FOR: an album of musical dedications

7th March 2022


Matthew Lee Knowles is a prolific composer whose several hour-long piece for solo piano 'For Alan Turing', dedicated to the pioneering mathmetician and computer scientist, was performed by pianist Kate Ledger in a seven hour-long livestream in 2021.

This epic performance, described as "piano playing at it's most meaningful" (Michael Finnissy), led to the creation of an album of solo piano works dedicated to twelve other individuals entitled 'FOR', including works for Morton Feldman, Andrew Toovey and others. Watch Kate performing 'For Alan Turing' below, and read Matthew's reflections on the new album.

I met Kate Ledger after posting the first page of a piece I wrote called For Alan Turing (2011) on Instagram at the end of January 2021.  She messaged me to tell me she wanted to play it and she was very serious about it - this has become one of the most important messages I have ever received.  A few weeks later she live streamed the most breathtaking performance, sitting there and playing for seven hours straight.

I know from talking to a lot of people that this made some very deep impressions on those who experienced it.  Michael Finnissy said: "The whole thing was very special, the care and solemnity, of both the performance and the marvellous music ('so much from so little' doesn’t even begin to describe the compositional imagination, grace and skill) - stunningly beautiful." I had performed Part Six of the piece at Turing’s centenary celebration at Cambridge University in 2012 where someone who had known Turing said that in my music they could hear Turing speak.

The day after the live stream, Kate wrote some reflections on the experience: 

"Noticing how I feel today is allowing the piece to bleed outwards, merging into everyday living and experience. I feel so happy and at peace. After the celebrations and awesome post-play chat had quietened, I realised my ears were still adjusting. Eating toast the next morning was so loud and obtrusive! And I noticed a new slowness to every passing moment. I was able to still be in the performance space long after it had finished. This is complimented by the preparations I made beforehand: a series of meditations, incremental fasts and mindful exercises, in and around finding my touch/sound/mode of being at the piano. All in all, For Alan Turing was an extended piece of living. A portion of time I fully dedicated to, filled with presence and care. 

The experience itself was one of engagement and focus. I left all the decisions free: they were made in the moment. This forced me to constantly listen, react and connect with my sound, allowing the piece to be alive and representing the longterm processes that were unfolding. The music itself is beautifully written, organic, and inviting - I wanted to care and attend to it. I didn’t wait for the notes to finish, but keep present and with them throughout." You can read more about Kate's experience of the performance here.

The experience of Kate's performance for me was very moving, I had recorded the whole thing myself on different days but was very aware that I wasn't always invested in every sound, every attack, every decay, every movement and this is what Kate added to the piece, this profundity of thought and dedication to every vibration.  After this, many people said we should continue working together and Kate suggested an album which I jumped at, my music has never before been heard at this level of production.

It took an entire year and the process was basically us feeling our way through it, when we thought we’d landed on an idea, we changed it, so we took it one step at a time because we wanted to get it right.  The main challenge with this album was simply choosing which pieces to play, I have written enough solo piano music for around 45 CDs but it was Kate (she joked that there's enough to wallpaper the Royal Albert hall...) who first suggested after realising there was a clear pattern in the pieces I write FOR people, so then the concept was nailed down and we focussed on choosing from this set.

These twelve musical portraits were written thinking very deeply about the people in the titles, putting down on the page aspects of them that I thought I could capture under my hands then I told Kate about these people and then it was up to her how to interpret that information whilst not taking herself out of the equation.  I love writing for people, is there any greater feeling than causing a smile?  People are complex and I want to write about complex things, because I enjoy the challenge.  I've had many pieces dedicated to me over the years and it's a feeling that takes some beating!

These two discs could have been one but we really wanted to create these two separate worlds and because I have an interest in cosmology, when deciding what to call the two parts and listening over and over I found myself repeatedly picturing black hole accretion disks, this idea of something so unimaginably beautiful, bigger than we can comprehend, this profound and possibly unknowable poetry resonated with me, so I called the two parts ACCRETION and DEBRIS.

Buy the album 'FOR'
Matthew Lee Knowles' website
Kate Ledger's website

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