Rhinegold Photo credit: Kayleigh Allenby
Deborah Pritchard

Katy Wright

Deputy Editor, Classical Music

Premieres: October’s new music

9:00, 1st October 2016

The Heart of the Wood is something of a departure from Deborah Pritchard’s recent work. Whereas the depiction of water in paintings by Hughie O’Donoghue and Maggi Hambling inspired Waves and Waterfalls and Wall of Water, her new piece is inspired by the greens and browns which dominate George Shaw’s exhibition My Back to Nature.

The colour palette chosen by an artist is of particular significance to Pritchard; a synaesthetic composer, she relates colour to musical intervals – ‘specifically, the space between the notes’. In this case, though, the colours featured in Shaw’s work also contributed towards her choice of instruments, with ‘the sharpness of the trumpet, the percussive sound of the piano and the earthy strings’ seeming particularly fitting. The relationship between art and music works both ways: Pritchard paints as part of her composition process. ‘As I create a work, I tend to paint my own music. There’s a very visual element to what I do.’

Pritchard acknowledges that the earthy colours challenged her in a new way. ‘There was something about George’s work that made me think, “This is something new”. It wasn’t just about the colour – it was also about the narrative and meaning. I really thought I could engage with how his paintings reflected on the myths and legends of trees and forests.’ She emphasises that the art was only the beginning: ‘You always have to let the music breathe in its own way. The colour is the starting point but you come away from it to think about the sounds and the instruments.’

When she met the painter, they discussed the similarities between control of intervals in music and control of colour. ‘He told me that he only uses seven colours, which I found absolutely fascinating – you rarely see purple or turquoise in his work. I resonated with that, because as a synaesthetic composer I have very strict control over intervals. When I was younger, I spent hours working with one interval until I needed another.’

Pritchard explains that she was very much taken with Shaw’s idea that the forest can be a site of transformation, and even of transgression. ‘The woods are always where something happens,’ she says. ‘You can hide away and do something secret; it’s like you’re protected by the trees. There’s this enchantment which really engages with being human.’

There are three main sections to the piece. ‘The first is really about the imagery of trees and this mighty forest growing up from the roots, led by the piano, constantly rising, creating a really powerful image.’ Pritchard describes the middle section as ‘a moment of beauty where everything stops – like the sunlight comes in to the darkness and reveals something beautiful.’

Pritchard explains that this section has further significance. Shaw was inspired by Constable’s Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds, which depicts a monument in a forest clearing in which a stag is present. ‘The title of the piece is a double meaning. Hart means stag, which is symbolic of Christ. Perhaps this moment is spiritual – like the light isn’t of this earth.’ This connotation lends additional meaning to the section, and the piece as a whole: Pritchard says that she thinks of the trumpet as being linked to something spiritual and other-worldly, and the piano as more grounded.

The final section revisits the beginning, but from a different perspective, altering the relationship between piano and trumpet. ‘I quite liked the idea of my piece being in the shape of a tree – starting from the lower register, branches moving up as if to embrace something heavenly and then descending again.’

28 OCTOBER
Deborah Pritchard The Heart of the Wood (Clare Hammond, piano, Simon Desbruslais, trumpet, English String Orchestra, Kenneth Woods, conductor, Middleton Hall, Hull, 7.30pm)

This premiere has been postponed until 2017. This page will be updated with the concert details when confirmed.


Nico Muhly’s new work was ‘as simple a commission as anything could ever be’, thanks to his friendship with pianist Charles Owen. ‘I’ve known Charles for a very long time, he and I had long dreamt of doing something together. One day he said he was doing this thing for two pianos which would be the perfect opportunity!’

Good friends: Nico Muhly with Charles Owen
Good friends: Nico Muhly with Charles Owen

Fast Patterns was written for the inaugural London Piano Festival, which Owen co-founded with Katya Apekisheva, and will receive its premiere at a two-piano gala. Muhly had never written for the medium before, but describes it as one of his favourite forms of music, citing the broad range of repertoire which encompasses four-hand reductions.

Clocking in at less than five minutes, the piece is ‘like a relay race’, with semiquavers almost all the way through. Muhly says he enjoyed exploring whether the perpetual motion material was purely ‘machine music’ or whether it was melodic in nature. ‘It was a good challenge – I think I did a bit of both.’

The piece also plays with listeners’ expectations and their sense of time- ‘For me it’s very exciting in a five-minute piece to pretend like you’re never going to have bass notes until a certain point. What does it mean when they come in? What’s the effect? I was also really interested in having a lot of moments where two pianos were playing at the same pitch, but one at the beginning of a phrase and the other at the end of a phrase. There’s a lot of filigree that focuses towards a particular point, which becomes the starting point for another batch of filigree, and it can ether feel like there’s continuity or that these moments are crazy pivots. I had fun!’

