In just over 48 hours we will be able to see and hear Shipley Art Festival’s Wilding Concert beamed across the globe via Zoom. Last Sunday the Bernardi Music Group and I gathered, physically distanced of course, at Knepp Castle to record my new commission, White Storks for String Octet. It was the most overwhelming experience – hearing what’s been going round in my head for weeks in reality for the first time. Thanks to the brilliant players and the excellent film and sound producers the piece was reheased and recorded from a standing start in about an hour and a half.
Shipley Arts Festival have been broadcasting their concerts on YouTube and Zoom since the beginning of lockdown, refusing to give up the idea of sharing music with their friends and audience. In fact this way, people from far and wide can join in and it may be that some who have been unable to attend concerts for years suddenly find themselves among the audience. There are a few silver linings to the restricted world we find ourselves in.
Birds are a frequent source of inspiration for artists of all kinds, but music and dance seem to echo the kinds of words we use to describe the nature and behaviour of birds – flying, soaring, gliding, spiraling. In the first section of my new piece I am imagining the white storks near the end of their journey from Africa to Sussex, glimpsed in the distance, floating in the air, then as individual birds come into view you start to hear solo musical phrases which leap and dip. When we were recording – I explained that the way to play the phrases as I imagine them is to feel like a bird in flight, or a bird on the nest – the storks have a strange way of moving back and forth on the nest as though they can’t quite decide where to stand. The way a stringed instrument is played with the long sweep of the arm with the bow is perfect for this kind of visualisation. The 8 string players play in pairs, sometimes moving as one, sometimes more like a duet or one echoing the other. I’ve tried to write it as a very democratic piece to play. All the players have their moments.
Throughout the process I have been following The White Stork Project on social media and seeing the work of various photographers. I still haven’t seen the storks in real life so for now these amazing images are my reality. Last Sunday I met photographer Malcolm Green who has been following the progress of the White Storks at Knepp for the last 2 years. This is what he said about my new piece:
Your composition is beautiful and it resonated with me because I have watched and photographed the white storks at Knepp Castle Estate for 2 years and your music captures the magic and behaviours of these incredible birds. The white stork project is a re-introduction programme based in West Sussex and it is a wonderful advert for conservation. Your composition is perfect timing too as the first wild storks have successfully bred in the UK for the first time since 1416. For me, your music has now become the white stork project theme tune. Thank you!
So please do join us on Sunday at 6.00 pm for the Shipley Arts Festival Wilding Concert and the world premiere of White Storks.