Rhinegold Photo credit: Ivan Rérat
Christian Marclay

Lucy Thraves


Premieres: November’s new music

8:30, 1st November 2018

‘Being the composer-in-residence is a strange thing for me, because I don’t necessarily consider myself a composer,’ Christian Marclay (pictured) explains. He prefers the term ‘artist’ because ‘it’s more all-encompassing. An artist can be anything.’ Nevertheless, composer-in-residence is how Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (hcmf//) are framing Marclay’s billing, which will bring a world premiere and a number of UK premieres to venues around the town throughout November.

Marclay’s background is in visual art; his work typically explores connections between sound and image, unity and fragmentation. (A good example of this is his acclaimed installation ‘The Clock’, a functioning time piece rendered in snippets of film, which is currently on at the Tate Modern.) He cites Cage as an influence – especially ‘the chance and randomness’ associated with the earlier composer’s artistic philosophy.

His new work, Investigations, employs these principles in spades. The score doesn’t specify the number of performers, but in this case, Marclay explains, ‘Huddersfield were able to find 20 pianos; we thought that was a good number.’ He continues, ‘It’s very much about engaging performers in the process of making the music. Each of the musicians will receive a box of 100 images and they will have to decipher each one. The idea is for them to imagine what sound was heard just prior to or just after the picture was taken.

‘During the performance each musician performs independently from the others – there’s no conductor. The result is very random – short sound events all performed on the piano, which will randomly overlap. I let each performer make their own decisions in terms of when to play and how to play. It questions the dynamic between the composer, the performer and the listener. Traditionally that triangle is very defined but I’m more interested in loosening it up.’

Crucially, no two performances of Investigations will be the same. This is important to Marclay, whose belief in the power of the live event is at the core of his work. ‘Live music is for people, and it is about people,’ he says. ‘It’s all about the interaction and the social event.’

He is aware that his work will challenge some audiences’ understanding of traditional concert-going, and suggests that in this instance the music world could take a leaf out of the art world’s book. ‘When I present music to the art audience, they tend to be open to it. They don’t think it’s crazy, they just think, “This is interesting”. They come to it with no expectation, or with an appreciation that because it’s art it’s got to be different and shocking. But I don’t know who the audience will be in Huddersfield but I think one goes to that kind of festival with an open mind.’


Christian Marclay, Investigations (Huddersfield Town Hall, 4pm)



© Richard Hedger
© Richard Hedger

17 Nov: Pianist Zubin Kanga (pictured) performs three world premieres for piano and makeshift instruments, such as magnetic resonators, cameras, and live editing from the public.

20 Nov: Young musicians from Kirklees and Calderdale perform premieres untroubled light and Melt written especially for them.

20 Nov: Flemish theatre group Muziektheater Transparent present Harriet, a monodrama depicting the life of 18th century abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Music by Hilda Paredes.




Composer Ben See describes his experience of the #AdoptAComposer scheme, which pairs emerging composers with community music groups.

I’ve been ‘adopted’ by an orchestra, and it is brilliant!

The #AdoptAComposer scheme aims to create a partnership where composers expand their horizons and take on a new challenge, while the musicians get to work directly with a composer on a bespoke piece of music.

I was adopted by Stoneleigh Youth Orchestra (SYO), and after nine months together our collaboration is nearing the final chapter. We have a performance date (16 December) which is the moment the whole project has been building towards. The concert will include two new pieces we’ve written together and will also be recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in January 2019 – so the heat is on!

My background is in vocal music, and most of my work as a composer involves singing into a loop-machine or collaborating with choirs. I applied to take part in the #AdoptAComposer scheme because I wanted to challenge myself and push my music into new ground. That said, I was a bit surprised when the pairings were announced and I found I would be writing for a huge orchestra of over 150 players!

SYO is split into two groups: the training orchestra (TO), and the main orchestra (MO). The musicians in the TO are younger and less experienced, but their sound is bursting with enthusiasm and full of personality. The main orchestra is an impressive vehicle! Age is no barrier – the players are ambitious and talented. The MO perform all of the big orchestral works to an incredibly high standard, and these young musicians have exciting futures ahead of them.

ben see cropWhen I’m writing a piece of vocal music I always start with the words, and I thought I’d apply a similar approach to this collaboration. In my first workshop with the TO we wrote some words together. We then turned those words into shapes, and eventually those shapes became the basis of a short musical phrase. We had some brilliant words to get us started (and some funny ones too) but the players were at their most creative when those words became musical phrases. At the end of the afternoon I had loads of neat little riffs to play around with, and the beginnings of a piece. I had also been exposed to the TO’s collective love for break-time biscuits!

My composition for the TO is called We Want. When I first met the orchestra I asked them to tell me what they wanted from the collaboration, a young violinist immediately responded with, ‘We want to be heard’. It stayed with me. We Want balances the everyday things that young people want (like biscuits) with bigger-picture feelings about being taken seriously. In this age of referendums and climate change do young people have a strong enough voice?

My first challenge when working with the MO was to find a way to harvest their ideas and create a channel for communication. I started a ‘composing committee’ with members of the orchestra. I put together a questionnaire for them to take to their respective sections in an attempt to learn a bit more about each performer. The results of the questionnaire were unsurprisingly a real mixture. If I wanted my piece to reflect SYO then it needed to embrace the diversity of interests and talents. I decided that the final piece needed to allow players to bring elements of their own character to the music.

I prepared a ‘music map’ for each section. This was a short passage of scored material surrounded by a series of possibilities. The players had to respond to the instructions in their own style. The idea was to draw out as much of their personality as possible, and encourage them to put their own stamp on the material. It was a challenging exercise, but everyone responded well and there were some brilliant, inventive and unexpected results.

