We're excited to introduce our new NMC Listening Club series. Taking place virtually during this time of social distancing, in each session we’ll be exploring selected releases from our back catalogue, in conversation with the composers and artists involved in their creation.
For our first NMC Listening Club, Colin Matthews and Lucy Walker (Head of Public Engagement, Red House) guide us through the 2007 award-winning release Britten on Film (NMC D112). The album collects all the surviving music Benjamin Britten wrote during the 1930s for various organisations such as the General Post Office and Southern Railways.
NMC Listening Club took place as a live stream for NMC donors/supporters via YouTube on Wednesday 13 May. You can rewatch the broadcast here:
Future NMC Listening Club events will be announced via our enewletter (sign up here) and socials. Tune in to watch live and send in your questions to our guests.
We'd love to know what you think? Watch the broadcast and complete this short survey. Thank you.
We are delighted to share the news that Edmund Finnis's Debut Discs albumThe Air, Turning has won the 2020 BBC Music Magazine 'Premiere Award'.
Described as 'a striking collection of works ... richly mysterious and compelling' (The Guardian) this debut album from Finnis reached No. 3 in the Official Specialist Classical Charts and No. 29 in the Classic FM Charts. Congratulations to Edmund, all the incredible artists involved and the recording engineers and producers. A big thank you to the Trusts, Foundations and individuals who have invested in this recording and NMC’s Debut Discs series.
The awards ceremony was due to take place at Kings Place, London last month but was understandably cancelled. Here is Edmund Finnis accepting the award from his home.
Related RecordingsThe Air, Turning
Composer James Wilson tells us about his piece, The Green Fuse – which features in Spark Catchers performed by Chineke! orchestra – and his experience attending his first recording sessions.
The Green Fuse is my first composition to be recorded and released by a record label. I have been an admirer of NMC since I learned of its existence (roughly 10 years ago) and it was a completely unexpected surprise to be asked to contribute to an upcoming release. Within a couple of months of being invited, I found myself assisting the wonderful musicians of Chineke! to perform and record the music. As a composer there have been many small triumphs throughout my career but having my work recorded is a special milestone. Recordings make music more accessible, more readily available. The thought that my music has been preserved so that a wide audience can hear it is something very special. I have often heard it said that as composers we write music because we have a creative compulsion to do so; that is who we are as artists. But our music is a way to communicate with others; it becomes the vehicle through which we share our life experiences and musical perspectives. A composer with no audience is like speaking in an empty room or sending a letter to an abandoned home. There is a wonder to the pure act of creation for its own sake, but music lives when it is heard. I feel very lucky that The Green Fuse will be added to NMC’s catalogue, alongside other contemporary music that I love.
The Green Fuse is the second piece I’ve composed for string orchestra and was written in the summer of 2017. It was specially commissioned for the Cheltenham Festival that year. I have been told it was the first premiere that Chineke! ever presented in a concert. It is a privilege to be part of this incredible ensemble’s history and how wonderful for this music to be put on their first album showcasing music by living Black and Minority Ethnic composers.
James Wilson (right) at the recording sessions for The Green Fuse with Chineke!
The day the music was recorded will be one I will remember for a long time. There are so many surprises whenever we do something new; for instance, I was taken aback by how little our excellent sound engineer, David Lefeber, needed in order to record the music. There was no large mixing desk, just a modest setup with a few cables going into a laptop. It was also great to see Chineke! in action again. Their playing is always full of life and vitality and they play with total commitment. I remember that on the day I had a strong feeling of apprehension but the session went very well; it was all sewn up in less than 2 hours. The session was abuzz with animated discussion between the musicians, the conductor and myself, with our sound engineer also being of great help. It was such a positive day and I am very excited to hear the final result of our efforts once the album is released.
The Green Fuse stands out to me, in my musical output, as a piece through which I most directly explore existential themes. The music is based on a Dylan Thomas poem 'the force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ (1934). The poem is full of rich images and emotion. It discusses a duality in nature: The same force that results in death and destruction powers beauty and growth. Nature is wild and Thomas’ grappling with that fact was fertile ground for a composition to emerge. The music I wrote in this piece, in the same way, has a duality: there are phases of growth and then recession. But conceptually I am not aiming to merely represent this idea in sound. The Green Fuse is my response to this idea identified by Thomas, and a response to his way of expressing his thoughts. His words are a starting point through which the music takes on its own identity. For instance, I can feel a sense of consolation in Thomas’ words, perhaps somewhere in the background of the music I wrote, that might also be present.
Again I must say, I feel so lucky to have music that means so much to me being recorded and shared. What a fantastic privilege.
