The first section of my new piece for String Octet depicts the arrival of the White Storks on their journey from Africa to West Sussex.
This is the first time I’ve written a piece that you might call programmatic – telling a story, having a narrative. It’s a simple narrative describing the stork’s migratory journey, but also at the same time I am attempting to depict in music their soaring flight, their inelegant flapping and tramping around the nest and the unforgetable way they clatter their bills.
I’ve always been interested in musical performance as choreography, playing with the moment that gesture becomes sound. And string players would seem to be ideally suited to depicting flight as they make their notes with sweeps of their arms and bows. I hope I can combine the look and the sound in the way I am imagining.
In this first section, the arrival of the white storks, I have used long melodies with large intervals to reflect the wide wing span of the birds as they ride the thermals and spiral in the air. The tempo quickens as they flap their wings and then they glide again. In the end though, music is an abstract art and although it’s useful to make pictorial analogies for inspiration and for writing, I hope that what is conveyed is the spirit of flight and flap without seeming too literal.
Earlier this year I was invited to write a new piece about the white storks at the Knepp Estate in Sussex. White storks have been absent from the English landscape for several hundred years but are being encouraged back by rewilding projects around the country, including at Knepp. You can find out more about the White Stork Project here and if you are interested in going on a virtual stork walk follow this link.
The commission has come from Andrew Bernardi and the Shipley Arts Festival. Knepp is in the village of Shipley and the festival and the estate are frequent partners, including an annual concert at Knepp Castle now titled ‘The Wilding Concert’. The new piece, for String Octet was to have been performed as part of the Wilding Concert on Sunday 21st June 2020. Due to covid19 the concert has been postponed but the festival, the string octet and I are busy collaborating and working towards a virtual premiere of the new work.
Over the coming weeks I will be documenting the progress of the piece in this blog. Because of the remote nature of the collaboration bits of score and recording will be flying back and forth between Frome and Sussex. I will be employing the kind of techniques I use for creating sound installations, recording fragments and experimenting with different combinations. It’s exciting to be working with such great musicians and to get the chance to hone the material with their help into what I hope will be a landmark piece.
You can also follow the progress of the white storks and their fledgelings on the knepp instagram account @kneppsafaris