The world premiere of my new piano piece ‘Levantina’ is coming up in just over a week. I’m excited by the prospect of seeing and hearing someone else playing a piano piece of mine as this is a first.
A while ago the young Jordanian Palestinian pianist Iyad Sughayer suggested to my sister Frances, with whom he was lodging, that I might write a new piece for him. He had enjoyed playing through my ‘Suite of Somerset Apples’ written for harpsichord. So it was Frances who made the commission on Iyad’s behalf.
Given my interest in folk music and the informal description of me as a ‘folk-minimalist’ we decided that the new piece would be inspired by a folk song from the Levant – hence the title Levantina. In my research I discovered that Levantina is the name of a multinational natural stone company originating in Spain and also a genus of air-breathing land snails. It still seemed the perfect name for a little piece inspired by the Levant so it stuck.
Levantina is based on a folk song which is known by various names but that I know as The Lovers Hymn. The story Iyad tells me, and which I want to hear more about, is that this is a chant sung by women who want to get messages to their husbands and lovers who are away at war. The messages are in code and carried on the wind. This idea of melodies hidden in and carried on the wind has very much inspired the way the piece works with the main tune gradually emerging from inside the texture.
It’s a strange experience having written piano music for myself to perform for over 40 years to think about the experience from another pianist’s perspective. One of my piano pupils is currently learning a piece from my Round & Round set and I’m finding myself explaining how and why the music is the way it is. Like with all kinds of retrospection you find illumination by looking back. There’s a thread common to both pieces of melodies emerging out of patterns.
Iyad plays music from across geographical and temporal boundaries, He performs massive dramatic works with great confidence and panache but can also bring sweetness and delicacy when required. He’s particularly drawn to the music of the Armenian composer Khachaturian, having released his first CD of the composer’s work on the BIS label in November 2019. His second Khachaturian CD recorded with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales is in the pipeline also on BIS.
Iyad’s concert is at 4.00 pm on 6th February at St George’s Bristol. Alongside Levantina he will be playing: Haydn Piano Sonata in F Major Hob XVI:23; Sibelius 6 Impromptus Op 5 and Khachaturian Masquerade Suite, which also appears on the forthcoming album.
The concert is being given in support of PalMusic, an organisation dedicated to improving the lives of young Palestinians through music.