Author Archives: jennipinnock

Playing the new stuff!

This article is the first of two from Dylan Christopher, Colchester based pianist and composer who is running the Piano Project 2018 project in association with Colchester New Music.

My love of music was fostered from a young age.  I do not come from a musical family; I was, and remain today the only musician in my immediate, and extended family circle.  However, this did not stop me being inspired by the giants that helped shape music.

When people talk about the past, there is a detachment.  We forget that we are talking about events that happened on this planet; albeit a long time ago, but on our planet nevertheless.  While studying, a mentor once said to me “There are some pieces of music that you feel as though you can reach your hand out and touch, and some you cannot”.  The music we cannot reach out and touch, so to speak, is where this detachment lies, past or present.

A few years ago, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Handel Museum in Mayfair; Jimmy Hendrix lived next door.  There is something amusing about picturing Jimmy Hendrix living next door to George Frideric Handel, as though it was pulled from a BBC primetime sitcom.

Obviously, Handel was an early eighteenth-century composer, and Hendrix was a twentieth-century popular musician, so they did not live next door to one another at the same time, but this image conjures up all sorts of tomfoolery and shenanigans.

Just being in the rooms where they stood, looking out of the windows they looked out of, and seeing the view they might have seen, brought them to life; for me at least.  Speaking with my performer’s hat on, we spend a lot of time and effort trying to understand the mind of the composer whose music we are performing.  Why did they write it like this? What do they mean us to play?  Is this what they wanted it to sound like?

Both Handel and Hendrix are no longer alive, so these questions are labours one might have when playing their music.  Not forgetting that the world we live in has moved on certainly since the time of Handel, and somewhat since the time of Hendrix in the late seventies.

Today everything we do is, to a point, sanitised and detached; behind a speaker, or a screen.  We see musicians and the sounds they make, but for the most part, we forget that these are events, that are unfolding or have unfolded, before our eyes, on this planet. In some instances, they are so finely polished that the suspension of disbelief would not for a moment permit the thought that they are part of our world.

The first time I met a real composer was an enlightening experience.  They were not a superstar who lived in the parallel star-studded universe of show-business.  They were also not the larger-than-life- itself icon asking for worship and sycophantism.  They were a human being, living, feeling and thinking like you or I; most importantly, living in the same space and planet.

Of most importance to this person was the music they had written and the connections and insight it would inspire in others.  They said, their role was to write it, and mine was to sing it; which I tried my hardest to.  I was so worried about ‘getting it right’ I almost forgot why we were singing it; as the composer reminded me, it was for our audience to enjoy and be moved by.

The piece was written for a choral competition, in which I sang tenor, and incidentally, we would later win.  I am by no means a vocalist, but I could contribute, which the composer saw and was enough to convince him to let me join the cause.  At the time, I felt like I was part of something larger, which I was.  Forever my name will be on the programme, as performer – tenor –  for the first performance of something new; never heard before that moment.

It would be almost ten years later while talking with a colleague, Alex Blustin, on this very issue of performing contemporary music, on which he would say:

“If you give the first performance of a new piece, it’s ‘yours’ forever in a way that ‘Für Elise’ will never be.”

This so beautifully and eloquently puts into words the very meaning of reaching out and touching music.  By playing it, we make it our own, which is why after so many years of making music, we still play, practice, perform, record, then re-record music.  Being the first to make that connection makes it special, for you, the composer, and the audience.

Welcome to the website of Colchester New Music

We are a cooperative of composers based in East Anglia. We aim to develop artistically and professionally through coming together to share knowledge, support, and to run workshops and events to benefit ourselves, other composers, and the greater artistic community.

Please follow the links above to find out more about us, to listen to music from some of our events, or see information about current and former projects, or perhaps have a look at our current calls for scores. Below you can see our latest news posts.

Effects of the Light – Private view at the Digby Gallery, Mercury Theatre, Colchester, 16th November 2013


CNM Publicity Officer Alexander Blustin has an exhibition of his linocuts in the Digby Gallery of the Mercury Theatre, Colchester, from 12-20th November. The exhibition is entitled Effects of the Light. You will have seen some of Alex’s work on recent CNM posters.

