A Fantastic Day of Discovering Sounds with the Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra in Woolwich Barracks London

Posted in News on December 5th, 2016 by Nigel – Comments Off on A Fantastic Day of Discovering Sounds with the Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra in Woolwich Barracks London

End of a wonderful Day of music making with the CWSO – photo by Marius Skaerved

Last Tuesday (22/11/16), I joined violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved for a day of discovering unusual timbres and possibilities with the Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra hosted by Staff Sergeant Claire Lawrence. The day was the brain-child of Claire and Captain David Hammond, the orchestra’s musical director.


Peter and myself with the CWSO

Peter led the workshop by introducing the vast range of sounds that he has accumulated over the years performing the 400 pieces for violin that have been written for him. There were even a few clarke-isms served up. Peter is fascinated by musical colours – over the years I have witnessed dozens and dozens of his workshops, but I still manage to take away something new and inspirational from each one.

It was impressive how willing the musicians of the CWSO were to try out different techniques – it is not always so when you travel around the world and work with professional musicians. Peter and I have found that often the best results come from close collaboration and that is the starting point of our project with the CWSO, during which I will write them a new work.


Listening is a world of discovery!


The CWSO Bass section

SSgt Claire Lawrence wrote of the day: “What a hugely inspirational day. An absolute pleasure to hear you play and see such crazy technique up close, and fascinating to hear how you deal with new scores and how pieces evolve over time, with differing personnel or environments. The afternoon session was unlike any we have had at the CWSO, as our work dictates playing from written music and rehearsing from what we see. I think in this way, what we hear is governed so much by what we are seeing. The listening is almost pre-decided. To make sounds away from music with no convention to adhere to was a very creative experience, if not a little daunting at first./Another great thing was that throughout this process you reminded us of technical aspects that we can transfer to our usual rehearsal days and engagements. Experimenting with point of contact and types of vibrato, and really noticing how it changed the sound, was a very valuable exercise that we are continuing to consider./We also loved the insight we had into how Nigel writes. I enjoyed watching him listening and suggesting things, and I was I interested in his observing how we behave as an group, really fascinating that all this research is done before considering notes on a page. One of the CWSO violinists commented afterwards that it is very exciting to think we can have a work written specifically for our sound, a new sound that we can create and that will be unlike anything else that we do./So I guess in conclusion we all had a fantastic day. It was a real privilege to welcome you and Nigel to Woolwich. This was very much a development day in all ways, not just music, in broadening our minds and in pushing ourselves to stretch outside the environment in which we usually exist.”


Thanks to Peter and to all involved in this new and exciting partnership! Also a big thank you to Marius Skaerved for the wonderful photos that he took throughout the day.

`A Richer Dust’ shortlisted for the `British Composer Awards’

Posted in News on October 26th, 2016 by Nigel – Comments Off on `A Richer Dust’ shortlisted for the `British Composer Awards’

I am thrilled that `A Richer Dust’ Symphony No1. for Speaker and Wind Orchestra has been shortlisted in the 2016 British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) `British Composer Awards’ in the Wind Band & Brass Band category. The premiere was given by conductor Reed Thomas and the Middle Tennessee State University Wind Ensemble, and the works UK premiere by WO1 Andrew Porter and HM Band of the Irish Guards, in London last November as part of the Festival of Remembrance weekend. Like everything I do, collaboration is at its heart, and I am very proud that my co-collaborator on this occasion, was the wonderful Danish author and writer Malene Sheppard Skærved. Using music and words, `A Richer Dust’ explores what it means to live with violence and extremism, the constant companions of human history. Congratulations to all those shortlisted. BASCA have done stirring work in recent years, helping focus attention on `composers’, the backroom boys and girls of the classical music industry.

A short extract from the last moment of `A Richer Dust’


“Using music and words, `A Richer Dust’ explores what it means to live with violence and extremism, the constant companions of human history. The intertwined text and music, ideas and images, weave together voices ranging from those of historically significant figures through to the voiceless, ordinary people living in extraordinary times”.


