Composition & Craft 1st December 7.30pm

Posted in News on November 8th, 2017 by Nigel – Comments Off on Composition & Craft 1st December 7.30pm

City of London Symphonic Winds perform “A Richer Dust”

Posted in News on October 9th, 2017 by Nigel – Comments Off on City of London Symphonic Winds perform “A Richer Dust”

Musicweb International Review TOCC0412

Posted in News on October 7th, 2017 by Nigel – Comments Off on Musicweb International Review TOCC0412




Nice Review for: Nigel CLARKE – Music for Symphonic Wind Orchestra Toccata Classics





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Nigel CLARKE (b. 1960)
Music for Symphonic Wind Orchestra

Mysteries of the Horizon: Concerto for Cornet and Wind Orchestra (2012) [22:28]
Symphony No. 1, A Richer Dust, for speaker and wind orchestra (2014) [48:30]
Harmen Vanhoorne (cornet)
H Stephen Smith (speaker)
Tennessee State University Wind Ensemble/Reed Thomas
rec. 2015/17, MTSU Wright Hall, Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Two substantial scores for wind orchestra adding in one case a cornet solo and in the other a speaker. Unsurprisingly these are first recordings.

Clarke’s four-movement Cornet Concerto has a fanciful Magritte-inspired title and each movement likewise: I The Menaced Assassin; II The Dominion of Light; III The Flavour of Tears; IV The Discovery of Fire. These suggest a fantasy game for the X-Box. In fact, it’s a flightily accessible piece. Amid the acrobatics in the two outward-facing movements there’s plenty of positive and testing feel-good activity. As for his style, it’s a little like a John Williams film score – melody meets supple and electric fantasy. The second movement is mysterious with the soloist still called on to look lively and jump through hoops … but quietly. The most successful movement is the crooning and consolatory The Flavour of Tears. Harmen Vanhoorne is in complete command whether in display or in a few islands of humour. Clarke assures us in the liner-note that the solo can also be taken by a trumpet. The work began in a brass band version but was rewritten for wind orchestra.

The words used in A Richer Dust, Clarke’s First Symphony, are by a long roll-call of writers and assembled into a sequence by Malene Sheppard Skærved. They focus on humanity’s addiction to the deathly consumption of lives and wellbeing through war. In this work Clarke is no passive onlooker; his role is a furious protester. In every movement of the symphony there are instances of the orchestra speaking words but usually quietly.

Throughout the Symphony the atmosphere is more tense and weighty than in the concerto. That said the symphonic aspect is inevitably de-focused by the narration although this is done with plenty of imagination by H Stephen Smith. In this pattern Clarke follows in the tradition of Copland’s Lincoln Portrait but over a much longer time-span. The movement titles give a good flavour of what to expect bearing in mind that in his music Clarke is not going to take you anywhere near Darmstadt. The titles are: I Still We Drudge in this Dark Maze; II Living Picture of the Dead; III Other Flowers Rise; IV The Larks, Still Bravely Singing.

Clarke’s technique includes having the words spoken over the music. Issues of balance are adeptly handled. The music in the first movement broods, heaves and power-steps its remorseless way forward in a blood-curdling march. More sinister, spiralling, wailing, spectral and skeletal pages dominate the Living Picture of the Dead. It’s a litany of loss and destruction. I like the way the narration slots in naturally, if disturbingly, with the music. The two (words and music) are interdependent. It is as if the flow of words and ideas are integral to the score; just as it should be. This is most tellingly achieved at the end of the second movement.

Other Flowers Rise is a horrific boiling picture – very active and militaristic in the manner of one of the nightmare episodes in Malcolm Arnold’s late symphonies. It’s all searing and rasping brass with belligerent clashing percussion. The image is of a nightmare horde that half shambles and half tramps across a denuded cordite-smoking landscape. The finale begins with the sort of quietude practised by Andrzej Panufnik in the outer movements of his Sinfonia Elegiaca. In fairness Clarke is, at this point, more incident-packed and varied. Nobility and virtue are found in the narration. This is in fact the most moving and civilised of the four movements. The recitation is of what most of us regard as the good things of life. This listing meets music that feels as if it is integral to the eternal humanist beatitudes spoken by the narrator. The movement is over 13 minutes long. After a fairly passive and inspiring confidence in the future it rises to a stirring portrayal of war. It’s impressive and I liked it a great deal but does it fit with the message? Clarke is no doubt making the point that heroic portrayal of war, flags flying and exultant shouts from the troops, is one thing but reality is another. The words intoned by the narrator, after all that heroic brouhaha, drive that message home.

Nigel Clarke already has a presence in the catalogue; not numerous but to be noted. Toccata is already out there with his Music for Thirteen Solo Strings while Naxos have a military band disc.

The notes, in English only, are fulsome. There are essays by the composer, by the writer and by the conductor. All the words are provided.

This well recorded disc is definitely worth trying although some of us will have to adjust our ears to the sound of the wind orchestra.

Rob Barnett

My latest CD featured on BBC Radio 3’s `Building a Library’

Posted in News on October 7th, 2017 by Nigel – Comments Off on My latest CD featured on BBC Radio 3’s `Building a Library’

Very proud that`BBC Radio 3′ on `Building a Library’ looked at the recent Toccata Classics disc of my recent Symphonic Wind Orchestra composition collaborations. Harmen Vanhoorne gets a special mention!!

Thanks again to Harmen Vanhoorne (cornet), H. Stephen Smith (narrator), Malene Sheppard Skearved & the Middle Tennessee State University Wind Ensemble and conductor baton of Reed Thomas.

Disc: TOCC0412

The section that covers the disc review is at around 2 hours 31 minutes.

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My experience of writing my first brass band piece!!!

Posted in News on July 25th, 2017 by Nigel – Comments Off on My experience of writing my first brass band piece!!!

My experience of writing my first brass band piece!!!

I wrote “Atlantic Toccata” back in 1993 for James Watson and the Black Dyke Mills Band – I remember so clearly Jim saying, “go up to Queensbury, and take the rehearsal!” – I had never conducted a brass band in my life at that point and I warmed them up with a `march’ and I remember, the whole way through the piece I was thinking `what the hell am I going say, and do when they get to the end’, all I could hear from the band was pure and undiluted perfection! I quickly got on to much safer territory with my own piece – and again soon as they started playing, they yet again gave me perfection and my heart sunk for the second time – I thought, `how am I going to survive the next two hours’ – My short term, and less than perfect answer was to lie, and lie big and say that I wanted the opening of “Atlantic Toccata” to be quieter and much, much faster, even though it was near-perfect. For me, this was one of the biggest ‘band’ learning experiences ever!!! The real lesson of course, is never get in front of any group of musicians unless you know what you are doing!

What you hear here, is the result of the bands magnificent playing and Jim’s (as ever)`midas touch’. For me it was Jim Watson and Black Dyke who gave me the first chance ever to write extended pieces for multiple instruments, with the freedom of writing music that lasted longer than ten minutes and with open-brief – I owe those days back in the middle 1990’s so, so much.