CoMA’s summer school assembled last week at High Melton, a college campus up on the hills between Doncaster and Barnsley. In honour of Michael Finnissy’s 70th birthday, many composers had arrived (in addition to the instrumentalists and singers who are the backbone of CoMA) to join his class, which had to split in two to accommodate everyone. Clare Simmonds was leading a band of twenty-five improvisers every morning, while Darragh Morgan and Adi Tal were coaxing the strings group through White Man Sleeps, literally bar by bar.
I had volunteered to turn up with some ‘Finnissy-inspired folk music’ to play with an ensemble of musicians who were going to randomly sign up each day. Sitting in the calm of my own home, I would imagine clarinettists, oboists, maybe trumpets pouring in; and prepared some spiky upper-register music accordingly. In fact the group that eventually formed itself was quite the opposite – a restrained autumnal sound of violas and other lower strings, plus bassoon, tenor horn and mezzo voices. Sitting in my study bedroom hastily hand-copying the revised music every morning transported me effortlessly back to student days, and indeed the experience of spending time in the dinner hall with this particular set of new music colleagues plus other like-minded souls suggested the imaginary music college I would have loved to attend.
Every night there were concerts, complicated ones, performed in an accepting atmosphere, and it was good to learn that Andrew Toovey and colleagues are in the process of reviving IXION, who appeared here. Out of their concert I particularly enjoyed a set of Toovey clarinet solos and a beautiful orchestration by Robert Nettleship. It was a thrill also to hear two scenes from a forthcoming new production of Finnissy’s (17-scene) Undivine Comedy, based on a 19th century play by Zygmunt Krasinski. How Michael manages to read and research quite so widely is another part of the miracle of his work. Thanks to Chris Shurety and CoMA for once again hosting this unique week’s happening. (It has been announced that CoMA’s 2017 summer course will take place in Orkney.)