Not Now Birty

for occasional wind quintet



c. 8 minutes


Premiere: 20 March 2013
An Evening with Oblique3 and Friends
New Hall, Corbett Road
Performed by Le Quintette Pappilon

Workshop performance: December 2012
Performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Wind Quintet

Program Note

This piece for 'occasional wind quintet' is an affectionate tribute to the great composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle. Humour has always played an important role in my music and I became fascinated by the way Birtwistle's blunt and uncompromising way of expressing himself often creates comic scenarios (to me at least) when juxtaposed against the formality and refinement of the 'classical' music scene.

The Steve Reich edition of a series of interviews produced by Boosey and Hawkes begins with the quote 'I think my decision to become a composer really happened at the age of fourteen when I heard for the first time The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky, and shortly thereafter the fifth Brandenberg Concerto by Johann Sebastian Bach'. In stark contrast, the Birtwistle edition of the same series opens with the composer giving us a tour of his garden and a series of fantastic quotes such as: 'do you want to see my tomatoes?... I've grown them from seed. Magic!', and 'this wall here, I built that. It's not bad is it'. It is almost a minute and a half into this three-minute feature before Birtwistle even mentions his music.

In Not Now Birty I have made a caricature of some of these traits. The quartet of flute, oboe, horn and bassoon move as a unit and progress in a reasonably logical manner, however, the clarinet (the instrument Birtwistle played in his youth) constantly antagonises the equilibrium and leads the others astray in terms of harmony, rhythm, structure, and timbre, always favouring harsher and more enigmatic soundworlds.

Some would argue there is a time and place to hear Birtwistle talk about his gardening techniques, and likewise, for a clarinet to scream over the top of an ensemble. Others would simply respond 'not now Birty'.