THE COMPOSER SPEAKS – PETER MEECHAN
Burn – Fantasia Concerto for Clarinet (Sheffield University Wind Orchestra, Linda Merrick – Clarinet, Tony Houghton – cond.)
Origins – Concerto for Euphonium (Dunshan Wind Orchestra, Beijing, Marco Schneider – Euphonium, Adrian Schneider – cond.)
Maiden Voyage: Hymn for a Ship of Sorrow (Archbishop Beck School, Liverpool, Bruce Hicks – cond.)
In the past couple of months, I have been fortunate to receive three excellent premiere performances – 2 here in the UK, and the other a little further a field!
Written for British clarinettist Linda Merrick, Burn was premiered by Linda in March, accompanied by Sheffield University Wind Orchestra (SUWO) conducted by Tony Houghton. The initial unaccompanied passage that opens the work was written during 2011’s “Arab Spring”, which dominated news reports of the time.
The haunting soundtrack to the newscasts (which were a strange cocktail of devastating, uplifting, angry, mournful, rallying and peaceful) was the calls to prayer.
There was no attempt whilst writing Burn (a title inspired by region’s climate) to directly imitate these calls to prayer, but certainly they had an impact on the opening passage of the work, and therefore the whole piece.
SUWO went on to give a further performance of the work in Brussels. Their conductor, Tony Houghton wrote me this note:
“The Cathedral of St Michael & St Gudula in Brussels provided us with a fabulous acoustic and an eight-second echo as well as a magnificent setting. SUWO rose to the challenge of this space excellently and it was Burn, that benefited most.
Having given the première performance with Linda Merrick as soloist only two months before in Sheffield we felt a special ownership of the piece. Now it was the turn of our lead clarinettist Charlotte Barrett to take the solo part and she used the long echo like a seasoned professional right from the start.
That first declamatory note was left to resound up and down the nave and the ‘call to prayer’ nature of the clarinet monologues seemed utterly appropriate for the place – the sparse and economical ensemble writing, the slow pace of change, long building tutti crescendos all magically managed (by composer, soloist and band) finally giving way to an ending with the sounds disappearing bit by bit into a vibrant silence.
It was very moving and certainly felt as if Burn had been conceived from the beginning for this wonderful cathedral space – Bravo Peter!”
Origins is a three movement concerto for euphonium and wind orchestra, dedicated to Swiss euphoniumist Marco Schneider. Each movement has a different subject matter, all linked by the idea of origins: the first movement refers to musical origins; the second to the origins of life; and the final movement to the space exploration – the research of all origins.
The first movement is based on a short motif, heard in the first three notes the soloist plays. These three notes cover the interval of a minor third (an interval that often plays a crucial role in my music) on which the whole concerto is built.
The second movement, titled Harry’s Song, is – as tradition dictates – a slow movement. Happy and reflective in nature, the main melody was written on the evening that my closest friend, Mark Bousie (a fine euphoniumist himself), and his wife Jayne, had their first child – Harry Bousie. It seemed only fitting that this song should be written for Harry in celebration.
The final movement brings me back to a lifelong fascination with space, and in this particular movement, the Space Shuttle Discovery. Having completed 39 missions (including flying the Hubble telescope in to orbit), and spent a total of 365 days in space, SS Discovery made its final voyage in 2011 and was taken to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. in April 2012.
This final movement, titled Discovery, pays tribute to the great shuttle whose missions inspired millions across the generations.
Origins was commissioned by Marco Schneider, Adrian Schneider and the Dunshan Wind Orchestra, Beijing, China who gave the premiere performance in May 2012. The work was given its European premiere by Marco at the 2012 ITEC (International Tuba and Euphonium Conference) in Linz, Austria and will receive further performances this year in Beijing and Lucerne, Switzerland (at the World Band Festival).
Maiden Voyage: Hymn for a Ship of Sorrow
Maiden Voyage (a work for bands of grade 3 standard and above) was commissioned by Archbishop Beck School, Liverpool, UK, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. The city of Liverpool and its surrounding areas was ubiquitous with Titanic; many of the ship’s builders were from Liverpool (although it was built in Belfast), the crew of the ship had a large Liverpudlian contingent as had the onboard musicians. The ship’s bell also has a strong connection having been made by Utley’s, a St. Helens based company.
As I was commissioned by a school in Liverpool, I wanted Maiden Voyage to have a clear connection to the city – so the work begins and ends with a sounding of the ship’s bell. In the premiere performance, given by Archbishop Beck School (conducted by Bruce Hicks) in July 2012, Utley’s were kind enough to loan a copy of Titanic’s original bell, making the performance even more special.
The work is constructed as a series of short hymns and songs – perhaps in memory of those who died 100 years ago, or maybe the memories of those on The Titanic as they were about to perish.