My composition for the MO is called fingerprintplurals. The piece carries forward the musical themes from We Want but the players take the material in lots of different directions. There are elements of improvisation and sections which are open to interpretation. The score pushes the orchestra to make decisions and shape the piece in their own image, by doing so making it their own.

I’m so grateful to all of the players for being imaginative, daring and getting stuck in. It has been a blast, and I’m so excited to hear these pieces come alive. I would also like to thank Dan Shilladay and Rob Hodge (the conductors) for being so supportive, and all of the team behind SYO for making it happen. I couldn’t have been adopted by a better bunch!

Ben See


Ben See, Stoneleigh Youth Orchestra, fingerprintplurals; We Want (Stoneleigh Youth Orchestra, Hammersmith Town Hall, London, 6.30pm)


World premieres unless otherwise stated.


James MacMillan Trombone Concerto UK prem (Peter Moore, trombone, London Symphony Orchestra, Gianendrea Noseda, conductor, Barbican Hall, London, 7.30pm)


Paweł Szymanski New work (BBC Symphony Orchestra, Michał Nesterowicz, conductor, Barbican, 7.30pm)

Andrew Carvel Everyone Sang (Children’s voices, Choir of St Andrew’s and St George’s West, Chamber Orchestra, Brigitte Harris, conductor, St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church, Edinburgh, 7pm)


Martin Suckling Meditation (after Donne) (Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Nicolas Altstaet, conductor, Younger Hall, University of St Andrews; also 8 November, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh; 9 November, City Halls, Glasgow)


Nico Muhly The Last Letter (orchestral version) (Jonathan McGovern, baritone, Britten Sinfonia, Thomas Gould, leader/director, Barbican, 7.30pm)


Magnus Lindberg Triumph to exist (London Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Festival Hall, London, 7.30pm)


Roderick Williams New work UK prem (BBC Singers, Sofi Jeannin, conductor, Psappha Ensemble, Milton Court, 3pm)

Concerto for pedal piano UK prem (Roberto Prosseda, pedal piano, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Oleg Caetani, conductor, Royal Festival Hall, 7.30pm)

Olga Neuwirth Film music for The City Without Jews UK prem (Ensemble PHACE, Nacho de Paz, conductor, Milton Court, London, 7.30pm)


Franco Donatoni Refrain II UK prem (Philharmonia Orchestra players, Tonino Battista, conductor, Royal Festival Hall, 6pm)

Olga Neuwirth Score for Die Stadt ohne Juden UK prem (PHACE Ensemble, Nacho de Paz, conductor, Milton Court, 7.30pm)

Patrick John Jones The Vanity of Small DifferencesSamuel Messer StrayGeorge Stevenson Algol (Psappha Ensemble, St Michael’s, Manchester, 7.30pm)


Christian Marclay To Be Continued UK prem (EnsemBle baBel, Bates Mill Blending Shed, Huddersfield)


Amy Bryce This is the House That Man Built (Scordatura, SJE Arts, Oxford, 7.30pm)

Scott McLaughlin In the unknown there is already a script for transcendence; Nicole Lizée Scorcese Etudes; Christopher Fox Five characters in search of a form (Zubin Kanga, piano, Nicholas Moroz, electronics, Huddersfield, 4pm)


Christian Marclay Investigations (Town Hall, Huddersfield, 4pm)

Solfa Carlile Between Sea and Sky; Toby Young Greek Love Songs (Exultate Singers, St George’s Bristol, 6pm)

David Sawer Caravanserai (Claire Booth, soprano, Marie Chrstinie Zupancic, flute, Stefan Asbury, conductor, CBSO Centre, Birmingham, 4pm)


Eleanor Cully untroubled light; Callum Dewar Melt (Musica Youth Orchestra, Kirklees & Calderdale Music Trust, Huddersfield, 5.45pm)


Paola Prestini Reflection on Palestrina’s ‘Fratres ego enim accepi’; Julia Adolphe Pater Noster (ORA Singers, Suzi Digby, conductor, St John’s Smith Square, London, 7.30pm)


Nico Muhly Old Bones (new arrangement) (Iestyn Davies, countertenor, Sally Pryce, harp, Aurora Orchestra, Kings Place, 7.30pm)


RSNO Composers’ Hub 17/18 winner New work Gary Carpenter Ghost Songs (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Thomas Søndergård, conductor, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 7.30pm)


Eric Wetherell Missa Brevis (All Saints Church, East Finchley, London, 10am)


Camille Pepin
The Road Not Taken (Magdalena Geka, violin, Angele Legasa, cello, Pauline Chenais, piano, Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 7.45pm)


Pascal Dusapin At Swim-Two-Birds UK prem (Viktoria Mullova, violin, Matthew Barley, cello, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, conductor, Royal Festival Hall, 7.30pm)


Philip Glass Piano concerto no. 3 Steve Reich Music for ensemble and orchestra UK prems (Simone Dinnerstein, piano, London Symphony Orchestra, Kristjan Järvi, conductor, Barbican, 7.30pm)


Jonathan Dove Sunshine UK prem (BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Geoffrey Paterson, conductor, BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, 2pm)

Cheryl Frances-Hoad Last Man Standing (Marcus Farnsworth, baritone, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins, conductor, Barbican, 7.30pm)

Paul Mealor Symphony No 3 ‘Illumination’ (BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Geoffrey Paterson, conductor, BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, 2pm)

Kevin Puts Silent Night UK prem (Opera North, Orchestra of Opera North, Chorus of Opera North, Royal Northern College of Music ChorusNicholas Kok, conductor, Leeds Town Hall, 7pm; also 2, 6, 7 December)


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