Working in the lockdown
June 14, 2020

Since I came back from the performance of Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet in Bornem, Belgium on March 6th, I have been at home, along with my son Yuri, who joined me on March 13 as his university had closed down. From that time, for the rest of the year, all my performances have been cancelled although some are, theoretically only postponed. This included a performance of A Man in a Room, Gambling in Lisbon (April 22); the US premiere at Long Beach Opera of my fifth opera The Collected Works of Billy The Kid (May 3); a performance with my ensemble in Sheffield (May 9); a teaching project for Fuse in the French Pyrenees (May 19-25); guest composer, including premiere of new commissioned viola concerto, at Dark Mofo, Tasmania (June 14-22); choral performance of new work for Christchurch Cathedral, Victoria BC (July 6); Irish Madrigals at the Synge Festival, Galway, Ireland (September 10).

Fortunately, the commissions for the viola concerto and the choral piece still stood, even though the performances will happen at some point in the future – the concerto is finished and I am writing the choral piece now. During the time I was writing the viola concerto I also wrote a short piece, Altissimo Luce for bass clarinet, viola and cello for an organisation called Sound World who had asked a number of composers to write short pieces, at no charge, to support struggling performers, who would be paid to record the works. And once the choral piece is completed (and there are some other commissions in the pipeline) I will also take the opportunity to write some music that has not been commissioned.

In 2015, for example, I wrote 5 madrigals for The Song Company to perform at the Adelaide Festival and I now plan to write more of these Petrarch settings to complete the book and then to give it to The Song Company.

Earlier this year I was in Iceland with my good friend the Faroese bass Runi Brattaberg for Egil’s Saga, and we were together at the German premiere of Marilyn Forever in Saarbrücken a week or so later. We talked about the repertoire of songs for bass voice and piano – he was thinking about doing more recital work in addition to his opera performances. – and I said that I would like to write some for him. We also spoke about accompanists and I suggested that he might like work with my daughter Mashka (Alexandra-Maria) who is a terrific player – she plays with my ensemble and is now just finishing her piano studies in Moscow. Runi has since seen videos of Mashka playing (beautifully) and loves the idea. My idea is to compose some settings of Russian poetry for them both and I am now thinking actively about what poetry I might set.

And if the lockdown goes on for a long time, I could even write more of the one-minute piano pieces, each of which is for a day in the pataphysical calendar – I wrote seven, the first week of the year, for a concert at the Ikon Gallery Birmingham last November…

Gavin Bryars