Category Archives: Performance

The #magicaleverytime Call for Scores reopens

The Call for Scores that never closes is open once again!

this piece gets more magical every time someone writes ill of itthis piece gets more magical every time someone writes ill of it will be performed on 11th June 2016 by Alex Wilson and Nicholas Peters.

The piece is a lottery for pianist and page-turner, inspired by Kenneth Goldsmith’s Printing Out the Internet.

The performers print out as many submitted scores as they like, then in performance the page-turner selects scores for the pianist to play.

The performance could result in the fastest number of premieres ever – or just in Alex playing nursery rhymes over and over. Anyone can submit any amount of scores, so we’ll see…

Full details about the call are here. Submit your scores to:

Follow #magicaleverytime on social media for submission updates!

The concert, titled ‘All About the Piano’, takes place at The Pound, Corsham, where Nick is Composer in Residence. It features his new work With, plus music by Alvin Lucier, Emma Welton, John Lely and Gerald Barry. It looks to be a fantastic concert and I’m delighted Nick and Alex are including my piece.

Here’s a film of the premiere, performed by me and Ian Pace:

Devising BRETHREN – final piece of the PhD puzzle

BRETHREN logoOver the last three weeks I have been devising BRETHREN for choreographed orchestra, the final piece of my PhD.

Rehearsals have been compact, with a half-hour of content to get through for the premiere next week.

Luckily, I have had a fantastic group to work with, The Assembled, which I have been a member of since 2012. Membership has changed over time, yet the group has always been very strongly and enthusiastically committed to trying anything and everything new and experimental.

Joining The Assembled are a number of other Music students, together totalling 14. Though I aimed to recruit a larger community group (and received many responses apologetic that they could not commit to all rehearsals), the piece will work well this size. A stage can be filled by one person, let alone a whole sinfonietta. The group divides evenly to suit a chamber orchestra aesthetic too: 3 wind, 3 percussion, 7 strings, even a harmonium in lieu of a concert grand.

Though I’ve made pieces with all the players before, I have been amazed at how wholeheartedly they have thrown themselves into it, pushing themselves physically and learning movement and music by memory. The adventurous attitude of the students is what makes York such an exciting place to collaborate and compose.

This week I invited Rachel Fullegar, dance artist, teacher and member of Gracefool Collective (collaborators in That’s Yer Lot!), to attend as a rehearsal director. She gave us some insightful advice about thinking through the reasons for movement and performing purposefully to embody the piece’s themes. I won’t explain the piece away now – there’s an overly long programme note for that…

BRETHREN feels like an opposite bookend to Remains of Elmet, made in 2013. As I write up the PhD, the difference in process seems even more marked. For Remains of Elmet, all theatrical and musical material developed from close analysis of the Ted Hughes poems. That generated a bank of metaphors and themes, allowing me to construct the narrative, design ritualistic stage layouts and movement, then write the whole thing down on manuscript paper.

Making BRETHREN has pushed me as a composer and as a director. Although I knew the quality of the movement I was after, the movement itself had to be created by the performers so as to allow them to perform movement authentically, freely, individually. Conceptualising the piece was like imagining a series of images that I knew would be there, but without colour – a paint-by-numbers waiting to be painted.

My previous devised processes included an initial experimental phase in which material was generated, filtered, focused, then refined before rehearsing the final performance. Time could not allow this for BRETHREN, so rehearsals had to follow a close plan of specific movement games and tasks that could produce the desired style of movement and overall aesthetic.

Group 2 interpreting instruments as weapons
Last December I was able to test some concepts and ideas with fellow Musicians in Residence at The Banff Centre. I talked about that in a previous blog. Suffice to say, I learnt a great deal about the piece and about directing there.

At a recent conference in Sheffield, I remarked in my paper that I am no longer certain now that music is the medium in which I want to make work. The problem with that phrase is how you define ‘music’. My PhD’s title, ‘Music is Theatre’, tackles this notion of what we consider separate fields, the boundaries of which disintegrate very quickly in certain contexts. Anyway, that is another story, remaining to be written…

For now, here are some rehearsal snaps to give a flavour of BRETHREN. To find out what’s going on, you’ll have to come to the premiere on 4th May at York Spring Festival – click this link for tickets and more information!

Those not in York may be able to stream the performance live here:

devising BRETHREN

devising BRETHREN

devising BRETHREN


CALL FOR PERFORMERS: BRETHREN for roaming orchestra

BRETHREN Call for Performers
Find out more by downloading this information leaflet or read on!

BRETHREN is a 30-minute performance piece about community and conflict.

Imagine an empty stage, dimly lit. A single violinist walks onto it and begins to play. Another joins. Then more. Soon they form a group, while others emerge: cellists, clarinetists, flautists, all clustering in groups. The way they move and the way they play are all different. Their sounds and shapes build, clash and combine. From chaos, something must be salvaged.

Using the metaphor of an orchestra as a collection of instrumental families, BRETHREN will explore how a community caught in conflict, how peoples upheaved and isolated, can rebuild and move forward as one.

