Performance Archive 2017

February ’11
Phaedra Ensemble
JuJu’s Bar, London

Irene Kurka
Cafe OTO, London

Libro di fiammelle e ombre wp
Wigmore Hall, London

Orlando Tenebrae
A Tear
Sacred Muses

Leicestershire Chorale/Tom Williams
Holy Cross Priory, Leicester

Libro di fiammelle e ombre


6 solo voices SMCtTBarB


to EXAUDI on the occasion of the ensemble’s 15th anniversary

Libro di fiammelle e ombre (‘Book of Little Flames and Shadows’) is a set of 12 short madrigals exploring the ‘poetry of sound in the sound of poetry': using texts from Arcadelt’s Primo Libro de’ Madrigali (1539) I reimagine the musico-literary aesthetics of Pietro Bembo’s Petrarchism (an important inspiration for the early development of the madrigal genre) for the present age. The text itself, and its many transformations within the music, is of primary importance: one of the features of the piece is the use of speech and singing together, the one blending with, shading or colouring the other in various different ways. Rather than set each text completely, however, I treat it as a found object, distilling the emotional and semantic content of the poetry into a succession of single sound-images (or sound-conceits). Thus, for instance, ‘Il bianco e dolce cigno‘ becomes bianco, alluding to the oblivion of death (in both of the poem’s senses) through a focus on vowel colour (in particular the whiteness of the open ‘a’ vowel in ‘bianco’) and the relationship of solo soprano to the trio of lower voices. In alloro (‘laurel’), the poem’s pervasive piacevolezza is reflected in a flowing canonic continuum, spreading symmetrically out from its central note like the branches of a well-shaped shrub. In velo the female voices’ whispered murmuring evokes the rustling fabric of the lady’s veil whilst literally veiling the lower voices’ interjections…and so on.

Libro di fiammelle e ombre can be performed either with or without madrigals by Arcadelt: a suggested sequence, in which the piece emerges gradually out of Arcadelt’s music, is given in the score.

f.p. (excerpts): EXAUDI/James Weeks, Abbaye de Royaumont, 4 September 2016
f.p. (complete work): EXAUDI/James Weeks, Wigmore Hall, 1 April 2017

Excerpt from Royaumont performance

Performance archive 2016

The World in tune
Irene Kurka (soprano)
Matthäuskirche, Berlin

Joy (wp)
Alexandra Raikhlina, Gordon Bragg (violins)
Jan Bradley (percussion)
Brundibár Arts Festival, Hatton Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Meadow (wp)
Allcomer participants
Festival of Contemporary Music for All
Kings Place, London

A Tear
Principal Sound Festival
St John’s, Smith Square, London

Signs of Occupation (wp)
Plus Minus Ensemble
Milton Court Concert Hall, London

Juliet Fraser (soprano)
King’s College, London

aerc (wp)
CoMA Summer School participants
High Melton, Doncaster

The World in tune
Irene Kurka (soprano)
Onomato, Düsseldorf

Four madrigals (lume, dardo, io, alloro) wp
Voix Nouvelles, Royaumont

The World in tune
Irene Kurka (soprano)
Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Otherwise Josquin with James Wilkes and Bill Thompson
Kings Place, London

The World in tune
Irene Kurka (soprano)
Onomato, Düsseldorf

Jonathan Powell (piano)
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, London

Radical Road
EXPOSURE Workshop day participants
Hanbury Hall, London

Liebeslied als Geige
Selbstbildnis als laute

Buffalo Vocal Collective
Unitarian Universalist Church, Buffalo, NY

The Nunhead Harmony
Time’s Arrow
Boston University



any number of orchestral string instruments (at least 12)

25′ or more

f.p. Participants of CoMA Summer School, High Melton, Doncaster, 11th August 2016

‘ærc’ is the Old English word for ark, derived from the Latin arca, a chest. Here it denotes an enclosed space, perhaps of refuge or safety, certainly of intimacy. As in the ark of Noah, the players are paired, entering the space of the work two-by-two and creating a dense polyphonic texture (a giant viol consort) from breath-like bow-strokes, each pair in rhythmic unison, before exiting in sequence.



for a large number of performers (minimum 20), singing or/and playing

duration open (10′ or more)

f.p. workshop participants, CoMA Festival of Contemporary Music for All, Kings Place, London, 5 March 2016

Meadow is an installation for any performers – singers, instrumentalists of any type – and requires large numbers (minimum 20). It should be performed without musical score, although the text to be spoken may be printed on a piece of card that can be held in the hand by performers. In addition, each performer will require a coloured tissue paper ‘butterfly’, as detailed in the score.

The performers populate a sonic wildflower meadow, constantly varied in detail but unchanging in overall texture. They collectively produce a highly variegated, quiet ‘hum’ – a dense but delicate weave of sound that may rise only a little above the ambient sound of the performance space, revealing its intricacies only to those listening close-up.