See: BASCA `British Composer Awards Announcements’

also: BASCA Info on `A Richer Dust’


Conductor Reed Thomas and the Middle Tennessee State University Wind Ensemble at the premiere of `A Richer Dust’

After the European Premiere of `A Richer Dust' - Malene, the Band of the Irish Guards and myself '(Photos: Marius Skaerved)

After the European Premiere of `A Richer Dust’ – Malene, the Band of the Irish Guards and myself ‘(Photos: Marius Skaerved)

`Outrageous Fortune’ with Brett Baker (Trombone), Reed Thomas (Conductor) and the MTSU Wind Ensemble

Posted in News on September 22nd, 2016 by Nigel – Comments Off on `Outrageous Fortune’ with Brett Baker (Trombone), Reed Thomas (Conductor) and the MTSU Wind Ensemble

Dr Brett Baker in rehearsal with Dr Reed Thomas & the MTSU Wind Ensemble














A big thank you, to the amazing Trombone soloists Brett Baker, Reed Thomas (Conductor) and the students of the Middle Tennessee State University Wind Ensemble for the wonderful premiere and recording of `Outrageous Fortune’, Symphony No 2 for Trombone Soloist, Actor & Wind Orchestra.  

The professionalism of the staff and students at Middle Tennessee State University is second to none!

`Outrageous Fortune’ is a symphonic drama in the structure and sentiment of a traditional concerto. I have taken this approach from Hector Berlioz’ masterpiece Harold in Italy, Symphony in Four Parts with Viola Obbligato which illustrates how a soloist can be part of a larger symphonic work.

I have designed my Symphony Outrageous Fortune as a melancholic drama, bleak and sardonic in style. It follows programmatically the story of Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet. I have prefaced my score with the bard’s despairing words:

“Thus bad begins, and worse remains behind”.

Hamlet is a tale of conspiracy, betrayal, suicide, revenge and murder, and also a ghost story. Both the trombone soloist and the actor take on the role of the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet. Outrageous Fortune reflects the protagonist’s despair, his self-doubt and self-loathing and his advance towards mental breakdown. Hamlet’s character is full of bitterness, but alongside this he shows profound wisdom beyond his years.


Conductor Reed Thomas looking over Brett Bakers Trombone part

The Danish castle of Elsinore is the setting for the drama. I have set to music, two of Hamlet’s soliloquies:

  1. “O that this too too sullied flesh would melt”
  2. To be, or not to be, that is the question”.

Hamlet’s first monologue sees him longing to be dead and contemplating his own suicide although he is concerned that the Almighty has forbidden this option by sacred law. The cause of Hamlet’s malady is his distress that his mother has just remarried following the death of his father (the former King), less than two months ago. His mother’s suitor is his father’s own brother, Hamlet’s uncle! Hamlet rails against the rashness of his mother’s actions without apparent concern for his father’s death:

She married. O most wicked speed, to post – With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!”.

The second soliloquy “To be, or not to be – that is the question” finds Hamlet near to mental breakdown, grappling with the choice between killing himself, or living on to avenge his father’s murder? To kill himself brings uncertainty as no one has ever returned from the afterlife – who knows what suffering awaits there?


“But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscovered country, from whose bourn

No traveller returns – puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have,

Than fly to others that we know not of.

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all”.



Apres Concert!!!























Hamlet’s release from his dilemma, comes in the final act after he has avenged his father’s death, with his subsequent murder.


I have given Outrageous Fortune 15 scene-titles:


I. O that this too too solid flesh would melt

II. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark

III. The kettledrum and trumpet thus bray out

IV Alas, poor ghost

V. Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder!

