Thursday, 14 August 2014

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and other charming chaps in the music business !

I was at Cromarty yesterday to see a past pupil sing in an opera specially written for children with the addition of a couple of more mature roles. It was a version of 'Cinderella' written on this occasion by Peter Maxwell Davies. It was very interesting indeed. The company obviously apply for Arts Grants to put on the show so they had a small orchestra and a percussion department of around 6 people !

I don't know if any of my readers know Britten's 'The Little Sweep', but if anyone does then it would be fair to say that this opera was the 21st century equivelant of that children's opera written over 60 years ago !

It had parts and choruses for all ages and there were some delightful 5 and 6 year old cats, as well as some very amusing teenage roles for the, in this story, three ugly sisters each with a stupid and funny male follower !

M played the mother of the ugly trio, Widow Grumble, and did a fine job with the Brittenesque writing. It definitely needed a bigger and more resonant voice for this role, as sometimes it was tricky to hear the slender voices of the teens over the orchestra. That meant a few words were somewhat lost. Given it was the well known fairy tale, we all still got the gist, but I felt that there were probably some very witty lyrics which I missed. The ever present problem with children's productions is that whilst the young singers are very well prepared, accurate and in tune, they simply do not have the resonance to sing over a gaggle instruments played by adults.

The music was such fun, pastiche jazz, along with some gorgeous 5/4 melodies which were tricky and creative, and then some catchy waltzes and lots of simple chorus tunes for the very young singers. They used simple scenery which magically transformed from kitchen to ballroom very quickly, but on the whole it was a non complicated and clever use of the church building.

The work had its premiere as part of the St Magnus Festival on the Orkney Isles in 1980 using pupils fom the primary and high schools of Kirkwall. Coincidentally I have a good friend and past colleague at the JRAM whose partner, and thus also a friend, is the now Director of the St Magnus International Festival ! Alisdair Nicholson is a fine composer and conductor himself who has promoted much music making in this part of the world, as well as being a well known London musician ! His partner David Knotts is also a masterful composer, conductor and all round wonderful accompanist.

Actually my strongest memory of David is of a petite and sweet teenager with a huge shock of curly hair, who studied at the JRAM when I was teaching there ! I am told we travelled up on the same train, as he came from Chichester, but I don't recall seeing him on my many journeys.

Most likely I was fast asleep after blindly stumbling on the train at 6.35am ! Sorry David !

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

Alisdair Nicholson ( not yet quite a Sir !)

David Knotts (minus curls!)


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