NMC Release Highlights 2019
'An intriguing disc of a composer to watch' Gramophone
'Edmund Finnis invites rather than demands attention - and the more it is given, the more its gifts unfold.' BBC Music Magazine ★★★★★
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra | Ilan Volkov conductor | Eloisa-Fleur Thom violin | Birmingham Contemporary Music Group | Richard Baker conductor | London Contemporary Orchestra | Robert Ames conductor | Mark Simpson clarinet | Víkingur Ólafsson | Benjamin Beilman violin | Britten Sinfonia | Andrew Gourlay conductor
THE SUNDAY TIMES TOP 100 BEST ALBUMS OF 2019
THE DAFFODIL PERSPECTIVE'S TOP 10 CLASSICAL RECORDINGS OF 2019
'An intriguing introduction to the vivid soundworld of Erika Fox ... her moment, overdue, has at last come' Guardian
'Full of both kinds of extremes, emotionally and musically ... the music sings of traditions old and new and is utterly Erika Fox's own' BBC Radio 3
Goldfield Ensemble | Richard Uttley piano | Richard Baker conductor
‘Freya Waley-Cohen’s Ink is a compelling listen with just the right amount of intrigue and spikiness to hook me in’ throughlygood.me
THE SUNDAY TIMES TOP 100 BEST ALBUMS OF 2019
'A brilliant, terrific disc' Classical Music Magazine ★★★★★
'[The Recordings] provide striking proof of the vividness of Rands' orchestral writing'. The Guardian ★★★★
'What we like we call real while what we don’t like we call intrusion. David Fennessy shows us the impossibility of separation, the beauty of both.' The Herald
'ironic and clever … a polysemous delight to hear' The Wire
'A most welcome initiative … Colin Matthews’ Ghost Story, an object lesson in conjuring up atmosphere from the most basic means .. or the most testing of all, Tansy Davies’s Hawk, and action-packed two and a half minutes of vertiginous dynamics' The Sunday Times
THE SUNDAY TIMES TOP 100 BEST ALBUMS OF 2019
'Four male voices, precise and pure to the nth degree, topped off with a countertenor shining like a lighthouse beam over polyphony ancient and modern... a commanding performance' The Times
'A powerfully imaginative meditation on Christ's crucifixion' World Magazine
'These three dance-related scores embody a deep compositional deftness' Sunday Times
'unusual and creative... the music is striking' The Art Music Lounge
'There's ingenuity and a keen musical instinct here' BBC Radio 3 Record Review
'This is a fascinating recording; Bailie's imagination knows few bounds.' BBC Music Magazine
SEQUENZA21/ BEST RECORDINGS OF 2019
'Poetry Nearing Silence compellingly meditates on Tom Phillip's book The Heart of Humument... Anderson responds equally brilliantly to wider-ranging external stimuli' Sunday Times
THE SUNDAY TIMES TOP 100 BEST ALBUMS OF 2019
'The title piece is a large-orchestral unfolding that unites compelling turbulence with rarest detail' The Sunday Times
Staff Picks of the Decade
"It's so difficult to pick a favourite from the last ten years but i'm going to select this striking recent release in our Debut Discs series that I have found myself revisiting a lot this year.
Edmund creates a beautiful, haunting soundworld. I love how he writes for string instruments in particular, exploring all sonic possibilities: delicate, subtle and airy through to bold, cinematic lyricism."
"There’s always been a special place in my heart for Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest. It was one of the first albums we listened to in the office when I started working at NMC, and indeed one of the first new music albums I ever listened to, and I was completely taken aback by it. I find it to be just the right amount of bonkers to be absolutely engaging throughout. When then had the pleasure of having Gerald in the office for a live Twitter Q&A, it was such a fun day and you can definitely see where all the energy in his music comes from."
"I love this album for the sheer exuberance of Errollyn’s writing and the completely committed performances. It has an immediacy which makes it compelling, combining styles and influences effortlessly in music that is completely original and with which the listener is really able to connect. Some years previously we’d had a project proposed to us, to include the Cello Concerto but we’d not been able to realise that. So I was genuinely thrilled when Errollyn approached us with this, the first album devoted to her orchestral work."
"Of the many NMC gems released this decade, Charlotte’s Debut Disc is a firm favourite. With its exceptional performances and colourful programme of exciting music - from the explosive energy of violin concerto Caught in Treetops, to the drama of Replay and intimacy of Oneiroi - there’s something for everyone in this album. The highlight for me is Fire Burning in Snow performed by BCMG and Lucy Schaufer, which really captures the emotion at the heart of the piece and is a great introduction to Charlotte’s musical world."
"Of all the promotional campaigns I’ve worked on in my time at NMC this was definitely one of my favourites. Illusions is the highlight for me. Brilliant music from Philip Venables, excellent playing from London Sinfonietta conducted by Richard Baker and the unforgettable musings of David Hoyle – what’s not to like? Special commendation for being too punk for the classical charts!"
"I have fond memories of listening to this album when I first started at NMC a few months ago, just before it was released! Joanna’s soundscapes are eerie and unsettling yet strangely nostalgic. The combination of just-about-recognisable processed field recordings with sparse instrumentation in slow-moving forms, make for a fascinating exercise in attentive listening."