Meadow was designed to work as a pop-up performance within a large, multipurpose public space, though a relatively quiet environment is necessary. Performers work independently from each other. The whole group should be quite densely clustered, close together, but one or more paths through the performer ‘meadow’ should be left. The audience should be able to walk among, around and through the performance as much as possible.

Primo Libro


6 solo voices SMCtTBar(orT)B


to Ekmeles and Jeffrey Gavett

Primo Libro is an attempt to write a ‘primal’ madrigal book exploring fundamental relationships of text, sound, harmony, contour and expression, consisting of 18 short madrigals for one, two or four voices, each lasting about a minute and operating as parts of the whole rather than separate pieces. It is written in 31-division Equal Temperament (31-ET), a close approximation of extended quarter-comma meantone, in which major and minor triads on all scale degrees can be tuned near-justly. The 31-degree scale was theorised and applied to vocal and keyboard music in the mid-16th century by Nicolà Vicentino but fell into disuse after his death. As well as distinguishing between sharps and flats (C# being a different, flatter pitch than Db, etc.), 31-ET also employs 1/5-tone sharp and flat pitches to make a scale in which all notes are approximately 1/5 of a tone (38.71c) apart. Much of the music of Primo Libro exploits 31-ET’s propensity for nearly-pure major and minor triads. Additionally, neutral triads (the third degree of the scale exactly bisected between major and minor) are used, as well as more closely-spaced chords, echoing Vicentino’s theories of diatonic, chromatic and enharmonic harmony.

f.p. (excerpts) EXAUDI/James Weeks, Aldeburgh Festival, 10 June 2017
f.p. (complete work) Ekmeles/Jeffrey Gavett, New York, 7 October 2017



2 violins, percussion (2 cymbals, rice, tambourine)


f.p. Alexandra Raikhlina, Gordon Bragg (violins), Jan Bradley (percussion), Hatton Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 2 February 2016

Joy was commissioned by the inaugural Brundibár Arts Festival, Newcastle/Gateshead, January-February 2016.

Cornish String Music


any number of orchestral string instruments (at least 16)


f.p. Participants of CoMA Summer School, High Melton, Doncaster, 7th August 2015

Introduction to the score: Cornish String Music is a sound ritual for a large number of stringed instruments. The ensemble sets up a loud, high-energy block of sound, outwardly static but internally dynamic, from which are hewn rhythmic profiles using the outlines of four Cornish folksongs. The instruments use only detuned open strings until the final section; the sound quality should be primal, rough and resonant, the intensity similar to that of Noise music. The piece should be performed either in a resonant space or with amplification such that the effect is engulfing and immersive.

Walled Garden


2 alto flutes, bass flute, violin, viola, cello


Commissioned by Spitalfields Music

f.p. Hortus Ensemble (Daniel Pioro violin, Robert Ames viola, Oliver Coates cello, Jane Mitchell, Rebecca Larsen alto flute, Helen Keen bass flute), Spitalfields Music Summer Festival, Christ Church, Spitalfields, 3rd June 2015

Programme Note
Walled Garden (2015), for string and flute trios, is a set of three pieces designed to be interleaved with Mala punica, a sequence of canons for eight-voice vocal ensemble written in 2008-9. As its title suggests, it is a further exploration of the idea of the hortus conclusus that lies at the heart of Mala punica: the ‘enclosed garden’ as an imaginative space where all kinds of natural beauty and harmony flourish. In the Middle East and Europe this space has been more than merely imaginative or allegorical: the ancient hortus conclusus image, closely related to the Classical notion of the idealised locus amœnus (‘pleasant place’) gave rise to a tradition of walled garden design familiar to us from countless medieval paintings and manuscripts.

Echoing the latent diurnal cycle in Mala punica, the three pieces of Walled Garden represent a garden at three times of the day: dawn, early afternoon and night. All of its materials derive from a single breath or bow-stroke; the harmony comes from the first four notes (a rising modal scale) of Quae est ista, the oscillations of Hortus conclusus reappear in the following instrumental piece, and like the vocal pieces the underlying structures are canonic. There, however, the similarities with the vocal piece end: instead of the rigorously worked canons of the vocal pieces, here listeners are presented with something more like a field or musical space, internally moving but outwardly relatively static, and the players are given liberty to wander through their material in different ways and in their own time.

I imagine each piece as taking place in real-time, like an unedited film. In that time the steady-state textures change gradually: the sun increasingly catches the leaves of the plants over the eight minutes of the first piece; the wind rises and falls across the span of the second piece, and in the last there are slight, unpredictable fluctuations of gently rustling foliage.

Walled Garden and the locus amoenus