Tim Reynish Revised April 1st 2013

….music which is compact, illustrative, sonorities carefully polished

Kenneth Hesketh and Simon Rattle


This was the fourth article in my series on composers written or revised for WASBE; the others are on Luis Serrano Alarcon, Richard Rodney Bennett and Guy Woolfenden. In my view, all four have a distinctive voice and have written significant works for the wind ensemble. Kenneth Hesketh has emerged during the past decade as one of the most exciting new talents in the wind world. His most recent work was written for my 75th birthday concert, Autumn’s Elegy, an intense slow movement of a little over twelve minutes derived from the early Symphony which provided the raw material for Masque.

In my account of British Wind Music 1981 - 2011 I wrote:

His Masque (2001 Faber) is an energetic overture, full of good tunes and exciting scoring, while an earlier work, Danseries, (2000 Faber) is a four-movement work derived from Playford's Dancing Masters Tunes of the 17th century. Diaghilev Dances (2003 Faber) is a wonderful homage to the impressionistic ballets of the early 20th century, early Stravinsky, Debussy and Ravel, marvellously scored with great solo parts especially for subsidiary woodwind instruments. His Clouds of Unknowing (2004, Schotts) was premiered by the Royal College of Music in 2005; it is a marvellously scored work, with demanding parts for tuned percussion, piano, celeste and harp, a rich soundworld unique in the wind ensemble medium. Three other works emerged during 2004, all published by Faber; Internal Ride was commissioned by the University of St. Thomas, Whirligigg and a Flute Concerto. Vranjanka was premiered by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama at the RNCM 2005 Conference.

VRANJANKA played by Philharmonic Winds

Gilded Theatre (2008) was commissioned by the National Youth Wind Orchestra of Great Britain, and is a return to the post-impressionist style of Diaghilev Dances, and a wonderfully scored tribute to the world of 18th Century French theatre. His most recent work is Danceries (Set 11) premiered in 2011.


In 2001, the critic Christopher Thomas, hailing him as one of the rising stars of the younger British composers, interviewed Kenneth Hesketh for a column in Musicweb’s Seen and Heard and wrote:

Hesketh has a fabulous ear for detail, the textures often contrapuntally dense and complex, yet with a transparency and clarity that draws you into his sound world

Five years later, a critic in The Times wrote:

"…music which is compact, illustrative, sonorities carefully polished. Heard neat, Hesketh’s atmospheric music already takes us to strange places, where suspended notes hover, percussion battalions cut a swath, and motifs bubble and fade in synch with whimsical scenarios."
The Times 2006

In the last decade, Hesketh has had huge success in Europe and USA, writing a wide range of works to fulfil important commissions from orchestras and festivals, but throughout he has retained his contact with the world of the amateur, writing for both wind and brass band, and even in his simpler works creating a whirlwind of sound which is attractive for the audience and immediately engaging for the ensemble, often with wonderful solo lines for second and third players and great parts for everyone.

In the same interview, Christopher Thomas asked Hesketh about his Symphony, written at the age of sixteen. He replied:

The symphony was a blend of Walton, Arnold and Shostakovich, with a small amount of Khatchaturian and therefore rather 'filmy'

Since then of course, familiarity with a wide range of music has extended those influences; his Diaghilev Dances demonstrate his love and knowledge of Ravel and Debussy, he mentions the structural influences of Stravinsky, he discusses the importance of playing keyboard for the National Youth Orchestra in Turangalilla, study at Tanglewood with Henri Dutilleus, close involvement with Oliver Knussen and Hans Werner Henze. The result is an orchestral palette of infinite richness, whether scoring up dances from the 17th century or writing highly original complex contemporary scores.


Danceries Set 2 2011 15.30 Faber
Autumn’s Elegy 2013 12.30 Faber
Gilded Theatre, The 2008 15.00 Faber
Doctrine of Affections, The 2006 12.00 Schott
Vranjanka 2005 9.00 Faber
Cloud of Unknowing, The 2004 12.00 Schott
Infernal Ride 2003 7.00 Faber
Whirlegig 2003 5.00 Faber
Diaghilev Dances 2002 15.00 Faber
Danceries 2000 12.00 Faber

The richness of his scoring and the development of his musical personality can be recognised readily in his most recent work for wind orchestras, Danceries (Set 11), premiered in 2011 by the Birmingham Symphonic Winds on April 9th at the CBSO Centre, conducted by Keith Allen.

