Tuesday 22nd July 2014 -
I'm currently a sort of composer-in-residence (ironically, as I only live down the road, but you know what I mean) at the wonderful Arts Club Aldeburgh Beach alongside the artist Fran Crowe and writer Leanne Moden. Perched up in an old lookout tower from which I can see nothing but shingle, sea and sky, I'm writing a series of piano works based on Fran's Museum of Beyond. Fran picks up plastic washed up on the beach and turns it into a museum exhibit and artistic display for a post-oil civilisation a few thousand years in the future. I was struck by her work for a number of reasons: the resonance with a comment by one of my former teachers, Martin Bresnick, that as a composer 'why shouldn't I just walk along the beach and pick up and work with objects which fascinate me?'... - then there are the issues of old and new in music, how the functional can become an object of rarity or fascination over time... - how something plastic or manufactured becomes something artistic on account of its journey, how old it is, and how it came down to us... - and how different objects can be viewed from different angles to produce very different results (a sort of 'cultural cubism'...) and the whole question of chance in a Cage-ian sense, and using whatever materials are washed up at your door.
As a composer living in a post-modern era, the main problem for me is not where to start or what to write, but where not to start and what not to write - as you can literally start anywhere and absolutely anything goes these days. There is seemingly no trend in our culture today which does not have its reverse somewhere. So I decided, as I walked along the beach looking for ideas and came across Fran, walking along the beach looking for ideas on the beach (literally, in her case), to base some music on her thoughts and ideas - not being object-specific (ie Sonata on an old Flip-flop, or whatever) but more the philosophical and time-perspective concerns.
How that translates into what music I write and whether it allows me to justify certian notes over others (to which simple essence I would distill what a composer does) is not an easy thing to explain. But then again, how any ephemeral inspiration is turned into music is hardly explicable anyway. A more important question to ask, perhaps, is how much of this should/needs to come over to the audience when they hear your work? Fascinating discussion with our host Caroline Wiseman over lunch yesterday on this very subject. I feel it is helpful to make the connection, and hopefully it will be of interest to the audience, but a good story or idea behind the work is not enough to promote the value of the piece as a work of art. I'm performing the pieces at the end of the week, so nothing will be too perfect at this stage anyway, but the Aldeburgh Arts Club is a place where experiments are welcome and, as with any good residency, its a good idea to just get some ideas down and let the inspiration flow, and then worry about the fine tunings a bit later on. More tomorrow. Back to it for now...
Some other news:
This summer I'm also working on a Cello Sonata for Charles Watt. And learning a lot of new repertoire for autumn concerts and concertos, including some fabuloue 20th century and contemporary works by Peter Dickinson, Lloyd Moore, John McCabe, and William Alwyn, for the Alwyn Festival in the autumn.
Southwold Concert Series begins its autumn series on Sunday September 14th, with violinist Fenella Humphreys performing works from her Bach to the Future project. We also welcome the London Haydn Quartet on Thursday October 23rd. More details on both those concerts here
Another recent composition, Trans Atlantic Flight of Fancy was commissioned by NOW Ensemble and premiered by them at Barge Music in New York City, with further performances across the US earlier this year. The work will feature on their new CD to be released at the end of this year on the New Amsterdam label. 
More piano music composed this year was Variations on a Theme of Cole Porter which has had six or so performances in the last couple of months, with more to follow in the autumn.

Nathan Williamson leads a diverse and varied career as pianist, composer, and conductor, collaborating with a wide range of artists both at home and abroad. click here for more