VI. To be or not be

VII. Get thee to a nunnery

VIII. The Mousetrap

IX. What warlike noise is this

X. The King’s Jester

XI. Revenge should have no bounds

XII. Unbated and envenomed

XIII. Rapier and Danger 

XIV. Now crack a noble heart

XV. The rest is silence


Here are some extracts taken from the first edit of our recording session as a tribute to Brett Baker, Reed Thomas and the MTSU Wind Ensemble. My voice can be heard on the recording and is only temporary until we replaced by an actor!

Staying in Europe!!

Posted in News on May 10th, 2016 by Nigel – Comments Off on Staying in Europe!!


As a composer I believe it is absolutely crucial for our country and our culture to remain in the EU.

I spend a lot of time travelling around Europe composing and making music with many organisations.  I like to say that my first nationality is Musician, and only after that, am I European, British and English.

I recall that in 1986 the British Council sponsored me to attend a music summer school in Poland. It was extremely complicated to organise because of the need for documentation to enter what was then a Warsaw Pact country. Since then things have changed beyond recognition. These days it is quite normal to work across borders within a much larger territory of 28 member states. For example, a film company for which I worked was based in Amsterdam, with a German producer and Brit in charge of post production. There were many Dutch crew members, an award-winning German editor and me as a composer from the UK.

Another film saw me moving over a period of weeks from Luxembourg to Venice to Munich and ultimately when the score was finished we recorded it in London with the London Symphony Orchestra.

These are typical examples of cross border cooperation and the projects were considerably facilitated by freedom of movement, and undoubtedly the UK’s membership of the EU made their choice of using a UK composer and a UK orchestra much easier.

When I work and travel within the EU I know that my intellectual rights as a composer are protected by EU law; also, unlike when I go to the US, I never have to think once about health insurance, if I break my leg or fall ill, I can use the local hospital; and even outside the EU, I know I can go to any EU embassy for help and be represented in my own language.

When I studied at the Royal Academy of Music, the then Principal Sir David Lumsden found it fundamentally important that as students we should be exposed to artistic influences from across Europe and beyond – we should swap ideas, expand our friendships and get excited about great music and great art wherever it was to be found!! Today Erasmus (plus) makes this policy so much easier to achieve and leads to much enhanced mutual understanding. This would all be lost if we leave.

I’m sure Sir David would be proud to think that I, and others took his advice to heart. For instance, I became Composer in Association to the Belgian National Brass Band Champions, Brass Band Buizingen, and more recently I was Associate Composer to the Marine Band of the Royal Dutch Navy, probably the finest Wind Orchestra in Europe. In the latter case, when I asked politely whether it would be a problem for the Dutch military that I was British, the Officer in charge merely responded “We are all Europeans now!!”

To the Eurosceptics, who believe we will still be able to travel and work in EU after a Brexit, I say, we just don’t know and there will certainly be more hurdles to jump.

When you are not visible you risk being forgotten –  there is only one possible advantage that I can see –  being in splendid isolation, you are always the best, even if no one else is watching or listening!

I personally will be heart broken if we leave this extraordinary partnership that the EU represents. Not only for myself, but for the generations that follow.



Today’s bit of Musical Fun with Harmen Vanhoorne

Posted in News on April 11th, 2016 by Nigel – Comments Off on Today’s bit of Musical Fun with Harmen Vanhoorne

UnknownHere is today’s offering of musical fun(!) with Harmen Vanhoorne on Cornet – The result is a revamp of material from my concerto `Mysteries of the Horizon’ turned in to a work for Cornet/Trumpet & Sound Design – it’s new alter ego is entitled  “The Exotic Dream of the Wonderful Monsieur Magritte”. Harmen gave the premiere performance of this work last month at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. I hope that René Magritte the inspiration for my concerto would have approved of my surrealist dream! Harmen plans to record this work professionally in the near future. There is also a solo version based on material from my concerto called “A Magritte Fantasy” which was recently premiered in Liverpool by Brendan Ball (Trumpet) .

“The Exotic Dream of the Wonderful Monsieur Magritte” for Trumpet & Sound Design.
Harmen Vanhoorne (Cornet)