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.



Robert Childs giving the premiere of “The City in the Sea” back in 1994

Posted in News on July 20th, 2017 by Nigel – Comments Off on Robert Childs giving the premiere of “The City in the Sea” back in 1994

Robert Childs, James Watson myself, after a performance of the City in the Sea with the National Youth Brass Band of Wales in 1995. The venue is St David’s Cathedral, Wales.

I came across this recording recently of Robert Childs back in 1994 giving the world premiere of my euphonium concerto “The City in the Sea” and accompanied by what was then, the Black Dyke Mills Band conducted by the legendary James Watson. Today, the Black Dyke Mills band are simply know as Black Dyke Band. When I wrote my concerto for Bob, there were probably only a hand full of players in the world that were capable of playing music of this technical difficulty, and this live(!) performance is of great tribute to Bob’s extraordinary playing abilities! Today, many more players can tackle such a work which shows how times have changed. I was very proud of “The City in the Sea” at the time of writing, as there was nothing like this in the brass band repertoire.

A live recording of the premiere of “The City in the Sea” back in 1995


About The City in the Sea

The Concerto’s title comes from the poem `The City in the Sea’ by Edgar Allen Poe.

The history of the East Anglian village of Dunwich is a chilling tale of the consequences of the gradual erosion of Britain’s eastern coastline. The capital of East Anglia in medieval times, Dunwich was an important port with nine churches and a population of 5000. Successive storms led in 1326 to the city being engulfed and effectively vanishing from the map. Today Dunwich is a quiet village offering little evidence of its proud past lying beyond the beach and sand dunes.

To this day the sea has continued to erode the cliffs away and threaten Dunwich’s last surviving church, All Saints, which stands on the cliff-top. Gradually all the tombstones in the churchyard have disappeared beneath the waves and only the last remaining one has been rescued and moved to the safety of the Dunwich Village Museum.

The demise of this medieval city has thrown up a number of legends and ghost stories: It is said that the bells of Dunwich’s nine churches ring out on stormy nights and that the ghostly forms of some of Dunwich’s medieval inhabitants can be see walking close to the shoreline. Dunwich’s ruined monastery, Greyfriars, is also linked with the supernatural, in that a ghostly procession of Franciscan monks is said to walk around the ruins chanting ancient verses.

Dunwich is also featured in a traditional legend of three holy crowns buried in East Anglia to protect England from invasion. It is said that one of the crowns was buried there and lost when the city was engulfed by the sea. The second was said to have been dug up at Rendlesham further down the Suffolk coast in the 18th Century. The third has not yet been found!

The work starts off with the eerie sound of a foghorn played on the Euphonium. This sequence of music eventually breaks into a piercing scream, accompanied by the mournful ringing of the submerged church bells of Dunwich. I have used at various points in the piece quotations from Debussy’s piano prelude ‘La cathedrale engloutie’ (the submerged cathedral). I have also used one of these quotations to recreate the image of the Franciscan monks chanting their ancient verses.


Brass Band Version
Label:Doyen `Premiere’ DOY CD061
Euphonium: Robert Childs
Black Dyke Mills Band
Conductor: James Watson






Brass Band Version
Label: Mira Sound `When Worlds Collide’ 88931-2
Euphonium: Glen Van Looy
Brass Band Buizingen
Conductor: Luc Vertommen





Wind Orchestra Version
Label: CHEVRON `Harrison’s Dream’ CHVCD18
Euphonium: Steve Boyes
HM Royal Marines band
Conductor: Lt.Col Chris Davies

A cultural feast of great Fanfare and Wind Orchestras!!

Posted in News on June 25th, 2017 by Nigel – Comments Off on A cultural feast of great Fanfare and Wind Orchestras!!

‘Koninklyke Fanfare De Werkmanszonen’ performing `Earthrise’

This weekend I have had the privilege of staying and working in the small town/village called `Riemst’ in the Limburg province of Belgium, a stone’s throw from the Dutch border and the old medieval city of Maastricht. There are 13 orchestras(!) in and surrounding `Riemst’ which only has a population of around 16,000 – I think this is truly amazing and an incredible achievement, something we can all learn from and something that Belgium should be very proud of indeed. I might add the standard is extremely high and is comparable to the best any country can offer around the world!

I was a guest of the ‘Koninklyke Fanfare De Werkmanszonen’ with their conductor Yves Wuyts who are preparing my `Earthrise’ for the World Music Contest in one month’s time. The band had a great rehearsal on the Friday evening and then took part in a `WMC Try-Out Concerten’ event with other Reist based orchestras. Manu Mellaerts (Principal Trumpet at La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra) and I listened to 5 great orchestras and (I hope) gave useful feedback to their conductors and musicians after each presentation.

One unusual experience for me was hearing a new version of `Earthrise’ transcribed brilliantly by Luc Vertommen, a real labour of love!  – His transcription, I believe loses nothing in this fanfare orchestra setup. For those that do not know what a Fanfare Orchestra consists of, it has all the instruments of the Saxophone family, Trumpets, (multiple, multiple!) Flugel Horns, French Horns, Trombones and Tubas and of course a battery of percussion. These instruments have a wonderful tone quality when played together, but can also have the punch of a brass band or wind orchestra. I believe its origins date back to the 19th century.

As for ‘Koninklyke Fanfare De Werkmanszonen’, yet again I have made more new lifelong friends and look forward to supporting them in the World Music Contest in Kerkrade. They gave a spell binding performance of `Earthrise’ full of music and colour. I was very taken by a new composition that they played by a young composer Nick Van Elsen – a talent to look out for in the future with his own musical voice. The band were perfect, perfect hosts and gave me a great afternoon out in Maastricht before the try-out concert. Thank you to one and all!