St Silas the Martyr


I was invited over to this extraordinary church in North London (Kentish Town) to hear a recording session for my new piano piece which I've titled 'fragile'. This is one of fourteen commissions, part of William Howard's gargantuan Love Songs project, which by now has involved around six hundred love-song-writing composers around the world (most of whom entered the Love Song Competition last year.) The commissions plus the two prizewinning works were being recorded by William for a forthcoming CD.

St Silas is an most unusual building, from the lettering over the door inwards (pictured) which may be kind-of Jugendstil-influenced, as the building itself dates from just before WW1. Seated at the piano amidst many pious statues referencing acts of devotion, William was also demonstrating extreme fidelity by recording, within a short period of time, a huge set of new works written in widely divergent styles. After many 8-hour rehearsal days he was having to lay down at least four tracks per day, most of them involving quite a lot of hard work at the keyboard.

Portmanteau compositions, made up of short pieces by many composers, have become a very fashionable way of presenting new music. (As it happens I’ve just completed another mini piano work which will be included in a big suite convened by Los Angeles based pianist Gloria Cheng, commemorating our dear departed friend and colleague, Steve Stucky). It’s easy to see why this is so popular. As a listener, it's enjoyable to hear a quick-moving series by a lot of people – intriguing to see what they all do, one after another, with the same theme or concept. And as a composer, it’s satisfying to complete a new piece so quickly – to quote Robin Holloway, ‘I do love a double bar’ – and still contribute to something substantial, we hope. But at the sharp end of this process is the performer, with many multiples of the usual problems involved in bringing new music into aural existence.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer