On the Palmy Beach is my most recent song cycle (for soprano, cello and piano) which received its first performance amongst a clutch of premieres at the end of 2019. So much of what happened just pre-pandemic feels like it disappeared into a hole of history, and indeed the very last pre-shutdown concert I attended in early March 2020 was a BBC/Wigmore performance of this piece. It was therefore fairly amazing to be contacted by UCL’s Claudia Sternberg, and to learn that this cycle, and the poetry it sets, was going to be featured in an online festival presented by the University's Institute of Advanced Studies.
UCL-IAS didn’t do this by halves, and have produced an unusually helpful film made with great care by Graham Riach – it can be viewed here. Contributing comment to this film had allowed me to digitally visit the dear performers of this piece, Ruby Hughes, Julius Drake and Natalie Clein, all stationed in their kitchens, studios and wherever.
For the online launch, we were joined by many people from UCL who had viewed Graham’s film, listened to the whole performance, and carefully read the poetry (by Wallace Stevens, Kathleen Jamie, Norman McCaig, Emily Dickinson.) It struck me as fantastically rare amongst university music seminars to spend time actually discussing the piece of music itself and its literary content, rather than immediately racing on to other general issues far beyond. Did I mention that UCL has no music department? Oh.
Pictured – Sorry, no visible palms on Glenelg Beach, South Australia, during time off from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in 2018. Certainly far away at present.