Wednesday 14 February 2024

Direct, determined, and loud: Welsh composer David John Roche introduces his new electric guitar concerto for Sean Shibe

Welsh composer David John Roche describes his music as 'direct, determined, and loud', and it is strongly influenced by heavy metal, lush orchestral music, and his working-class Welsh background. Currently David is working on a new concerto for guitarist Sean Shibe, for electric guitar. 

The work is being premiered by Sinfonia Cymru on 23 February 2024 as part of the Time Machine programme in Aberystwyth, Criccieth and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama [see Sinfonia Cymru website], then the work will also be performed by Britten Sinfonia at St Giles' Cripplegate on 2 March [see Barbican website] as part of their Magnum Opus showcase [see Tony's recent article]. 

Here, David introduces some ideas behind the work.

I learned to perform and write music by playing electric guitar in rock and metal bands. When I was a teenager, South Wales had such an amazing music scene (it still does!) - the standard of musicianship was unreasonably high, I was really lucky to be able to experience it, and it really altered the trajectory of my life. I'm proud of this musical heritage and I want it to be part of what I write - I want people to be able to hear the things that made me fall in love with making music. I hope this comes across in my new concerto.

I think writing an electric guitar concerto carries a lot of responsibility. There are stereotypes about the instrument that make it complicated - shred guitar is extremely fun, but you probably wouldn't have Yngwie Malmsteen play at your wedding. I think it would be literally impossible for me to write an electric guitar concerto that didn't have intense, rhythmic writing - so, I haven't shied away from the riffy, big, and energetic side of the instrument. I also haven't shied away from things like guitar pedals and effects. I have, however, been careful to make sure that you hear the softer, more expressive side of the instrument too. There are large passages of soloistic, expressive, nostalgic music - really inspired by the guitarist Yvette Young. The electric guitar can do so much, it was important to me that I showed this in my work... but I also make sure that I let it rip.  

Sean Shibe is changing the way we engage with the electric guitar - his performances reflect the diverse developmental space the instrument finds itself in and I can't imagine writing this concerto for another player. My composition caters super strongly to Sean's technical range and, perhaps more importantly, his exceptional sense of musical style and expression. This is - absolutely - a concerto for Sean, a specific player, rather than all electric guitarists... but it's always seen through the lens of my musical tropes and language. It's a fun, exciting, dramatic, riffy, and expressive work for one of the most outstanding electric guitarists working today.

Equally important to this work are Sinfonia Cymru and Britten Sinfonia. An electric guitar concerto carries risks and I am grateful to both ensembles' open-mindedness, stratospheric support, and wonderful musical abilities. It's also brilliant l that this concerto receives its premiere in Wales. Sinfonia Cymru represent some of the best of Welsh music making and embody some of the most excellent aspects of Welsh music making - I am massively grateful to them, and this concerto wouldn't be happening without them.

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