8 OCTOBER
Nico Muhly 
Fast Patterns (Charles Owen, Katya Apekisheva, piano, Kings Place, 7.30pm)


1 OCTOBER
Sally Beamish The Tempest (Birmingham Hippodrome 1-8 October; Sadler’s Wells 13-15 October; Sunderland Empire 20-22 October; Theatre Royal, Plymouth 27-29 October)
Howard Moody PUSH (De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, 3.30pm, 7.30pm; also 8 October, St Mary’s Church, Battle, 7.30pm)

6 OCTOBER
Hannah Kendall The Knife of Dawn (Eric Greene, baritone, Juice Vocal Ensemble, Vicky Lester, harp, Mandhira de Saram, violin, Clifton Harrison, viola, Zoë Martlew, cello, Rebecca Miller, conductor, Sackler Space, Roundhouse, London, 8pm)

7 OCTOBER
Peter Dickinson A Rag for McCabe Jeremy Pike A Forsaken Garden David Matthews Chaconne William Marshall Little Passacaglia Francis Brown Evening Changes John Joubert Exequy Robin Walker And will you walk beside me down the lane? (John Turner, recorder, Linda Merrick, clarinet, Sarah-Jane Bradley, viola, Nathan Williamson, piano, Mark Bebbington, piano, Holy Trinity Church, Blythburgh, 4pm)

8 OCTOBER
Karl Jenkins Cantata Memorial (Bryn Terfel, baritone, Elin Manahan Thomas, soprano, Orchestra of Welsh National Opera, Karl Jenkins, conductor, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff)
Joseph Davies The Shortest Day (BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Siân Edwards, conductor, Brangwyn Hall, The Guildhall, Swansea, 7.30pm)
Stephen Beville Four Sacred Pieces (Stephen Beville, piano, The Minster, Axminster, 7pm; also 15 October, South Street Baptist Church, Exeter, 7pm)

9 OCTOBER
Misha Mullov-Abbado Three Meditation Songs (Pelleas Ensemble, The Chapel, Norwich, 6pm; also 21 November, Wigmore Hall, 7.30pm)

12 OCTOBER
Martin Suckling Piano concerto (Tom Poster, piano, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Robin Ticciati, conductor, Younger Hall, University of St Andrews)

13 OCTOBER
Daniela Terranova Notturno in forma di rosa Francesco Filidei Ballata No. 2 Salvatore Sciarrino Immaginare il Deserto UK prems (Anna Radziejewska, mezzo soprano, London Sinfonietta, Marco Angius, conductor, St John’s Smith Square, 7.30pm)
Jörg Widmann Con brio Scottish prem (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Cristian Măcelaru, conductor, Caird Hall, Dundee, 7.30pm; also Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 7.30pm; 15 October, Glasgow City Halls, 7.30pm)

15 OCTOBER
James MacMillan Stabat Mater (Britten Sinfonia, The Sixteen, Harry Christophers, conductor, Barbican Hall, 7.30pm)
Toby Young Dancing Star (Exultate Singers, David Ogden, conductor, St George’s Bristol, 7.30pm)
Bob Chilcott Two Friends (The Sitwell Singers, Bob Chilcott, conductor, Derby Cathedral, 7.30pm)
Stuart Jones Symphony in F (Mozart Symphony Orchestra, Philip Mackenzie, conductor, Cadogan Hall, 7.30pm)

19 OCTOBER
Silvina Milstein
while your sound lingered on in lions and rocks … Rob Keeley Six duos (Tarli-Varbanov Piano Duo, Lontano, Odaline de la Martinez, conductor, Great Hall, King’s College London, 7pm; playedbythepicture.eventbrite.co.uk)

20 OCTOBER
Edward Lambert 
Aspects of Work (Julian Jacobson, Mariko Brown, piano, Manchester Art Gallery, 6.30pm)

21 OCTOBER
Jennifer Fowler
Bassoon solo Janet Beat Two Images for Woodwind Quartet (tbc, St Cyprian’s Church, Glentworth St, London, 7.30pm)

22 OCTOBER
Christian Mason In the Midst of the Sonorous Island Huang Ruo The Sonic Great Wall UK prems (London Sinfonietta, St John’s Smith Square, 7.30pm)
Harry Whalley A Report to History (Gildas Quartet, St Vincent’s Chapel, Edinburgh, 7.30pm)
Joanna Marsh Martha and Mary (Choir of Sidney Sussex, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, 6.45pm)

23 OCTOBER
Joanna Ward New work (Choir of St Salvator’s, Robert Hollingworth, conductor, St Salvator’s Chapel, St Andrews, 11am)

27 OCTOBER
Cheryl Frances Hoad Songs of the Young (Sophie Daneman, soprano, Mark Stone, baritone, Sholto Kynoch, piano, Holywell Music Room, Oxford, 1.10pm)
Matt Rogers And London Burned (Gwilym Bowen, Alessandro Fisher, Aoife O’Sullivan, Raphaela Papadakis, Andrew Rupp, Christopher Stark, conductor, Temple Church; also 28, 29 October)

28 OCTOBER
Nimrod Borenstein Piano concerto (Clare Hammond, piano, Simon Desbruslais, trumpet, English String Orchestra, Kenneth Woods, conductor, Middleton Hall, Hull, 7.30pm)

30 OCTOBER
Charles Villiers Stanford Song to the Soul (The Bach Choir, Philharmonia Orchestra, David Hill, conductor, Royal Festival Hall, 3pm)

Red Note Ensemble are teaming up with internationally acclaimed composer, writer and visual artist François Sarhan to make a new work for string quartet – with a difference. François will design and make a set of new, invented instruments for the performers to play on. How the instruments work, look and sound is entirely up to François; the performers of Red Note will need to learn to master these new instruments as they rehearse the work, planned for its first performance in October at sound Festival in Aberdeen.

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