On Wednesday 15 June four LSO Soundhub Associates present a composer-curated evening of music at LSO St Luke's. We recently caught up with Arthur Keegan-Bole and Marilyn Herman to find out more about their creations, compositional style, experiences working with the LSO and what's coming up next for them. Read on to find out more.
Can you tell us a bit about your piece?
Arthur Keegan-Bole: My piece is called Suite for Dorian. I had an idea years ago for a dance piece based on Oscar Wilde's tale of Dorian Gray. The main focus of the idea is the interaction between the character and their portrait – how the portrait and protagonist transform away from each other is interesting to me.
Re-imagining the portrait as a video installation opens up the possibility of a dancer duetting in real-time with the portrait, so long-term, I want to work with a videographer and choreographer to create a film that a dancer can interact with, duetting/dancing with themselves. Imagining the portrait this way also gives more agency/focus to the portrait itself and allows the change (demise!) of the portrait to be a bigger focus of the story.
Writing this suite has allowed me to develop musical ideas for this potential stage work. Recordings of this material will allow me to work with some dancers to start building the story with dance.
The suite has three movements (played without pause) – a short opening idea for all instruments, followed by a second movement of three ‘transformations’, each led by a solo instrument (a long section led by flute, then shorter sections led by bass clarinet and cello). The final movement is another tutti section. The intended structure for the dance is four scenes depicting the narrative of the tale with dancer. These scenes will be interspersed with interludes that chart the transformation of the portrait. In this suite the second movement develops material intended for the transformation interludes, and the first and final movement includes material intended for scenes one and four.
Marilyn Herman: My piece is called 100 Full Moons of Autumn. It has 3 sections:
Verse 1: 100 Full Moons of Autumn
Verse 2: I can summon all the Protectors
Chorus: I dance within a blazing garland or I love you in gladness
Taking a song I wrote and sang in folk clubs in the 1990s, I wished to explore ways of developing it into the form of a classical work in which the folk elements inspire, transform into, and fuse seamlessly with classical forms.
In this work, my aim has also been to experiment with having both non-classical and classical voice in the same piece – even singing together. In keeping with much of my compositional work, jazz has a strong presence in this work. In this performance, the jazz alto doubles as a non-jazz/non-classical ('folk') singer. I invite whatever a jazz singer may bring to music: including improvisation.
The particular song I chose contains melodic material which I thought would work very well. However, I decided to use words which resonate more with my life now rather than evoking a particular time in the distant past. The original song on which this work is based is one of reassurance; of love and acceptance; of calming and strengthening. In character with the original words, I decided to take phrases from The Praises to the Twenty One Tara's which is part of the Tibetan Buddhist Green Tara Practice. Tara is a Buddhist deity. During her lifetime when she attained Buddhahood, she vowed that she would always be reborn as a woman until the end of human suffering in Samsara – the cycle of death and rebirth.
In the first verse, I thought the descending Dorian mode would be very promising. Folk music tends to be modal, and I combined it with two other modes. I was very much inspired by Arvo Pärt's Cantus in Memoriam in writing this verse. The Chorus is built on the climactic chorus of the original song from which some original 'non-deity' words are retained. For this section, I decided to go along with inspiration provided by the waves, the intense light reflected on the surface of the sea, from walking along the Visby coastline in Sweden, where I was invited on a composer residency.
In the Green Tara Practice, the practitioner takes on the form of Green Tara, who emanates the most intense and dazzling light, and who has the most incredible supernatural powers. At the end, this visualisation dissolves into light and merges with the practitioner. Accordingly, in this work, the singers – when they are singing the phrases of praise for her, are rendering them in the first person – they are singing as the all-powerful, well-connected, protective and protected Green Tara.
How would you describe your compositional style?
Arthur: I don’t know, and I don't find it so helpful to try to define this too much myself (I don’t want to be second-guessing myself when writing). My output is eclectic but sits within a broad concert hall contemporary music aesthetic. It is important to me that players enjoy performing my music and audiences have something clear to hang on to, so lyricism within lines and clear structures are important to me. However, each piece is different, responding to different stimuli. If I can create a musically poetic response to an initial idea then I don’t mind what style emerges, the music just has to make sense!