As part of the private view on 16th November (11.30am-1.30pm), Alex has invited CNM members Rich Perks and Colin Blundell to provide interactive performances. Rich will relate interpretations of the linocut images via his fretless electric guitar, demonstrating the intriguing capabilities of the instrument. Colin Blundell will be both interpreting Alex’s images and providing some of his own music, performing on his sopranino, descant and bass recorders.

Notes on the performances by Bespoke Brass at the Headgate Theatre on Saturday 13th July 2013

Alan Parsons, August 2013

This was billed as ‘Cutting Edge Brass’. Unfortunately many of the pieces included in the programme were anything but ‘cutting edge’ being rather on the conventional side of brass writing. However, the programme did contain a number of original and imaginative pieces for the medium, mostly from existing CNM members. The members of Bespoke Brass played excellently throughout.

Tim Torry’s Salutation from his Brass Suite made a suitable opening to the programme. Tim describes it as ‘exuberant and sometimes jazzy’, and it had a well handled cumulative effect.

Jenni Pinnock’s Brass and Bronze began with some delicate and imaginative sounds. It made use of rhythmic and melodic patterns derived from both bugle calls and bell ringing. Samples of bell sounds were effectively integrated with the brass instruments.

Wes Stephens’ Tango from his Dance Suite was nicely written for the medium, but routine in its expression.

Bernard Hughes’ Noble Music for a Ceremonial Occasion made a traditional use of the medium, introducing some interesting harmonic twists.

Alan Bullard’s Archbishop Harsnett meets Doctor Gilberd was perhaps the most original and imaginative piece in the programme. It was an eloquently dramatic musical representation of an imaginary conversation between two Colchester worthies from the sixteenth century. Scored for trumpet and horn it was beautifully played by Steve Drury and Eddie Morgan.

Stuart Russell’s From Brass and Bells was based on sampled brass and bell sounds. It was a purposeful, imaginative and very effective use of the electronic medium. This piece really goes somewhere and has a real sense of drama, avoiding the tendency of much electronic music to remain static and simply indulge in beautiful sounds. It contained some delicate as well as expressive sounds.

Greg Bartholomew’s Quand j’étais Chez mon Père was a simple melodic and harmonic setting of traditional Canadian songs.

Tim Cook’s Entrade was very much in the tradition of English music of the interwar years, both in its melodic and harmonic aspects. Within this tradition it was competently written.

Gordon Saville’s Jigsaw was likewise well written and was evidently by someone who was very familiar with the medium, containing certain virtuoso elements, but again it was very conventional in both content and expression.

Julia Usher’s Rumours of Cuts was concerned with trees and their preservation, and by extension with the present economic plight. Her approach was primarily dramatic, giving rise to sounds that were fascinating and imaginative and increasingly disturbing, even threatening. The sounds of the brass instruments were effectively enhanced by electronic diffusion.

Laurence Glazier’s A Colchester Rag was an amusing parody, reminiscent of the work of Eric Satie.

Jean-Pierre Vial’s Vingt Deux Septiemes ou Presque was a study in nostalgia, being an arrangement of a piano composition written when the composer was seventeen. The expression was very traditional with cloying harmonies.

Andrea Montalbano’s Regal Minimalism attempted to be up to date by using minimalist techniques and the whole-tone scale, but the result was rather static and seemed to get nowhere.

My own Friday Woods is part of a Colchester Suite originating as an improvisation for the Colchester based group Firewire. It was meant to evoke the feeling of calmness and quiet one gets on entering woodland.

Elspeth Manders’ Siamese Cats was written when she was only seventeen. It shows a mature, if somewhat cautious, use of the medium, and is full of promise.

Robin Benton’s Rhythmic Rondo was a lively, if conventional and rather repetitive piece which made a pleasant ending to the programme.

Alan Parsons  August 2013