Blog Piers Hellawell

Published on May 30th, 2014 | by Liam McMahon

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Latest blog from Piers Hellawell

The Premiere in Late March 2014.

Apologies, to anybody that’s still reading, or just sheltering from the rain here – I meant to write something here following the BDK premiere, but it got delayed.

The piece was premiered! A goodly crowd attended the ground-floor theatre in the MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre), Belfast on Saturday 29th March, being one of the main events of Moving On Music’s BRILLIANT CORNERS Festival. I spend most of the gig (my piece being the last item) worrying about whether BDK are asking me to introduce it, since we manage not to settle this at the run-through (which never runs through it, making the actual premiere the first ever complete performance. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that). Anyway they do, and I do, so I need not have worried. Much worse is the crisis going on backstage for the promoters, who are frantically trying to source a double bass with gut strings for a second, late-night gig. We too easily forget how many disasters are being avoided by those who put on our concerts!

The awe at BDK’s ability to unfurl music in large, coherent qualities with which I greeted this project (‘what am I thinking of? If they can do that, they don’t need the likes of me’, I noted below, exactly a year ago) is still burning brightly on the night of our premiere: BDK present various pieces they say are ‘brand new’, and I know for a fact that the band only convened yesterday after quite a long break – so how do they devise such a sure-footed series of performances of diverse, developing, semi-improv pieces? The confidence is the thing: it never sounds as if anyone’s wondering what happens at some point, but rather as if they’ve played it hundreds of times.

Sound Carvings, Strange Tryst is duly introduced and played. Many of the issues expounded upon in these pages seem irrelevant now, but they were part of its becoming what it is. Earlier today we did get to try out the long-delayed book-end free bits, notated by me in pictures and workshopped back in mid-August. I have simplified them, and have learned from them my biggest BDK lesson: the process of determining events – how to get from x to y, which I think of as composition – is also regarded by BDK as the province of improvisors, so that we risk trying to do the same job. I have pulled back from my micro-managing tendencies and merely notated materials – more like a start and finish, with the middle left up to them. The interludes nonetheless correspond quite closely, played here, to their first identities! I’m happy so long as the first opens with the rocking cymbal, and the last ends with the riff for toy piano – and this comes to pass; in between are many old friends from the last year, and a few surprises. I am lucky enough to get excellent recordings of all the items thanks to the work of the tirelessly obliging Chris Ryan, so that I can make my own ‘live album’ of the event.

Reception is cordial, smiles all round, and a sense of relief that we can go forward to gigs in Aberdeen and, for the PRS Foundation Biennial, London and Glasgow, without losing sleep. Phew! Particular pleasures for me are to have at the gig Nicole McNeilly from the PRS Foundation, composer Brian Irvine (also the source of my first awareness of what I see as the ‘Belfast School’ of semi-improvised music, when I was a faithful gig-follower of his large ensemble) and my family.

You can read Piers’ earlier blogs here

 



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