In March 2022, in Atlanta, USA, my newest commission 'Small World’, is being premiered by the Merian Ensemble, a chamber ensemble comprising members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. It’s a ten-minute piece for flute, cor anglais, bass clarinet, harp and viola.
The idea for ‘Small World’ was sparked by seeing the Mappa Mundi in Hereford Cathedral. Made around the year 1300, it depicts the history, geography and stories of humanity as they were perceived by the church in Britain at that time. The part of the world they knew of, roughly equivalent to Europe, Asia and North Africa, is mapped with east at the top, where the sun rises, and the British Isles at the bottom on the left. Research into early map-making also led me to the Babylonian Imago Mundi, held in the British Museum in London, and believed to date back to the 6th century BCE. Around the same size as a mobile phone, the clay tablet is carved with a circular map of the world, surrounded by a “bitter river” and outlying areas in the shape of a star. These distant regions are labelled with descriptions such as “the winged bird ends not his flight”, "the light is brighter than that of sunset or stars" and "where a horned bull dwells and attacks the newcomer". On both maps there are drawings or lists of creatures, real and fantastical, which inhabit these distant places.
Small World begins with four simple phrases representing the four points of the compass and then a journey begins. The melodies are derived from an ancient musical mode (Phrygian Dominant) which is common to many different musical traditions including Arabic music, Klezmer, Flamenco and Indian classical music. I like the idea that, across cultural, historical and geographical boundaries, music is a common language. I’m also haunted by the idea that both literally and figuratively, we hold our fragile, beautiful planet in the palm of our hand.
The commission of Small World has been funded by the PRS Foundation and the American Harp Society. Collaboration between Lynne Plowman and the Merian Ensemble in Atlanta is funded by the Arts Council of Wales (Wales Arts International).
New album release - The Beachcomber
I'm delighted to announce the release of my new album, The Beachcomber, on the Prima Facie label (PFCD135) on 25th September 2020.
Two works composed in 2017 form the framework of this project - A Field Guide to Pebbles (five short pieces for percussion duo), and Songs of the Sea Dreamer, a song-cycle for tenor and harp - settings of four poems by Russell Hoban. Working closely with the tenor, Michael Bennett and harpist, Sandrine Chatron, I have drawn these poems together into a work which tells a story of love, loneliness and the sea. The songs are separated and intertwined with evocative instrumental tracks, including intimate solos for harp and piano and a hypnotic duo for oboe d’amore and harp, floating turning spinning.
Michael Bennett, tenor
Sandrine Chatron, harp
Oliver Cox, percussion
Owen Gunnell, percussion
James Harrison, percussion
Joanna Lam, piano
Jinny Shaw, oboe d’amore
Lucy Wakeford, harp
Songbird is a new, very short (1 minute!) " postcard" for solo flute, commissioned by BBC Radio 3 for their "postcards from composers" series during the COVID-19 lockdown. Beautifully recorded by BBC National Orchestra of Wales flautist, John Hall, Songbird was broadcast throughout the day on BBC Radio 3 on 6th July 2020.
I was delighted to join BBC National Orchestra of Wales as a composer mentor this year for Composition: Wales 2020. Eight shortlisted composers had new pieces workshopped and rehearsed with premieres at Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff on 4th March. The selected pieces were:
Jasper Dommett Night Music
Stephen Goss The Shard
Tayla-Leigh Payne A Clockwork Portrait
Zachary Reading The Evening Straits: Concert Prelude
Luciano Williamson Kemal at Gallipoli
Andrew Wilson-Dickson Rumpus
Thomas Whitcombe That Which Lies In The Mist
Tie Zhou Snow Country
Each year these events form part of the Learning activity of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. The aim is to showcase works by composers in Wales worthy of wider exposure and is organised in partnership with Composers of Wales, Tŷ Cerdd, Vale of Glamorgan Festival and Welsh Music Guild.
Five Legs Dancing
I'm continuing my role as Resident Composer for the Dyfed Young Composers scheme, run by the pioneering charity, Young Music Makers of Dyfed. As an extension to the project this year, I have been commissioned by YMMD to compose a new work for this year's resident musicians, Ensemble Cymru, to be performed in three schools presentations in September. The new work, 'Five Legs Dancing' is a trio for clarinet, cello and piano.
In May I was involved again with the wonderful Vale of Glamorgan Festival, celebrating its 50th year programming music exclusively by living composers. I composed a new work, Emergency Exit, for "Astrid" - a 19th century Dutch Street Organ... The festival commissioned ten composers to write short pieces for Astrid which were premiered to crowds of curious passers-by at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay, before touring to St Fagans National Museum of History, Barry Island and Penarth Pier. Astrid will be popping up across Wales this summer - catch her in action at the Aberystwyth Musicfest on 2nd August and then on the 3rd and 10th August at the National Eisteddfod in LLanrwst.