On this week's blog, composer Joe Cutler tells us about his second album on NMC, Elsewhereness, which was released in October 2018, and his selection process for the pieces which are featured on it.
In this age of streaming and downloads, there might be an argument that the album format has become outdated and obsolete. But for me, it’s a wonderful and highly creative medium. The process of thinking about what to include is perhaps rather like an artist deciding on what work to present in a solo show. How do you curate the space? It’s exciting to see what relationships and narratives emerge when you place various, contrasting pieces alongside one another. The results can be quite self-revelatory.
I always take a long time over creating a recording. There are pragmatic reasons for this; firstly, release schedules are generally planned well in advance, so labels prefer proposals which build in a reasonable lead-in time. Secondly, my experience of making records is that funding often happens in dribs and drabs. At Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, where I teach, there is a fund I can apply to but the amounts are not vast; certainly not enough for a whole disc. But if you stagger things over three or four years, then gradually something emerges bit by bit. That’s the reason why one of the first recordings on my new album, For Frederic Lagnau, dates from 2014. That was really the start of this whole journey.
My debut NMC solo album, Bartlebooth, came out in 2008. It was a very important chance for me to bring together a number of key pieces that, up to that point, presented a broad and representative range of my work. Elsewhereness comes ten years later just as I turn 50. In programming this album, I thought carefully about what to include, focussing on works from recent years, including those that might point to future avenues. All the pieces come from more or less the last decade, and what binds them all together is a celebration of creative relationships and friendships.
The album feels very personal to me. Even the cover is personal; it’s a wonderful photo taken by my brother-in-law Chris Redgrave near where we used to live in Oxfordshire. The image is of a tumble-down-barn set within flat fields which expand outwardly towards a deep, expansive horizon. I feel it captured a sense of ‘elsewhereness’ perfectly.
The title track, Elsewhereness, was written for Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Royal Gala Opening of the new concert hall, and was my first large orchestral piece in over a decade. Having worked at the Conservatoire since 2000, the context of writing this piece felt very close to me. Having quite a long time to compose it offered the chance to really reflect on the impermanence of the cities we construct, and simultaneously think about how to personalise my orchestral “sound”. Whilst my relationship with Royal Birmingham Conservatoire goes back a long way, the piece also presented an opportunity to work with the remarkable Lithuanian conductor, Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla.
McNulty for piano trio was a commission from the Fidelio Trio and is also a very recent piece, written in 2016. I’ve known the members of the Fidelio Trio for nearly 20 years, and have worked extensively with the trio collectively and individually. Two members of the group are Irish and I’ve spent quite a lot of time with them in Ireland so I wanted to draw upon that experience. I grew up in a very Irish part of London, have a bit of Irish ancestry, and played fiddle in a band in an Irish pub in Warsaw in the mid-1990s. In McNulty I wanted to create a piece that celebrates a kind of faux-traditional music.
For Frederic Lagnau was a commission for Workers Union Ensemble, and is scored for saxophone, oboe, vibraphone, percussion, piano and double bass. The piece was written in memory of Frederic Lagnau, a French minimalist and complete original. I met Frederic at Darmstadt in 1992. We were both outsiders there, and got on immediately. The piece consists of five short “miniatures” which run continuously from one another, creating a larger whole.
Soprano Sarah Leonard is someone I have worked with regularly since 2002. So much of what I’ve learnt about writing for voice and setting texts has been through her. Akhmatova Fragments is scored for soprano and 11 solo strings, setting short poems by the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova that deal with themes of love, regret, sleeplessness and ageing. I was particularly keen to include these pieces on the album as they have been “resting” for the last 10 years. I’m fond of the structure, the way the first four movements are very brief, concise and self-contained, whilst the final movement is much longer, unravelling in a completely different way.
Sikorski B was written for Noszferatu, a collective I co-founded with three close friends in 2000 (Finn Peters on sax, Ivo de Greef on piano and Dave Price on percussion). The group has been of great importance to me, offering a chance to explore the spaces between genres that I’m drawn to. The title is an homage to Tomasz Sikorski, a Polish composer who, in the words of composer Stephen Montague, used minimalism to “bludgeon rather that to entertain”. I encountered his music whilst a student in Warsaw and was drawn to the relationship between uncompromising structures and emotional intensity. My piece is also a slight foray into the incorporation of improvisation within fixed musical structures, something that is developed in the album’s final piece.
Karembeu’s Guide to the Complete Defensive Midfielder was a commission from the 2015 Cheltenham Festival and was written for Trish Clowes’ Emulsion Sinfonietta, an ensemble that was set up to go beyond defined boundaries of genre. The piece builds on my work with Noszferatu, allowing saxophonist Iain Ballamy and percussionist Tim Giles a free space to navigate through tightly constructed musical sections. The title alludes to football formations, where similar relationships between improvisation and structure exist. Working with Trish and her ensemble has certainly led me onto new ground, and I’ll be writing a substantial piece for her and the BBC Concert Orchestra for autumn 2019. Everything is work in progress really!