There was another good review of Phillip Cooke, Choral Music in the current edition of International Record Review. The wide ranging review refers to an ‘excellent disc’, the Jubilate being ‘very succesful’ and The Hazel Wood being ‘expertly scored for organ and brass quintet’. My favourite line is ‘By now the picture is emerging of a composer who, perhaps deliberately avoids the excessive sweetness to be found in the works of many contemporary choral composers…’. I guess so! PAC
Organist Ed Jones will give the premiere of my piece for pedals only Praeludium (2013) at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Aberdeen this Saturday (19 July) in a recital inlcuding works by Bach and Vivaldi. Ed will also give another performance of my early organ work Elegy (2003) at Ely Cathedral during evensong on Friday 08 August. PAC
There was a really nice review of Phillip Cooke, Choral Music recently in Choir & Organ magazine. In the review, by Philip Reed, it states: ‘his distinctive, very approachable voice has won many admirers’; [there are] ‘three fine motets (Verbum caro factum est of 2009 is especially effective) and finishes with ‘this generously filled disc is an excellent summary of his career to date’. Thanks. PAC
There was another good review of my recent CD Phillip Cooke, Choral Music, this time on the website Planet Hugill by the composer, singer and blogger Robert Hugill. His in-depth review states ‘Phillip Cooke has a personable and characterful music voice…and the final two [pieces] give hints at what he is capable of when writing in a more extended form’. He says lovely things about many of the pieces including: ‘wonderful evocation of certain type of rhapsodic English melancholy’ [Invocation] and ‘a highly effective piece, wonderfully well wrought’ [The Hazel Wood]. The full review can be read here.
On Wednesday (14/05) the year of organ music continues with the world premiere of my new work Exsultet commissioned by the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music and performed in this year’s festival by Leon Charles. The service is to be braodcast on BBC Radio 3 Choral Evensong and features new works by Anthony Pitts, Roxanna Panufnik and Alexander Campkin. The service is broadcast at 15.30. Exsultet takes the opening words of the Easter Vigil as its inspiration, but more importantly it features a large quotation from a recent pop song – a free CD and a packet of biscuits if anyone recognises it!
It appears performances of organ music are like buses, you wait for one then several turn up at once. Assistant Director of Music at Worksop College (and former Queen’s College Organ Scholar) Charlotte Phillips will perform Elegy (2003) in the College Chapel on Wednesday 07 May at 19.30 in a recital of European Organ Music. There are further performances of Elegy planned later this year.
There has been a further positive review of The Music of Herbert Howells in the latest edition of International Piano Review. The review (which mainly focusses on the piano music) states that it is an ‘informative collection of essays’ and that there are ‘useful and pertinent insights afforded by this welcome volume.’ Nice.
On Saturday 26 April, the distinguished organist Roger Williams will perform my early organ work Elegy (2003) at Settle Parish Church at 19.30. Roger has commissioned a new organ piece from me, Epitaph (I like cheery organ music…) which he will premiere in Aberdeen in November as part of the Sound Festival 2014. This is the beginning of a busy year of organ music for me, with another premiere in May of a new piece Exsultet as part of the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music.
Five years ago I was accepted on to the Lake District Summer Music Festival 4×4 Composer Scheme (bear with me here…) where four composers were to write pieces for the vocal group the Orlando Consort, under the supervision of renowned composer John Casken. It was a fine week with good weather, musical conversation, real ale and general bonhomie. However, the piece I wrote for the consort was not my finest – I couldn’t at the time put my finger on what exactly I didn’t like about the piece, it was generally well composed with some good ideas and nice textures, all the usual stuff. However, it was only when I got home that I realised what was wrong with the piece – it wasn’t Geoff Poole’s Wymondham Chants.
Now, you may also be aware that my work was also not Machaut’s Messe de Nostre-Dame, nor Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 5 nor Tristan und Isolde – but what makes this comparison so acute, is that Wymondham Chants is such a fantastic piece (both in concept and execution) and is so well written and conceived for a vocal consort (in this case a six voice group) that anything else in a similar vein just pales in comparison. That’s the problem, and will no doubt continue to be a problem!
In case you are not aware of Geoff Poole and his work, he was born in 1949 and was largely self-taught until the age of 21 before studying with Alexander Goehr and Jonathan Harvey. Large scale commissions, broadcasts and recordings followed alongside professorships at both Manchester and Bristol Universities (he retired in 2009). All fairly straight forward you might think, but during this time he had spells learning traditional performance in East Africa and in Korea, as well as a visiting fellowship at Princeton – and he has a keen interest in medieval music and folk traditions – much of which is evident in his work, including the early success that became Wymondham Chants.
Wymondham Chants was written in 1970 for the internationally renowned vocal ensemble the King’s Singers and has since gone on to be Poole’s most successful and performed work. It is a setting of four medieval texts (‘carols and lyrics’ states the score) which Poole sets in the formal scheme of Prologue, Scherzo, Prayer and Epilogue. The opening piece ‘Ave, rex angelorum’ contrasts slowly unfolding phrases with intense bursts of jaunty melismas (more than one note per syllable), the two types of music gradually coalescing in the final statement. The second, ‘Tutivillus’ is an incredible burst of angular speech and percussive vocal effects punctured by brief moments of repose before a savage fortissimo ending. The emotional heart of the work is the third piece, ‘Mary Modyr’ which contrasts long solos and duets with warm choral sonorities and textures. The final piece, ‘Blessed Jesu’ is perhaps the most intriguing with a processional effect as one group of singers moves towards the performance space independently of the others. Like the first piece, there are two contrasting musical ideas which gradually move closer to one another before the re-introduction of the melismatic material from the first piece brings the work to a powerful end.
What appeals to me most about this piece (other than the fact that it is so well written for the group) is the constant inventiveness and Poole’s relationship with pre-existing material and a historical continuum. The work is hugely indebted to medieval music and medieval compositional practices, but also to the feel and very nature of the period (apparently the work was inspired by the ruined abbey at Wymondham, in Norfolk). Poole does not try to re-create the medieval soundworld, or to try to create something entirely disparate from the texts, he creates a historically-aware setting, fully infused with the sounds of the fifteenth century musical world but something very much with both feet in the twentieth century. This is what appeals to me as both a composer and a listener. The work is also influenced by Britten, certainly the Britten of Curlew River and the Prodigal Son, but also by composers such as Penderecki and his seminal work of 1966 the St Luke Passion. It also is inspired by the English choral tradition, which was anathema to many composers in the late 1960s and 70s – it is hard to listen to ‘Mary Modyr’ without being aware of the centuries of church music that have gone before.
It is interesting looking and listening to this work nearly 45 years after its composition: some of the effects (particularly in ‘Tutivillus’) are rooted in the musical language of the 1970s, but much of the work is fresh and entirely in keeping with current musical trends (particularly in contemporary choral music) – the use of the macaronic form (using two different languages simultaneously) is very in vogue as is the re-encountering of texts and musical practices from previous epochs. What marks the Wymondham Chants out from other works of the period is that there is no apparent irony in this work, rather a poignant, thoughtful and somewhat tender approach to the texts and the long line of musical history – that’s why this work appeals to me and why I’m constantly disappointed that I didn’t write it.
‘Ave, rex angelorum’, from the Wymondham Chants
To purchase this recording (King’s Singers, BMG) click here.
A nice review on the online review site www.crossrhythms.com can be found here. It refers to the CD as a ’splendid new release’ and states ‘Cooke is influenced by his homeland and writes music that is both original and approachable’ – I’ll take that. PAC