Carbon Sky premiere
On 9th April, the Berkeley Ensemble premiered my new work for chamber ensemble, Carbon Sky, at St Davids Hall, Cardiff. It was commissioned by Tŷ Cerdd and performed alongside new pieces by fellow composers (both former students of mine!) Carlijn Metselaar and Sarah Lianne Lewis. The following day we went into the studio at Tŷ Cerdd to record pieces by all six composers involved in the associated CoDI workshops. (CoDI is a professional development scheme in Cardiff for emerging composers - I really enjoyed my role as lead composer on the programme this year.)
UPROAR 10x10 in Bangor
Following a sell-out show at Chapter in Cardiff last October, UPROAR is back! They're bringing the same programme - 10 commissions from 10 composers working in Wales - to the Bangor Music Festival on Saturday 9th February. If you missed out on tickets for the Cardiff performance, make a weekend of it and come for the festival!
Since last autumn, I've been facilitating a project for six brilliant young professional composers as they create new pieces for the wonderful Berkeley Ensemble. This is part of Ty Cerdd's CoDI CHAMBER scheme - you can read more about it on the Ty Cerdd website. The new pieces will be premiered on 10th April at Cardiff University Concert Hall. Tickets here.
New publishers announced
Last spring, three of my scores, previously published by Cadenza were taken on by Chester Music. These include Night Dances for flute and piano which is on the WJEC A level music syllabus. These scores can be ordered here.
For the rest of my music, I am delighted to have joined Composers Edition and will gradually be moving most of my scores across to them. They have an excellent website where you can browse and buy scores. Full details here.
Dyfed Young Composers
I'm continuing my role this year as Resident Composer for the Dyfed Young Composers scheme, run by the pioneering charity, Young Music Makers of Dyfed. It's a unique project which gives young musicians from across West Wales the opportunity to receive specialist composition tuition in their schools and to have their music played by professional ensembles. This year, our ensemble is The Hermes Experiment - a wonderful band with a wealth of new music written specially for their line-up of voice, clarinet, harp and double bass.
This term I will be working individually with over 80 young composers in their schools to help them complete their pieces in time for the final performances in April.
Another Set of Footprints in the Snow
Back in the summer, to commemorate 100 years since Debussy's death, York Late Music commissioned ten composers, including me, to each write a new piano piece with the same specific brief - "start with one minute of Debussy's music, then diverge to create something new."
The pieces were beautifully premiered in York by James Willshire in September and will be recorded soon for a new CD - more details to come.
Woman Dreaming of Escape
A trip to the Fundació Joan Miro in Barcelona this February sparked the idea for my latest commission, Woman Dreaming of Escape. It’s a twenty minute work for voice and string trio, commissioned by violinist Miranda Fulleylove, with funds from the RVW Trust.
Mezzo soprano, Lucy Schaufer, will give the premiere in beautiful Smedmore House in Dorset on 14th October, with a string trio led by Miranda Fulleylove.
My first draft is almost complete - musical lines and gestures take their cues from the repeated ideas found in Joan Miro’s paintings. I’ve used fragments of poetry by surrealists, Robert Desnos and Gertrude Stein to create the voice of the dreaming woman. I’m really looking forward to developing the piece in collaboration with the performers over the summer.
I’m excited to be recording a new CD of my solos and duos for Prima Facie Records this summer. The first tracks to be recorded are A Field Guide to Pebbles, a collection of short pieces composed for brilliant percussionists O Duo (Owen Gunnell and Oliver Cox). These are quirky miniatures, composed last year, and funded by the Arts Council of Wales. Instruments range from log drums to woks.
Other tracks on the CD will include solos for piano and harp, various instrumental duos and Songs of the Sea Dreamer, settings of Russell Hoban poems for tenor voice and harp, commissioned and premiered last year by Michael Bennett and Sandrine Chatron.
Dyfed Young Composers Update
This month sees the next stage of the Dyfed Young Composers project, when I'll be visiting eighty young composers in schools and colleges across South West Wales. They are all composing brand new pieces for the Galos Piano Trio to play during workshops in March. Around a dozen of these will be selected for a public concert at Rhos-y-Gilwen in Pembrokeshire, one of my favourite events of the year!
So, a new school year begins and I'm thrilled to be the Resident Composer for the Young Muisc Makers of Dyfed's Young Composer Scheme again. I'll be joined this year by the Galos Piano Trio from London. We'll be kicking off with a series of 'how to compose for piano trio' sessions in schools this month. Then I'll be checking my tyre pressures and heading off to visit over one hundred young composers in twelve secondary schools across West Wales over the coming year, helping them to prepare new compositions for the trio to perform in the spring...
Night Dances, for flute and piano, has been selected as a set work for the new A level music syllabus in Wales (WJEC). A brand new edition of the score has been published by Cadenza Music and a recording by Catherine Handley and Andrew Wilson-Dickson is available on 'Ariel', a CD of music from Wales.
I feel very lucky to be one of twelve composers who has just been awarded a grant from the PRSF/ Esmee Fairbairn Composers Fund. The Composers Fund will support the international promotion of my four operas and other key works and allow me time to imagine and plan a series of new projects. It’s a unique opportunity to properly address the promotion of my music and put time aside for some essential forward-planning.
An archive recording of my early orchestral work, ‘Blue’, performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Martin Brabbins, at St David’s Hall, Cardiff in 1996. Broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Friday 10th March.