My eccentric walking route from Beeston Station accidentally brought me to Nottingham University’s most imposing view. Everyone I mentioned it to reminded me that the landmark Trent Building (pictured) has now been cloned in China as part of the University’s Ningbo campus, bolstering my suspicion that the fortunes of British universities and the finances of their debt-burdened students are becoming inversely proportional. I could not complain however about spending my Nottingham day in various luxurious units of Lakeside Arts Centre which houses amongst other things, the rather comfortable University Music Department.
Technical advances of another kind were on my mind when I met PhD composers Angela Slater, Neil Kolassa and Neil Smith, who had each completed quite substantial orchestral pieces for their portfolios. As a visitor with only a short amount of time to spend, I’m always a little anxious about trying to read big scores quickly, well aware that every single page contains possibly several hundred decisions which have been carefully pondered over a long time. Paradoxically this often ends up with my looking in even closer detail at randomly chosen details – which doesn’t seem to be the point when an overview would be more valuable from a fleeting visitor. Reading a whole orchestral score properly at speed just isn’t that simple, however. Computer playback is improving (I was almost convinced by the ‘performance’ I heard via NotePerformer) but as ever I left this session hoping that professional orchestras will one day become more inclined to spend some of their time playing compositions by the bright young musicians in our universities.
My day ended in a discussion of my work with my Cardiff colleague David Beard, who has been working on a book about my music, which began some time ago with his removing for study some very early material which I had largely forgotten about (the nearest anyone has ever come to clearing out our loft). When approaching this earliest era of my output, I found I couldn’t remember much about compositions I long ago withdrew from my catalogue and therefore never hear any more. This led to an interesting question from the audience; “would you consider yourself an unreliable witness to your own early work?” The more I considered this surprising notion, the more I agreed with it; nearly all the questions I’m ever asked about my music invite me to peer at it though the long tunnel of hindsight. And it also brought to mind another example in Michael Kennedy’s exquisite book ‘The Life of Elgar’ which I’ve been reading recently. In early chapters, Kennedy convincingly shows how the young Elgar’s career evolved at the heart of a widespread and supportive musical community in Worcester and London, while regularly recalling his famous remark about those years (made at the age of 64) ‘no single person was ever kind to me’.