DANCERIES SET 2 with Philharmonic Winds

The composer writes:

"This second set of Danceries continues the format established in Danceries (Set 1) , namely in using material taken from Playford's Dancing Master, a collection of folk and popular tunes published in the seventeenth century, to form the basis of an extended dance suite. In this set, the melodies have been more abstracted and project only a distant echo of their original forms, but as before, each movement is self-contained, colourful and direct, with its own distinct mood."

"The outer movements - Jennie's Bawbee and Peascod's Galliarda - share a use of driving percussion writing with a military air. Tom Tinker's Toye and Heart's Ease (movements two and three) are both settings of original melodies. All movements are more extended than in the first set, with a freer use and approach to the material; melodies now occur in various keys and are supported by a greater variety of harmonic colouring. The result is a richer, even more exhilarating set of dances. Danceries has come of age!"

Twelve years separate Danceries Set 1 from the second set, and even back at the turn of the century, Hesketh was experimenting with this thickly laid palette of orchestral sound and infinite variety of melodic treatment. He wrote:

The term Danceries can be found in a copy of Playford's Dancing Master which is an extensive collection of folk and popular tunes of the 17th Century (and no doubt earlier). This publication was used by master fiddle players to teach the various dance steps. Whilst this present set of Danceries cannot be said to be an aid to terpsichorean agility, I do hope that it will at least set feet tapping. The melodies themselves are a mixture of new and old - well, nearly. Where the old occurs, it has been adapted in mood and composition and is often interspersed with completely new material. The harmonies and rhythms bring a breath of the new into these themes and add to the drama of the set.

Danceries 1 was transcribed for wind band from the original for orchestra, and premiered by the Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra conducted by Clark Rundell on 14th April 2000. It was his first work for wind band, followed a year later by Masque, transcribed by the composer from his Scherzo for Orchestra commissioned by the Merseyside Youth Orchestra in 1987. This transcription for symphonic wind band was first performed by Chethams School Wind Orchestra as part of the BASBWE Conference on April 7, 2001

Programme note by the composer:

The Masque has had a varied history, certainly a varied spelling (masque, maske, even maskeling). However, the historian E.K. Chambers in his book “The Medieval Stage” defines the word in the following way: “A form of revel in which mummers or masked folk come, with torches blazing, into the festive hall uninvited and call upon the company to dance and dice.”

The above description, I think, can also serve as a description to the piece. The main theme is certainly bravura and is often present, disguised, in the background. The form of the piece is a simple scherzo-trio-scherzo. Colourful scoring (upper wind solos, trumpet and horn solos alternating with full-bodied tuttis) with a dash of wildness is the character of this piece – I hope it may tease both player and listener to let their hair down a little.

MASQUE played by the Queensland Wind Orchestra

Of his latest work, Autumn’s Elegy, the critic of the Manchester Evening Mail wrote that it was music of warmth, richness and affection…..

The first decade of the twenty first century saw a steady stream of works for wind and brass band. A wonderfully shimmering impressionistic score, Diaghilev Dances,followed in 2003, premiered by the Birmingham Conservatoire Wind Orchestra conducted by Guy Woolfenden. The composer wrote:

The idea for Diaghilev Dances came from my interest in and love for the great ballet music of the early 20th century, much of which was commissioned by or written for the great Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929). From 1909 to 1929 Diaghilev’s company, Ballet Russes, nurtured some of the leading composers of the time including Stravinsky, Ravel, Debussy and Prokofiev. Not only music but dance and art were all combined to produce some of the greatest works of the 20th century and Diaghilev’s legacy has influenced much of the ballet world that has followed his premature death.

As a very young musician I was spellbound by the sounds and colours of this music and have long wanted to put my own homage forward in honour of Diaghilev and the music he inspired. My work, Diaghilev Dances, could be considered a miniature ballet consisting of an introduction, three dances and three entractes. There is no actual scenario for the work though I knew the piece would have a big dramatic sweep and would be balletic in shape. The primary theme, a very simple folk like melody, acts as the binding thread to the work, being heard at the very beginning and at the end, whilst sections of the material that accompany it can be found transformed in to the main themes of the other sections. My primary concern was to combine my own musical personality with the rich fin-de-siècle period of French and Russian music and, in doing so, offer a generous bow to a great tradition.