The title comes from words sung in Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms: ‘how good it is for brethren to dwell together in unity’.

Who can perform in BRETHREN?
Any musician, on any instrument associated with the orchestra. The only instruments that cannot be in the piece are pianos and large percussion instruments.

The BRETHREN orchestra will include two University of York Music Department ensembles: The Assembled and Chimera Ensemble. The rest of the orchestra will involve musicians based in York and other students.

Performers will be in groups, arranged by instrumental type and by instruments that move in similar ways (e.g. violins with violas, clarinets with oboes). The choreographed or ‘roaming’ BRETHREN orchestra will inhabit the stage without music stands, without conductor.

What do I need to take part in BRETHREN?
What will I be doing in it?

Comfortable clothing for moving in, enthusiasm and a willingness to try something new!

You will be moving around and forming tableaux on stage, with your instrument, alongside other musicians. Any experience of theatre, dance or movement is a plus but is not necessary for the piece. The orchestra will not be required to act: the focus will be on the sound and on the natural movements we make when we play our instruments.

Rehearsals will be directed and supervised by James throughout. These will start with gentle physical warm-ups, plus games to develop spatial awareness and musical improvisation skills. The orchestra will learn stage and musical directions together by rote, building the piece bit by bit.

What will the music be like?
The first part of the piece, ‘VIOLINS’, will feature each instrumental group building its own block of sound. Gradually, energy and density will grow. The second part, ‘VIOLENCE’, will be quite noisy as the blocks of sound clash. In the third part, ‘SILENCE’, the blocks of sound will complement, interact and combine with each other. There will be silences too!

The music will comprise short composed passages and moments of improvisation. If you are new to improvisation, there is nothing to worry about: instructions for what to do will always be straightforward and structured.

Where & when are rehearsals?
Dates: 16th, 17th, 23rd & 24th April, 1st & 4th* May
(*=run-through only)
Venue: University of York Music Department

Where & when is the performance?
Date: Wednesday 4th May, 7.30pm
Venue: Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York
Part of York Spring Festival: |
View the hall:

How can I get to the rehearsal and performance venues?
There is parking on campus and regular buses. Here are some helpful transport & map links:

Sounds good – sign me up!
Download this form to complete and email to James:
Word (.docx)

Alex Wilson: ANZAC Day concert at Southwark Cathedral

Pianist Alex Wilson will give the fifth performance of our piece
a drawing-down of blinds as part of a lunchtime concert on ANZAC Day at Southwark Cathedral, at 1pm on Saturday 25th April.

The programme includes an unfinished sonata by Australian war hero Frederick Septimus Kelly, plus other works written by composers who fought in the First World War.

The concert continues the Banks of Green Willow concert series that Alex toured around the South West last Autumn.

The concert is free, with a retiring collection for the British Red Cross.

The Banks of Green Willow…………….George Butterworth

3 Improvisations for the Left-Hand…….Frank Bridge

A selection of preludes………………….Ivor Gurney

a drawing-down of blinds……………….James Whittle

Piano Sonata (unfinished)……………….Frederick Septimus Kelly

‘Touch Tales’ shortlisted for SLAPmoves prize

I am excited to announce that Touch Tales has been shortlisted for the SLAPmoves prize.

SLAPmoves | 7pm | Thursday 9th April | York Guildhall
This event is free / pay-what-you-decide.
Read more about ‘Touch Tales’ here.

SLAP (‘Salacious Live Alternative Performance’) is a new platform that supports and programmes experimental dance, theatre, live art, music and film in a range of performance events in York.

The SLAPmoves prizeis all about emerging art from the next generation of pioneering talent. SLAP has invited recent graduates and final year students (of dance/theatre/film whose themes of focus are based upon ‘movement’) to submit proposals of new work.

“Throughout the evening you will have the chance to see our shortlisted artists and works, an eclectic mix of dance, live art, film and music. Showcasing not only local talent but international artists. The audience also has a say in who is deserving of the prize.

“The successful artist or company will then be offered a place in Yorkshire Dance’s spring platform dedicated to the region’s most exciting emerging talent, taking place in May. The artist will also receive studio space, a one-to-one meeting with a producer, artistic mentoring and technical support.

The shortlisted artists are:
Arnold & Whittle
Amy Lawrence
Christie Barnes
Michael Robbins
Dan Craddock
Joshua Hubbard & Anton Hinchliffe

This will be the fourth performance of the piece that Katharina Arnold and I have given, following our performance at Northern Art Festival #3 last Friday.

‘The Undemanding Lover’ live premiere recording

The Pierrot Project have posted the live premiere performance recordings of their commissioned Pierrot Kabarett songs, including mine The Undemanding Lover.

Featuring the Dr K. Sextet with Lesley-Jane Rogers, soprano, and Ewan Campbell, conductor, at Club Inégales on 22 January 2015.