Marilyn: To date, I have tried to do something different with every work I have composed. Since I have been so deeply immersed in different genres of music, they often fuse. There tends to be a strong jazz component in my writing , and it has been characterised as 'jazz-classical'. Having been deeply immersed in Ethiopian music, two of my works are strongly based on its pentatonic modal style – one combined with swing, which found its way into Ethiopian music through transmission of big band jazz from an American radio station in Eritrea. Another work contains calypso influences and another, inspired by the night-time 'chorus' in a Brazilian rainforest contains a strong bossa rhythm and feel. Yet another for solo clarinet combines jazz, oriental-style modal passages and something bordering more on Impressionism. These give an idea of the fusion of genres, and scope of world music influences in my compositions.
How has your relationship with the LSO developed from being on the Soundhub scheme to being an Associate?
Arthur: This process – building a piece through workshop with the amazing LSO players and with help from my mentor, Sally Beamish – has been great. I am never happier than when working directly with players and discussing music deeply with musicians. This kind of opportunity (outside of education institutions) is hard to come by and it is precious! Being able to develop the complex ideas in this piece with the technical support of LSO St Luke’s production, musical support of the performers, and Sally, has been so enjoyable and developmental. This piece has been in my imagination for such a long time. It is amazing to make some of it concrete and share it!
Marilyn: I feel enormously lucky and privileged to be gifted with the opportunity to have my work performed by LSO musicians, who workshopped two thirds of it, and provided very valuable feedback and advice. I am most grateful to everyone involved in providing me with the opportunities that come with being a member of the LSO Soundhub community – and particularly Susie Thomson for making this all possible for us.
What have you found most rewarding, or even challenging, about curating the showcase?
Arthur: Some technical aspects have been difficult to implement – the inclusion of electronics with instruments is often tricky to get right. In this piece, I want the soundworlds of acoustic instrument and electronic sound to really blend and complement, and to remain melodic and expressive. I hope I have achieved this, but it has taken work with the players in workshop and some careful technical solutions to integrating the acoustic and electronic material.
Despite this music being an instrumental suite, I was keen to try to discover what kind of material works for dancers. This is where my mentor, Sally Beamish, has been invaluable. Discussions of how dancers approach music and attempts to make the lines in this piece ‘dance-able’ in some way has been fascinating and incredibly rewarding.
Marilyn: Most rewarding has been being part of a team of composers and the invaluable, hard-working Joyce Lam, who connects us all, and ensures that conversations are pertinent, and that decisions are made. Also, having the opportunity to take part in decisions on lighting, and the general aesthetics of the evening as a whole.
What does the coming year look like for you beyond the showcase?
Arthur: I have an ongoing Thomas Hardy project that will progress this summer and hopefully into 2023. This project brings together a new song cycle which I will finish in the coming months, a string quartet with mezzo-soprano which was premiered in May and a set of arrangements of songs from 1922 to 2022, all of which set the poetry of Thomas Hardy. This project is a close collaboration with the fabulous mezzo-soprano Lotte Betts-Dean. We are developing a few Thomas Hardy programmes that we plan to tour through the South-West, and we hope to record some of the material for a commercial disc. I am also at the start of a project developing a viola concerto for youth orchestra based on a children’s tale. As such, frustratingly, I will be writing applications for support and planning as much as I will be writing music.
Marilyn: In October, I am participating in an online event as part of the Insiders-Outsiders Festival presenting recently video-recorded recitals of two of my works: Rozsa's Wish, based on the last words to her children of my grandmother, Rachel-Rozsa who perished in Auschwitz; and The Angel of Chomutov, commemorating the heroism of a young Czech woman who risked, probably gave, her life to give my father bread when he was on a death march towards the end of WWII, having just crossed over the mountain range from Germany into the Czech Sudetenland. Further on in the year, my anticipated compositional activity includes resuming writing Transcarpathia, the third work which forms part of a trilogy to which Rozsa's Wish and The Angel of Chomutov belong.
I also plan to compose a first work for solo violin, at the suggestion of an amazing violinist. Since 100 Full Moons of Autumn is a work in progress, I anticipate revisiting it with the benefit of plenty of time and space to give it all the thought and research it needs to progress to its final form. Finally, I have made a number of attempts to raise funding to put on a concert centred around the Holocaust, and I hope to be able to realise this aim within the next year.
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Wednesday 15 June 7pm | LSO St Luke's
Marilyn Herman 100 Full Moons of Autumn
Arthur Keegan-Bole Suite for Dorian
Alex Groves Four Forms (Horizon)
Joe Bates Straight Line Through A Landscape
Colin Alexander cello
Pasha Mansurov flute
Heather Roche clarinet
Jake Brown percussion
Angela Wai-Nok Hui percussion
Lucy Knight soprano
Juliet Kelly jazz alto
Darren Bloom conductor
Tickets: £8 (£6 concessions)