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The appearance of a CD featuring one’s orchestral music represents a significant marker in the life of any composer. And I must first express my gratitude to the players of the RTE National Symphony Orchestra and to the conductor Gavin Maloney for the work they have done in performing and recording these works. They have done such an excellent job that I am in the uncomfortable position of knowing that if the CD fails to please, I have only myself to blame.

Three works from 13 years: North (1998), Four Orchestral Pieces (2007) and Symphony (2011). The CD accounts for a large part of my development as a composer. And it marks some wider developments that affect all composers. One example: North is among my last hand-copied scores. Everything since 2000 has been typed, and my students stare at the hundred closely written A3 pages of this work as they would at a medieval manuscript.

North was my first substantial orchestral work after writing three chamber operas in quick succession. And I think the musicologist Hilary Bracefield was correct to say that the work shows the influence of my music for the theatre. I like to think that the music is more direct than what I had done with the orchestra up until then: there are less second thoughts in media res; the gestures are delivered with greater force and decisiveness.

Four Orchestral Pieces, an RTE commission, accumulated over three years. It is physically the largest and most intricate of these scores, and uses a big orchestra including upwards of six percussionists. Its two outer movements are the most extended and are scored for the whole ensemble. The second piece, Slåttar (recording | score) is a reworking of a piece for solo double bass which was my tribute to hardanger fiddle music and specifically to Grieg’s great piano Slåtter op. 72. I took great care in rethinking the piece for strings and timpani, and still feel some pride in the result. The third piece, Tubilustrium, is my tribute to Minna Keal (1909-19990), a very fine composer who was a good friend. The last movement is a scherzo in many varied sections but with a cor anglais tune as the unifying element.

And last, but I hope not least, comes a Symphony. This seemed the next logical step, though I balked at the scope of the undertaking and made a few false starts. It is the piece that I have least to say about. In American politics the saying goes that when you are explaining you are losing. A Symphony that you have to talk much about has already failed.

To the listener this CD will inevitably represent the present state of play in my music generally. To me it is already an historical document that tells of struggles long engaged in and territory departed from or simply abandoned.

In this at least all composers are united: we are compelled to think and work forwards. For the working composer, the past recedes very quickly.

 

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