The other Pierrot Kabarett composers are: Jasmin Kent Rodgman, Andrew Thomas, Liz Johnson, Dimitri Scarlato, Neil Luck, Norberto Oldrini and Amy Bryce.

‘Touch Tales’ at Northern Art #3

I am delighted to announce that ‘Touch Tales’ has been selected for performance at the third Northern Art Festival event.

Northern Art festival runs monthly events in Sheffield showcasing a variety of performance, theatre and live art.

Following last month’s sharing of the piece at NEWK in Leeds and seminar in York (more info here!), Katharina Arnold and I are excited to be developing the work further for a new audience.

The other artists performing at Northern Art #3 are:

The Glummer Twins: ‘Stand Up Poets’

Charlotte Blackburn and Tim Norwood: ‘Why are you so Angry’

Tara Baker and The Dance Network Sheffield: new work

Rosemary Spencer and Kerri Butterworth: ‘Labelling’

Northern Art #3
6.30-11pm, Friday 3rd April, Theatre Delicatessen
Free entry / pay what you feel after seeing the performances.

New work: ‘Touch Tales’

Since November 2014 I have been collaborating with performer and dancer Katharina Arnold on a new devised theatre work, Touch Tales, which will soon have its first performances in Leeds and York.

The first performance is on Thursday 26th February, at 7.30pm, at NEWK, a platform in Leeds for sharing new live performance work, hosted by LAB (Live Art Bistro).

On Tuesday 3rd March we will give a Composer’s Seminar at the University of York Music Department. After performing the piece, we will lead a discussion on it and the collaborative process.

Katharina and I first connected through working together as artists-in-residence on the Impossible Lecture Retreat at Beacons Festival 2014 . Our collaboration grew from our mutual interest in making interdisciplinary work that challenges perceptions of our respective artistic disciplines. We started making Touch Tales after Katharina completed an MA in Performance at Leeds Beckett University.

Arnold & Whittle: Touch Tales

“If the cello had hands it would play itself. Since it has none, it has only one wish: to be played, to sound, to sing – to do what it is supposed to.”

What makes touch loving, embracing, manipulative, neglecting, abusive? Does the cello want to be played? Is it used without its permission – does it provoke with its curves?

In this piece blurring the typical roles of dancer and musician, interweaving stories examine different forms of touch to reflect on the consequences of actions.

‘a drawing-down of blinds’ – 4th performance

Alex Wilson will give the fourth performance of my latest solo piano work, a drawing-down of blinds, as part of a World War I conference in York on Saturday 28th February.

Alex commissioned the work for The Banks of Green Willow, a tour of Bristol, Exeter and Gloucester Cathedral, to voice a contemporary reflection on the Great War.

Over Here and Over There: Music of WW1 conference

The York performance will be at the end of a two-day conference, Over There and Over There: The Music of World War I. Alex will play in an evening concert, ‘After the Lusitania’, to include the University of York Chamber Orchestra playing Frank Bridge’s Lament for string orchestra. Lament was written in response to the sinking of the Lusitania on 7th May 1915. Charles Ives responded to the same disaster in his Second Orchestra Set, performed here last week.

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Wilfred Owen, ‘Dulce et decorum est’

How can one begin to contemplate an experience as black, an event as monumentally catastrophic, as the Great War? How does one cope with such a memory? What of the experience one cannot fathom from the distance of time? These questions formed my research for the piece.

I am always struck by the sight of a grand piano alone on stage, black, motionless, silent. After discussion of potential themes with Alex, my aim was to dramatise the physicality between pianist and piano to explore the idea of the weight of the past.

We met to devise physical action which I then composed into notated music, some of which is unmetered (without a regular pulse or barlines). The hope is that through how the pianist is seen to interact with the piano, remembrance — the act of remembering — becomes the focus of the piece.

I am indebted to Geoff Dyer’s recent book The Missing of the Somme for its insightful reflections on the war’s significance to us today, and for four quotations which mark interlinked sections in the score. A fifth quotation appears after the final bar.

‘an incomprehensible look…
it was more terrible that terror, for it was a blindfold look,
without expression’

‘Even when the blinds are raised, the sudden rush of light reveals
how much is – and will remain – concealed, missing.’

‘One does not fight with men against matériel,
it is with matériel served by men that one makes war.’

‘The war goes on, silently, visibly.’

‘When we have been there long enough,
we get up and leave, turn the page and move on.’

‘That’s Yer Lot!’ trailer & film

My collaboration with the fantastic Gracefool Collective and Raphael Attar, That’s Yer Lot!, received its third performance in March at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, as part of the Transform 14 festival. Below is a trailer that has kindly been made for the Gracefools from that performance.

Gracefool Collective – That’s Yer Lot from Paul Cox on Vimeo


We also have a film of the first performance, which took place in May 2013 in a warehouse by Leeds Hackspace, courtesy of Champion Up North. Although the quality of the footage is mixed, it gives a good sense of the piece and the interactive/hyperactive audience… Enjoy!