On 5th July I conducted a concert for the Late Music Concert Series, entitled ‘Remembering Steve Martland’. The concert was to be a tribute to the Liverpudlian composer, who died in May 2013, and a celebration of composers with special birthday years in 2014. It was also the debut of the newly-formed Late Music Ensemble.
I programmed three works spanning Martland’s career: Remembering Lennon (1981, rev. 1985), Kick (1996, rev. 2005) and Reveille (2007). I’ve put all the programme notes in the concert order below (click on a title).
We celebrated the 80th birthday of Jeremy Dale Roberts with five pieces from his Croquis for string trio, and closed with Workers Union by Martland’s teacher, Louis Andriessen, celebrating his 75th. Alongside these were premieres of two commissions: Roger Marsh‘s Running Jumping and Standing Still and my Rat Race.
Remembering Steve Martland: Programme Notes
Steve Martland: Reveille
Reveille, a ‘wake-up call’, opens with a resounding triad motif from the piano and vibraphone, fortissimo sempre. As manipulations of the triad proliferate, the strings’ sustained backdrop begins to create a sense of unease as the chords gradually overlap. The tension builds until a groovy rhythmic unison figure interrupts, propelling the ensemble into marching modal harmonies. The strings then develop the rhythmic play with yet more varied harmonic colours, eventually allowing a crescendo motif (emphasising a semitone) to take hold. We return briefly to the martial material before reiterations of the triad motif close the piece.
Reveille was commissioned for the 10th anniversary of Ensemble 10/10, the contemporary music group of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. It was premiered in 2007, conducted by Clark Rundell.
Martland: Remembering Lennon
Remembering Lennon was written in 1981 and premiered by the New Music Group of Scotland, conducted by Edward Harper, at Musica Nova, Glasgow University. Martland revised the work in 1985 for Aquarius, who premiered it at Keele University that year.
The piece shows Martland the young composer developing a real awareness of how to harness the extremes of what an ensemble can do. The harmony is adventurous, moving from a sparse opening to densely chromatic textures in the busiest moments. The influence of the former Beatle and fellow Liverpudlian are clear in major/minor thirds motifs (hinting at a well-known song…) and the cello’s soulful strumming ‘quasi chitarra’. After an initially pensive mood, a nimble melody doubled by flute, clarinet, glockenspiel and violin picks up. This gives way to florid hocketting for all 7 players – an example of Martland experimenting with rhythmic patterns and games. These descend from an extreme height to a low, darker tone, before building again, via a return to the nimble melody, to reach a tutta forza climax. A piano cadenza calms the mood to that of the opening, complete with the delicate sound of wineglasses and string harmonics. The quotation from ‘Imagine’ comes to the fore in the work’s closing moments.
Jeremy Dale Roberts: Croquis (a selection)
To celebrate Jeremy Dale Roberts’s 80th birthday this year, we have selected five pieces from this collection for string trio, written for members of the Arditti Quartet in 1976-80:
Cahier III – Minstrel
Cahier I – Sommeil (pour les violes); Plaint
Cahier II – Tambourin
Cahier III – Sonnet
Dale Roberts writes, “Croquis comprises a sheaf of bagatelles, 27 in all, bound together in three ‘Cahiers’. The word means ‘sketch’; and in this collection – as in any album – there is to be found not only finished work, precisely organised, but also the odd scribble, dashed off: as it were, provisional.
“Although I took care to impose some sort of organisation within each of the three parts as well as over all, in a way I’d prefer listeners to nibble at these pieces, rather than expect a solid meal: what the French might call a dégustation.”
Roger Marsh: Running Jumping and Standing Still (WP)
The title of this piece is taken from The Running Jumping and Standing Still Film, an absurd eleven minute film in black and white made in 1960 by Richard Lester with Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and others. It’s only really the title that interests me. I remember seeing the film when I was young and failing to understand what all the fuss was about. It’s not as funny or radical as you want it to be.
This is a piece in three movements, all describing physical actions:
1 Running Jumping and Standing Still
Movements 2 and 3 both had previous lives (a piano piece and a section of a music theatre piece). The first movement is entirely new. – Roger Marsh
Kick was written specifically for a band gig at London’s South bank Centre. Indeed, as the event was supposedly connected to the 1996 European football cup final, the South Bank promoter made the booking conditional on my providing a new piece with a football theme! Doing my best to find a connection where none exists, I decided to take an anonymous English folk fiddle melody of the 17th century and write some straightforward variations on the tune. The last variation almost reinstates the original tune, but this time the dance is undermined by alternating regular and irregular meters. – Steve Martland (2001)
Louis Andriessen: Workers Union
We celebrate the 75th birthday year of Martland’s composition teacher, Louis Andriessen, with his “symphonic movement for any loud sounding group of instruments”, written in 1975, for the Dutch Orkest de Volharding (Perseverance Orchestra).
Andriessen writes that the piece is “a combination of individual freedom and severe discipline: its rhythm is exactly fixed; the pitch, on the other hand, is indicated only approximately, on a single-lined stave.” The score instructs that the players must “make the piece sound dissonant, chromatic, and often aggressive”; at one point, “like an aggressive national hymn”.
“Only in the case of every player playing with such an intention that their part is an essential one, the work will succeed; just as in the political work.”