This piece came about as a commission from my music teacher to get the performers of Alford Academy's Concert Band and String Orchestra together, along with some university graduates, to perform a new piece for a gala concert, under the title of 'Practice-a-Thon!'. The funds from the concert would be raised to get a new grand piano for the school. For this concert, I decided to create a rhapsodic overture with separate episodes where the different instrumentalists could shine. The layout is as follows:
1. Introduction/Fanfare - A short introduction for full orchestra, leading into a brass fanfare in Bb mixolydian. This is followed by:
2. Air - A slow air for strings alone, adding the rest of the orchestra later, leading into:
3. Rhythmics - A fast, rhythmic section in minor key making use of the percussion and incorporating syncopation and irregular time-signatures to add to the excitement. This climaxes in the tonic major with the full orchestra.
4. Jig- At the same quaver speed as the preceding section, this is a ceilidh-style jig, with the melody performed over drones by violins first, and then horns.
5. Elegy/Interlude - Holding on a drone from the previous section, this short episode is slower, and more harmonically unstable, made up mostly of dissonant chords and timbral shifts.
What follows next is a recapitulation of some of the preceding movements:
6. Rhythmics - This returns in a different key, and the climax is modified to lead back into:
7. Air - This returns in the same key as before, but this time accompanied by the percussive rhythms, as well as some interjections from the preceding section.
8. Jig - This returns halfway through the air, and leads into a big climax where the air melody is played out by the full orchestra. The coda of the air is modified harmonically to add to the climax,, leading into the last return:
9. Fanfare - In the closing bars of the piece, the fanfare from the start returns to finish the piece on a high.
It took me around five months to write this piece, and it was a challenge at times, as I not only needed to understand how the different orchestral instruments work, but also had to take into account the grade and stamina of many of the more elementary players in the orchestra.
I later submitted this piece as part of my Advanced Higher Music composition portfolio. Although I now think it is rather juvenile, especially when compared to some of my later work, I still hold it here as my first orchestral piece I actually finished.
This is a short, overture-like piece that I wrote for the Student Sinfonia at the university in late Summer/Autumn of 2014. It is written for a Beethoven-sized orchestra, and attempts to evoke the sights and sounds of the Grampian landscape I'm familiar with. I created a couple of themes, which are played in full to begin with, and I then separated out their motivic properties later on in the piece.
This concerto was commissioned by Richard Paton for the Aberdeenshire Youth Orchestra, who gave its world premiere (20 June 2015) in Bad Kreuznach, Germany, conducted by Chris Gray and with Mark Boyd as soloist.
The aforementioned commission was given with a recommendation that I incorporate Scottish musical tropes into the piece. The three movements that make up the concerto are rhythmically correspondent to various Scottish dances, but the whole work is also thematically developed from an original ‘pibroch’, which is introduced at the start of the first movement, and fragments of it crop up later in different variations. The whole work begins with a Bb drone, again similar to bagpipe music, and the main melody is limited to a diatonic 9-note range. There are also quotations of Scottish melodies at several points, including ‘The Braes of Bushby’ in the second movement, and ‘The White Cockade’ in the third movement.
This four-movement programme symphony for string orchestra was inspired by the mountain south of Ballater, which has also captured the imagination of poets like Lord Byron. This piece is based on my own physical interpretation of the mountain, focused on an imaginary walk up to the top, where each of the four movements illustrates a different stage on that hike. The four movements are as follows:
I. Prelude: At the foot
A slow, broad melody rises slowly to a massive climax, describing in metaphorical terms the challenge facing any traveller as they look up at the mountain from its base. A secondary, song-like melody provides a moment of reflection.
II. Episode: Forest track
Upon starting the trek up, the traveller enters a forest. This scherzo movement attempts to emulate the natural sounds one can hear in this environment through various little motifs. Most notable is a sequence of rising pizzicato 5ths. Towards the end, the sounds disperse and a new chord foreshadows the next movement.
III. Interlude: Mist on the heath
Further up, the forest clears to reveal open moor, where mist obscures the way and gives a haunting aspect to the environment. For me, this was the most systematically composed movement in terms of harmony. It starts with a solo cello playing a haunting, chromatic melody against a very quiet, shivering backdrop, and moves slowly through a series of dissonant chords. The mist clears briefly, revealing the summit and introducing the neo-tonal chords that will begin the final movement, before returning once more with its chromatic chords in an agitated push as the traveller marches determinedly through to the top. The piece reaches a massive climax, and moves straight into the final movement.
IV. Postlude: The summit
Finally, at the top and the climax of the whole piece, the mist clears completely, and the traveller gets a panoramic view which takes in the heath and forest and everything surrounding it. The mood is entirely relaxed now, and in connection with this, this movement is completely through-composed, exploring the summit with slowly developing neo-tonal harmonies and reminiscing on past motifs, including the lilting melody in the first movement and the rising forest arpeggio. Towards the end, the opening melody of the piece returns, but now descending slowly, and the piece ends with a final joyfully stratospheric climax.
I was commissioned by Harmonie Nautique to write this piece throughout the latter half of 2016. In the context of the ensemble’s location and maritime suggestions, I decided to make a symphonic fantasy based around Lac Leman.
Much of the musical material stems ultimately from the song ‘L’Escalade’, Geneva’s civic anthem, while much of the episodes are based programmatically on various sources associated with Lac Leman. The subtitle ‘The Sea of Stagnant Idleness’ is a phrase quoted from Lord Byron’s poem The Prisoner of Chillon (IX.249-250), set at a famous chateau on a different part of the coast. The atmosphere of the opening and ending sections alludes to the lake frozen over, as it did in the winter of 2011/12. Elsewhere, I have made attempts to portray the wind breezing across the lake, a brass fanfare to symbolise the sun’s rays glowing on the waters (which ends the opening ‘frozen’ section), and even referenced a possibility that there might be mythical creature roaming underneath the lake akin to Nessie!