Monday 12 February 2018

Contemporary music for viola and piano

Rosalind Ventris
Rosalind Ventris
In addition to its regular chamber music series at Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham Music Society runs a contemporary music series. The second of these this season, on Sunday 11 February 2018, featured viola player Rosalind Ventris and pianist James Willshire in Prince Michael Hall, Dean Close School, Cheltenham. We were there to heaar Ventris and Willshire premiere my Three Pieces from the Book of Common Prayer, but the whole programme was an imaginative selection of contemporary music for viola and piano, sometimes together and sometimes separate, showing the remarkable variety of chamber music being written today, with music by Robert Saxton, Arvo Pärt, Edwin Roxburgh, Rory Boyle, Huw Watkins, Howard Blake, Toru Takemitsu, Thomas Ades, Paul Patterson and myself.

We started with Robert Saxton's Invocation, Dance and Meditation which was written for Paul Silverthorne and John Constable and premiered at the 1991 Lichfield Festival, and then continued with Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel. Edwin Roxburgh's Monologue for Solo Viola was written specifically for Rosalind Ventris in 2010, a remarkable and powerful piece.  Similarly Rory Boyle's piano solo Reeling was written specifically for pianist James Willshire in 2001. The first half finished with Huw Watkins' Fantasy for viola and piano.

Rosalind Ventris opened the second half with Howard Blake's Prelude from Benedictus, this solo viola piece is taken from Blake's remarkable oratorio which traces the journey of a novice in a monastic order. Toru Takemitsu's A Bird came down the Walk is a wonderful work for viola and piano from 1994, and James Willshire followed this was Thomas Ades piano solo Darknesse visible, an explosion of John Dowland's lute song In Darkness Let Me Dwell. My own Three pieces from the Book of Common Prayer were originally created for viola and string orchestra, based on solo motets I had written in the 1990s. Finally we heard Paul Patterson's Elegiac Blues from 2005.

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