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On Whether a Commission is a Commission?

September 20th, 2017 No comments

I have recently been commissioned to write a piece of music. ‘Hurrah’, I hear you say – ‘but why are you telling us this banal information?’ ‘Is it such a red-letter day that you need to let the world know?’ Well, no, not really, I’m not partaking in some weird sort of gloating, or announcing my news in the most faux-sophisticated way I can think of, but rather that the very concept of being commissioned to write a piece of music got me thinking…what exactly is a commission and has our concept of what this word entails changed in recent years. Has being ‘commissioned’ to create something become divorced from the actual paying of money for this service? Or has it always been such? I’m confused… Read more…

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On Being a Craftsman or Artist?

June 29th, 2017 No comments

Earlier this year I was proof-reading a new book on the Welsh composer William Mathias, a composer for whom I have a great amount of respect. Amongst the many things that struck me about this book was the continued reference to Mathias as a ‘craftsman’, someone who ‘would have been happy to have put a brass plate outside his studio with ‘composer’ on it, much as the lawyer or dentist do in their professions.’ The idea of the composer as a craftsman really got me thinking and got me assessing my own work and my own difficult relationship with the profession of composing – it also got me thinking about the perceived pejorative connotations of this term and whether one can willingly use it in a positive and constructive manner. Read more…

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On Mike Oldfield’s ‘Ommadawn’…

February 7th, 2017 No comments

I recently spent just over two weeks in the Lake District on a writing break in an attempt to get my research leave kick-started, the place where I stay is lovely, with great views and no internet or phone signal – I got a lot of work done. However, one thing that became very obvious to me very quickly was the sudden lack of music in my life, this was partly due to the aforementioned lack of connectivity, but also to a new laptop (with no saved recordings) and no CDs – it was all too quiet. Now, I don’t really listen to much music on a day-to-day basis due to being surrounded by it in my working life, however once this was removed I began to yearn for something to fill the silence, and stop the irritating thoughts in my head. With this in mind, I decided to head for the nearest record shop (not an easy task in Cumbria) and buy some CDs (it’s not like I could download something…), but then – what to buy? Classical, contemporary, rock, pop, folk, gangsta rap (is that still a thing…)? In the end, I plumped for something that I had loved as a fourteen-year-old, Mike Oldfield’s Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn, but would it sound quite so good over twenty years later?

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Review of 2016

January 3rd, 2017 No comments

www.phillipcooke.com2016 was another busy year with lots going on in my professional and academic life. Highlights included multiple broadcasts on BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio Scotland and Classic FM, O salutaris hostia being published by Schott and lots of good reviews of the CD O Sacrum Convivium (featuring three motets of mine). There were performances across the country and further afield, particularly of How Clear, How Lovely and Ave verum corpus. June saw my motet Judas Mercator Pessimus win the inaugural Gesualdo Six composition prize and another motet Prayer to St Alban performed in the annual St Alban Pilgrimage at St Alban’s Cathedral. I didn’t get as much written of The Music of James MacMillan as I hoped, but I’m on research leave now, so hopefully this year. There are broadcasts, CD releases and commissions already planned for 2017, so hopefully it will be just as successful as 2016, though perhaps without some of the political upheavals! PAC

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On Francis Pott’s Balulalow…

December 24th, 2016 No comments

www.phillipcooke.comI try to write something on a festive theme every Christmas with varying degrees of success, usually spending a little time looking at some classic Christmas choral repertoire that continues to inspire and enthuse me – Howells, Warlock, Joubert – the usual stuff. I ventured a little further off the beaten track last year to discuss Harrison Birtwistle’s The Gleam, which is probably one of the most creepy Christmas offerings you are likely to encounter, so I was left wondering where to go this year? Maybe this would be the year that I would write a blog post on Slade, Wizzard or Band Aid? Maybe…or maybe not… Read more…

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On Being a Composer – Part III: On Musical Mentors…

November 15th, 2016 No comments

www.phillipcooke.comFor the third and final of my trilogy of blogs on being a composer, I thought I’d discuss something that has begun to be an issue in my professional life and will no doubt continue to do so in the coming years – the tricky relationship between student and teacher and the role of mentors in the musical world. Now, this isn’t going to be an in-depth look at pedagogy or teaching methods or a swipe at any higher education establishment and the relative merits of the students it produces, but rather a brief look at what this relationship actually entails, what should I expect to do as a teacher and what should I be expected to give any students that work with me? Read more…

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On Being a Composer – Part II: A Respected Profession?

October 24th, 2016 No comments

www.phillipcooke.comFor the second of my trio of blogs on being a composer I thought I’d turn to something that probably affects all composers, and something that I have a serious hang-up about – whether being a composer in 2016 is actually a respected profession? And I’m not going to turn this into some sort of polemic about the perceived ‘usefulness’ or the creative arts, or whether it was better in 1900 or the marginalisation of ‘classical music’ – rather how I feel about writing music, the interactions I have with the wider public and whether there is an understanding and actual respect for the profession of composer today. Read more…

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On Being a Composer – Part I: Professional Jealousy…

October 14th, 2016 No comments

www.phillipcooke.comWith there being a reading week at the university where I work I have finally carved out some time from a frenetic start of the academic year to write down a few thoughts, something reflective and practice-based for a change. I’ve recently been mulling over a few things in my head, a few things on what it means to be a composer in 2016 – nothing earth-shattering and certainly nothing about the diminishing role of classical music in society or the post-Brexit artistic wasteland we are heading towards – mainly things to do with how I feel about writing music and the interactions I have in my day-to-day artistic life. I thought I’d try to do three over the next week, some of which may strike a chord (no pun intended) with other composers, some of which may only be pertinent to me. I thought I’d begin with something that is felt be everyone (other than the very few who are pure of soul…) – professional jealousy. Read more…

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On Stainer and Maunder…

August 9th, 2016 No comments

www.phillipcooke.comOne of the unexpected joys (and I use that word with some trepidation here) of my summer vacation this year was wading my way through my Grandmother’s hoard of aging choral music, much of it dog-eared and buried deep in various antique bits of furniture – in fact I should qualify this by noting that much of the music was her mother and father’s, so music that was being performed regularly in the 1920s and 30s. That’s not to say it was music written in the 20s and 30s (so no Vaughan Williams and Holst) but music that was still being performed with some regularity in the provinces, particularly in County Durham where my paternal family hail from. Many of the scores bore testament to concerts by long-defunct choral societies and light opera groups and to no-doubt wonderful evenings of amateur music making and revelry in the concert halls and parish churches of Barnard Castle, Darlington and Bishop Auckland. It was like researching a family tree, but through the medium of long-forgotten cantatas and curious operetta – I loved it. Read more…

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On Writing Polyphonic Music…

March 18th, 2016 No comments

www.phillipcooke.comIt’s reached that time of the year when I say to myself ‘the next piece I write is going to be polyphonic’ – it happens every year (funnily enough always around Easter time) and every year I labour at trying to do something and every year I duly fail. Why is it so difficult to write polyphonic music? Why do so many contemporary composers (mainly choral composers here, I guess…) just not bother to even try? Why is it important to even attempt to write polyphonic music? I guess there are lots of answers to those questions, some of which may take a little longer to answer then this medium allows. But the main answer, and I may be being a little flippant here, is that polyphonic music is just not in fashion at the moment. And it’s hard to do. But mainly the fashion bit. Read more…

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