On Sunday 19th July 2020 Shipley Arts Festival broadcast their Wilding Concert on Zoom. It was the festival’s 6th concert to reach the audience via the internet during the COVID-19 pandemic. The concert included pre-recorded performances from three venues in and around Shipley in West Sussex.
I am really delighted to have been asked to write a new piece to celebrate the return of white storks to the UK after over 600 years and to have had the chance to work with the Shipley Arts Festival. The world premiere of my White Storks string octet came towards the end of the concert, filmed and recorded the previous weekend at the Knepp Estate in Shipley, where the storks have been re-introduced. The new octet was performed by members of the Bernardi Music Group and accompanied by dancer Vikkie Mead.
Now in it’s 20th year Shipley Arts Festival, led by violinist and artistic director Andrew Bernardi, is exhibiting an admirable doggedness and determination to keep going under difficult circumstances and is succeeding in entertaining and moving a growing audience at a time when we all desperately need creative and cultural stimulii. The whole concert can now be viewed on Andrew Bernardi’s You Tube channel. along with the previous 5 concerts of the 2020 festival.
The new commission has attracted some media interest with plugs on BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM as well as interviews on Radio Sussex’s Breakfast Show with Mark Carter (our interview is 1 hr and 50 mins into the show) and a magazine show, Local World which goes out weekly on two community radio stations in West Dorset: Abbey104 in Sherborne and KeeP106 in Dorchester (my interview with presenter Jenny Devitt and an extract of the new piece is 13 minutes into the 23/07 programme).
I am so grateful to all involved for giving me this wonderful opportunity. They are all named at the end of the concert film. Do take a look.
Of course now, I’m noticing storks everywhere – This morning I went to our drawer of postcards collected by both me and Steve over the last 40 or more years and the first one a picked up was this, produced by German postcard makers Editions Michel + Co in their Sundshine cards category. There definitely seems to be a story here – but what?…… if this rings any bells with anyone, I’d love to know.
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.
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