One of the things I’ve noticed during this pandemic period is a very strange bifurcation of the experience of time—for me, days seem to go by impossibly slowly, but months go by in a flash. The sameness of the routine of Zoom and the lack of variety in our surroundings (my office walls seem to close in a little bit more every day) have, for me, created an odd sense that long stretches of time collapse in on one another. The last news update here was nearly six months ago, but it feels like it might as well have been a few weeks ago.
In that last update in early July, we were starting to settle into all the cancellations—initially things were postponed, then pushed back again, and then just cancelled or put on hold indefinitely. … But, with little hints of good news over the last few weeks in terms of vaccines, and at least a tiny glimpse of the potential of a light at the end of the tunnel, I’m starting to see the beginnings of some more concerted, more hopeful planning for events in late 2021 and early 2022. It’s pretty clear that the next few months will still be exceptionally difficult, but it’s been nice to see some longer-term planning start to feel quite a bit more hopeful, if not yet entirely plausible. [I’d written the draft of this post before the news of the British mutant strain put a rather significant damper on that hope, at least in the short-term.]
To that end …
At the moment, I’m working on a (still untitled) new piece for the slightly unusual combination of soprano, recorders, Uillean pipes, triple harp, and cello, drawing together some of the Australia-based performers of ELISION, who, due to the current state of Coronavirus cases there, are starting to see the possibilities of something that might look like normal life before long. We’re hopeful that a performance will be possible in mid-/late-2021.
Though I don’t typically work on multiple pieces at once, I’m also writing a new solo for E-flat clarinet commissioned by my old friend Carl Rosman, who I’ve been working with in various contexts (as clarinetist, singer, conductor, producer, … ) pretty much consistently for nearly 20 years now. The piece started off as a little morsel planned as a 50th birthday present, but through a bit of a twist of fate and timing, it has turned into a much more substantial project. And again, though concert planning is a bit uncertain at the moment, we’re hoping it will be out in the world somehow in mid-/late-2021.
Also on the docket is a new piano concerto, also for ELISION, and also with a bit of a strange instrumental line-up: the fantastic young pianist Alex Waite will be joined by a small concertante group of pedal steel guitar, harp, percussion, and electronics, plus an ensemble of contrabass clarinet, tenor saxophone, bassoon, trombone, cello, and double bass. It is scheduled to be premiered in September 2022 in Australia & New Zealand. The pedal steel element is an outgrowth of a research project with Daryl Buckley that took us to Austin, Texas, in May 2017 to do some exploratory work on the instrument (including sessions with pedal steel luminaries Marty Muse, Bob Hoffnar, and my very talented brother, Brian). And the piano solo element is, at least in part, an extension of some of the ideas opened up in my recent quartet, Self-Portrait, Three Times, Standing (15.3.1991–20.3.1991).
In the last news update, I’d only recently made the decision to try to work towards returning to more conducting work, following a really joyful experience working with Ensemble Musikfabrik in the days just before the lockdown. In the weeks after that last post, things accelerated fairly quickly—I decided to shift to a part-time role at Huddersfield in order to free up time to expand that conducting activity further, with the aim of getting a better balance between my academic work and the kind of music-making that had taken a back seat as my teaching job turned into more of an administrative job. Obviously, new projects have been difficult to come by during this period, but it has been wonderful to have the space to spend time doing some serious score study for the first time in many years, plus flexing some old sight-singing/sight-reading muscles that hadn’t been used in awhile and generally doing lots of listening (as well as a bit of hustling to lay the groundwork for future projects). I’ve even used the opportunity to take some lessons (with the inimitable Ilan Volkov), working on tidying up some little technique things and fixing some old bad habits—it’s been fun to be a student again after 17 years of being a teacher.
All that is to say, I have the first batch of 2021 conducting projects lined up in February, with some work in Heidelberg & Mannheim as part of a newly established biennial festival for new music in the Rhein-Neckar region, and a return visit to work with Ensemble Musikfabrik for a project with the Noh performer Ryoko Aoki, in a live-streamed event that will be simulcast from Cologne and Kanagawa. (As much as I’m excited to be back rehearsing and performing with the ensemble, I’m also fascinated to see how the technology will work!)
Anyhow, some glimmers of hope.
Events will be added/amended/deleted as details are confirmed.
Performances (& Covid video recordings)
Mixtur Festival, Barcelona. September 18, 2020. World premiere of Study for Self-Portrait, 1964
Ensemble Musikfabrik, Peter Veale, oboe. Video recording for the Lockdown Tapes series. October 28, 2020. To be published in 2021. memento/memorial
ELISION. Daryl Buckley, electric lap steel guitar, and Benjamin Marks, trombone. Video recordings of The wreck of former boundaries (electric lap steel guitar & electronics), Because they mark the zone where the force is in the process of striking, and songs only as sad as their listener. Melbourne, Australia. January 29, 2021
Dejana Sekulic, violin. ArtBase, Brussels.
October 18, 2020. Postponed due to Covid-19. November 27, 2020. Postponed again due to Covid-19. February 28, 2021. The Crutch of Memory
Conductor, Ensemble Musikfabrik with Ryoko Aoki. Simultaneous livestream from Cologne, Germany, and Kanagawa, Japan. February 19, 2021. Work by Peter Eötvös
KlangForum Heidelberg (Schola Heidelberg/ensemble aisthesis), Biennale für Neue Musik der Metropolregion Rhein-Neckar, “Konkrete Utopien,”
February 11–22, 2021. Details & repertoire TBC [Postponed to June/July 2021, due to Covid-19.]
Guest Lectures, Masterclasses, Etc.
Mixtur Festival, ‘A way of making ghosts—on self-portraits, musical and otherwise’, Zoom guest lecture, September 17, 2020.
Bath Spa University, Creative Sound Forum, online guest lecture, ‘A way of making ghosts.’ November 11, 2020.
Guest, “Tell Me” television program on TRT World (‘For Art’s Sake’), Turkey, broadcast December 5, 2020
Biennale für Neue Musik der Metropolregion Rhein-Neckar, “Konkrete Utopien,” Composition Workshop and Guest Lecture, “Notation als Utopie,” Mannheim, Germany.
February 22, 2021. [Postponed to June/July 2021, due to Covid-19.]