For the first time ever, I've been to Rutland, an unexpectedly beautiful county to be found between Leicester and Peterborough. It's home to two musically well-equipped public schools, Oakham and Uppingham, and I visited the latter briefly (pictured) to hear the National Youth Orchestra's woodwind section rehearse my new 23-part score Fresh Air under Andrew Gourlay, their wonderfully expressive conductor.
If I've mentioned Fresh Air a few times in these posts, it's because the project has had an unusally extended development, since a conversation I had at least five years ago with NYO oboe tutor Melinda Maxwell, who reminded me that there is no original repertoire for a multi-voice woodwind ensemble (ie without brass, saxophones or percussion.) My first step in filling this gap was to visit an Inspire woodwind course in Liverpool, and to meet the tutors and students on this great training programme. The pandemic then granted me free time to write some extra un-commissioned music, after which the new score received an NYO playthrough in Newcastle last summer, followed by more detailed Inspire rehearsals in Blackpool earlier this year. In Uppingham, with the full NYO ensemble, we reached the final stage of preparation before two major performances on great stages, at the Royal Festival Hall and Saffron Hall. An extra, gorgeous bonus, was for the piece to be followed in these concerts by full orchestra (165 instruments) performances of Stravinsky's Firebird.
The, by this time, very beautiful closing performance has been captured here by BBC Radio 3. The whole experience has left me with a rare sense of satisfaction, of an end point reached with great thoroughness which didn't preclude compositional freedom. These days, new music deadlines seem to be ever shorter, and so many projects are thrown together, hopefully but rather randomly. It was reassuring to experience NYO's depth of preparation, and the sincere commitment of their extraordinarily talented teenage performers.