Matthew Butt

Concerto for Two Double Reeds: performed!

Posted in music by bnathyuw on 2 August 2011

On 6 July my concerto was performed. St Stephen Walbrook was filled with lunchtime concertgoers, and my many late nights of work, along with our intense rehearsals over the last day and a half, finally paid off.

I owe a great debt of thanks to our fantastic soloists, Rhuti Carr and Andrew Watson, to the Handel Collection and their leader Irina Pakkanen, and to Edward Adams, whose conducting and oversight brought the performance together, and who first suggested I write the piece.

I have already posted a little analysis of the second movement of this piece, and I plan to post more in the coming days, along with some score excerpts and perhaps some audio samples. In the mean time, I would like to jot down a few general reflections:

  • I was really fortunate to get feedback from Edward and Rhuti during the compositional process. I had early conversations with them about the shape of the piece, and we then ran two workshops while I was writing the work, which were invaluable in steering me towards writing more idiomatically for the oboe. (As an aside, it strikes me that this approach has certain similarities with Agile software development insofar as a dialogue is maintained between composer / programmer and performer / end user. A thought for another day.)
  • Another piece of luck was that Andrew was able to step in as bassoon soloist. The original plan had been to write an oboe concerto, but the second movement was calling out for another soloist, and once I had a substantial bassoon part in that movement, it seemed a little unjust to make the performer sit aside for the rest of the piece! The third movement, which is the bassoonist’s showcase, is in part a solution to this problem.
  • The other problem that the third movement attempts to solve is that the finale is completely stylistically incongruous. It started life as a little sketch which I played to Rhuti and Edward, and which they liked so much that the insisted I keep it in the piece. However, the transition from the atonal, rather austere second movement to the (poly)tonal, jaunty romp of a finale was really rather jarring, and needed something to act as a bridge. I hope that the syncopated, motoric rhythms and cumulative counterpoint of the third movement achieve this. The finale retains its original character, but I hope I’ve done something interesting with it, as well as showing I can write a good tune!
  • Even after the workshops, a few points did arise during the rehearsals, particularly to do with the string writing, and it was really useful to be able to talk through them with Irina and agree a few revisions to bring the performance closer to what I had had in mind.
  • Finally, I got the impression that the performers had fun playing the piece. Two moments particularly stick in my mind. First, about half way through the rehearsal of the third movement, the structure of the piece revealed itself to Irina, and I could see her face light up, and she turned to the orchestra and told them ‘Ok, I want to you stop counting bars and just listen to the bassoon, because whatever he plays, you repeat.’ The second moment that sticks with me is in the final movement, where I’ve given the double bass pizzicato slides from a very high note down as low as possible, and where I’m sure I caught the bassist exchanging grins with the viola section.
So, finally, a few more thank yous. First, to my husband Peer for putting up with me in the throes of composition and bad MIDI synthesis at ungodly hours. Second, to my colleagues at 7digital: I haven’t worked anywhere else where so many of my colleagues would come along to support me, particularly after only 6 weeks in the job. And finally to the woman who stormed out half way through the second movement hissing ‘I’ll come back when they start playing something with tunes’: no premiere is complete without the odd naysayer!

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