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.