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Heroic Strokes of the Bow


I've just completed an unusual 7-day tour of Britain, from Saffron Walden to Glasgow, in the company of my 1992 orchestra piece Heroic Strokes of the Bow. Britten Sinfonia, and then the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, gave it two performances each, following another pair last month by the Augsburg Philharmonic. Next month, Southbank Sinfonia will play it again in London.


I wish I knew how to write more orchestra pieces that get regular performances (leaving aside the subjective question of "is the music any good?") I believe one big factor in favour of Heroic Strokes of the Bow is its interesting-sounding title. It's not mine, I borrowed it from Paul Klee; and during this recent round of concerts, had several interesting conversations with audience members about his paintings, as I often do.


Another handy feature, I guess, is its classic chamber orchestra setup for double woodwind, pairs of horns and trumpets, timps and strings. No low brass or fussy percussion. It asks for woodwind doubling instruments - cor anglais, contrabassoon and so on - and this used to be a bit of "deal breaker" for the more classically minded orchestras whose raison d'etre is to play Haydn and Mozart Symphonies. But increasingly, these are the orchestras ( Britten Sinfonia and SCO are eminent examples) who have the most flexibility and the greatest enthusiasm to expand the repertoire.


A final advantage seems to be the title word "Heroic", which is often linked to Beethoven's Eroica Symphony. The Augsburg performances included not only Beethoven's Eroica, but his extraordinary Choral Fantasia. Tom Adès, conducting the SCO, followed it immediately with another real rarity, Beethoven's only ballet, the Creatures of Prometheus; a perfect musical companion, I thought, for the sometimes insane energy required to play "Heroic Strokes".


It is impossible to know, when you write your pieces, what will happen to them after the first performances. After several decades, my reaction is most often surprise that quite a few are still being played, nearly always to a much higher standard, and in much more imaginative settings.

[Pictured - pencil sketch (2023) for my String Quartet no 2 ]







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