro Furioso). There is a waking moment, then a return to sleep (Tranquillo).
Monday 3rd October 5.00pm - Farewell concert
Fantasy for Piano Quintet and soprano
The world-premiere performance of a new Piano Quintet, for violin, viola, cello, double-bass and piano with solo soprano, commissioned by The International Music Festival Koblenz as a companion-piece to the great Quintet 'Die Forelle' by Schubert and having the same instrumentation. The material is adapted from the music for 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' originally composed by Howard Blake for the Royal Shakespeare Company's feature-film of Shakespeare's play (1995) and this performance also celebrates the 400th anniversary of the Bard (1616-2016) It is in 13 linked movements:
|11th January 2010||Soloists from The Concordia Foundation, Wigmore Hall
With the support of the Worshipful Company of Musicians
Beethoven, Dvořák, Peterson-Berger, Berg, Schumann, Wolf and Blake Beethoven: 7 Variations on Mozart’s Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen (1801) Dvořák: Rondo, op.94 (1893) Wilhelm Peterson-Berger: Three Songs Alban Berg: Sieben Frühe Lieder (1905/1908) Schumann: 5 Stücke im Volkston, op.102 (1849) Wolf: 12 Songs from the Italienisches Liederbuch (1890/1896) Howard Blake: Sleepwalking, op.599 (2009)
Julia Sporsén – soprano; Ashok Klouda – cello; Joseph Middleton – piano
Wigmore Hall, London: 11 January 2010
Unlike so many young artist concerts in London, this one actually had all the performers working together, a welcome change from the more usual two separate programmes.
Ashok Klouda played Beethoven in a very suave way – who would have thought that was possible ? – relishing the jokes, there are a lot of them here, and giving full rein to the lyrical impulse. The Dvořák Rondo is a lovely throw-away piece of fluff and our player, by enjoying himself, truly entertained his audience. The Schumann Pieces in Folk Style came across, oddly, as the most serious of the three cello works. Yet, Klouda found a rich vein of lyricism and profundity I’d never noticed before. His playing was big and audacious and the emboldened playing lifted this somewhat slight piece into another realm.
Julia Sporsén is not only the possessor of a fine voice, she fully understands how to shade her instrument, and what vocal colour is required for whatever she is singing. The three songs by her compatriot Peterson-Berger - a comedy, a nocturne and a drama – were perfectly placed. Likewise the Alban Berg songs, seven very difficult and uneasy settings of various German poets in an early expressionistic style which leaves little for the singer to do except sing. Sporsén managed to break the unrelieved romantic torpor with some flashes of insight into loss and longing. The selection of Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch showed her off to good effect, a soprano with a powerful and fruitily rich chest register which she used to good effect from time to time.
Pianist Joseph Middleton was with both his partners in every bar, helping to highlight their performances but never remaining in the background as an apology for a pianist; a fine and intelligent musician. But although the Wigmore Hall is not a large auditorium, when using the full stick the piano canmake a big sound against which the cello doesn’t stand a chance! * I don’t believe that this can be properly gauged from the stage.**
To end a real treat - the première of a new piece by Howard Blake, commissioned for the three musicians. Sleepwalking takes us from restful sleep and sweet dreams, through a nightmare world of undisguised strangeness and scarey monsters back to the sleep of the innocent. It’s a 12 minute vocalise (an arrangement of an earlier piece for soprano and eight cellos) which works well with a single cello and piano. A stunning show well appreciated by the Monday night audience risking the poor weather.
* q.v. - - the sound of his piano, on the short stick, was trapped and buried under its lid. Trumpeter Alison Balsom explained to me that this set-up was used because she has a problem 'hearing herself' play in Wigmore Hall with the lid fully open; I have always remembered Szymon Goldberg, at a violin master-class I attended in 1957, memorably insisting that pianos should never be put on short stick.
** agreed ! - - Takacs quartet's unique rehearsal technique, with three members of the quartet on stage playing, whilst a fourth (ringing the changes) listened and commented. No detail escaped their scrutiny [Editor]
Bob Briggs, Musical Pointers, 11/1/2010