In 2005 I was fortunate enough to premiere two works which I had commissioned from Ken as part of the commissioning series in memory of my third son, William. The first work, The Cloud of Unknowing, was completed in its first version in 2004 and premiered at the Royal College of Muisc in May the following year. It takes the emotional language and musical of Diaghilev Dances and develops it into a through composed work of considerable intensity. I remember thinking that the structure was similar to that of Schoenberg’s Erwartung, that is a stream of free lyricism, continuously developing, untrammelled by melodic or harmonic traditions but yet totally convincing. I feel that in time this will emerge as a major contribution to the repertoire of contemporary wind music.

The composer wrote::

In composing this work, The Cloud of Unknowing, I was confronted by many different feelings. It was commissioned by Hilary and Timothy Reynish as part of a series of commissions in memory of their third son William. For various reasons it proved a difficult work to write, not the least in how to approach the piece and what to say musically that would not seem trite or contrived.

I turned to early English literature, in this case texts dealing with the mystical or metaphysical. Such texts have long interested me. The title of this work comes from an anonymous manual and guide to mystical experience and was written in the late fourteenth century. In a manner similar to the concept of nirvana in oriental religion, the text espouses an emptying out of all intellect, of all feeling, so that in silence God's love and majesty may rush in. A second text, namely, A Litany by John Donne, also influenced the concept of this piece, specifically with reference to stanzas 23 to 25. Certain phrases and words seem to resonate musically and it was from these beginnings that the work took shape.

The work grows from one melody which is heard almost at once. Constant variation, renewal and development of this theme moves the music forward, sometimes gently, sometime fiercely. The piece starts and ends as if from afar. Various accompanying figures are allowed to flow freely from background to foreground, seemingly at will. The overall structure moves through three sections; processional, mercurial and eventually explosive, recessional.

The Cloud of Unknowing is dedicated to the memory of William Reynish but also with deep affection to Tim and Hilary.

My plan with the big commissions of the mid-decade was to invite composers to write an easier work for school band – Ken was one of the few composers to attempt this, but his music is never easy, and the work that emerged, Vranjanka, is quite virtuosic but enormous fun to play. It takes the form of a slow introduction followed by a set of free variations, mostly in a fast 7/8; I premiered it with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama Wind Orchestra in November 2005 at a BASBWE conference in Manchester.

Kenneth writes:

Vranjanka (the title means "From Vranje," a town in southern Serbia, pronounced VRAHN-yahn-kah ) is loosely based on the traditional folksong Šano Dušo. The melody exists in two versions, one in 7/8 and one in 3/4. I have chosen the version in 7/8 and in doing so, have extended the melodic ideas of the original with new material.

The musical form of the piece is as follows: a fairly slow introductory section where the theme is only hinted at but never heard and a faster second section cast in a set of variations on the folksong. These are not variations in the traditional sense, with clearly marked beginnings and endings, but ongoing developments of the various melodic material in the folksong with original material 'growing out' along side.

The text for Vranjanka influenced the composition more often than not at an unconscious level, but it is included here for reference:

Sana, my soul, opens the door to me,
Open the door to me and I will give you coins.

My heart is burning for you, Sana.
Your fair face, Sana, is snow from the mountains,

Your forehead, Sana, is like moonlight.

That mouth of yours, Sana, like a deep red sunset,

That eye, my darling, makes me burn.
When night comes, marvellous Sana, I twist in sadness,
Your beauty, Sana, will not let me sleep.


Danceries RNCM Wind Orchestra/Rundell CHANDOS 10409
Danceries University of Calgary/Price Arktos 200148 CD
Danceries Showa Wind Symphony/Corporon CAFUA CACG-0032
Diaghilev Dances RNCM Wind Orchestra/Rundell CHANDOS 10409
Diaghilev Dances North Texas Wind/Corporon KLAVIER 11144
Diaghilev Dances University of Kentucky/Reynish MARK MCD-4949
Infernal Ride Birmingham Symphonic Winds/Allen MARK 7221-MCD
Infernal Ride University of st Thomas/George INNOVA B001XJNZ40
Masque Band of HM Royal Marines/Davies DOYEN DOYCD191
Masque North Texas Wind/Corporon KLAVIER 11127
Masque Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra KOSEI KOCD-810
Masque Indiana University Pensylvannia KLAVIER 11184
Vranjanka Irish Youth Wind/Reynish MARK 8655-MCD
Vranjanka Irish Youth Wind/Reynish MARK 7211-MCD