An eventful summer

In the Summer of 2000 I had the great pleasure of meeting James Gillespie, editor of The Clarinet Journal, during the International Clarinet Association (ICA) convention in Oklahoma. James asked me if I would like to contribute a regular column. These personal reflections are now reprinted with his permission. The following ‘Letter from the UK’ was first published in December 2001 in The Clarinet Journal, the official publication of the ICA. 
I love the summer and always feel a tinge of sadness as the long, warm evenings begin to close in and the wonderful scents and colours in my small, but reasonably well-tended, English country garden begin to fade. To compensate I work doubly hard! So here’s what I’ve been up to (although no doubt you’ll be thinking about decorating the Christmas tree and buying the Christmas pudding by the time you read this!) ...

I’ve just finished playing in this year’s Stowe Opera production of Dvorak’s Rusalka. And what a gem of an opera it is; marvellous melodies, and particularly gorgeous clarinet writing too! We present a very similar package to the more widely-known Glyndebourne Opera – a long interval in which to enjoy a relaxing outdoor picnic between acts, with the fabulous eighteenth-century gardens at Stowe providing the perfect setting. 

As well as teaching, playing and writing, I also have my own small publishing company, Queen’s Temple Publications. In this capacity, I spent a fascinating evening at Sir Malcolm Arnold’s home a few weeks ago, which has resulted in three particularly interesting works being added to our catalogue. We were searching through some old boxes that normally reside in the Arnold attic, and came across a song. The words were by Arnold’s sister, and the piece composed when he was about 13. Beauty Haunts the Woods is a delightful song and studying it carefully, I could see the potential for adding a clarinet part. (As an aside, readers ought to know the Three Songs of Innocence by Arnold Cooke for voice, clarinet and piano– a favourite of mine and a fine work for this slightly neglected combination). I took the music home and made the arrangement; Sir Malcolm approved and so it will be appearing soon. 

Next, we found a piano piece written when Arnold was 17 – Dream City. Even though it was written at this tender age, it has all the hallmarks of the composer’s style. Again, I felt it could be very successful as an arrangement and this time the textures cried out for setting as a wind quintet. I had no doubt that Arnold had originally conceived the piece with orchestral sounds in mind. He has always had such an ear for colour – and this piece made such a natural transition from piano to wind quintet that that I felt he must have been thinking instrumentally when it was first composed, in 1938. The third piece is the most exciting and readers may already know it in the clarinet and orchestra version. The ‘Scherzetto’ from the film You Know What Sailors Are, made in 1953, has been recorded both by Thea King and John Bradbury. It is due to be published for clarinet and piano and demonstrates the composer in fine form. Written just a couple of years after the Sonatina, there are many similarities with his most popular work – the scurrying semiquavers/sixteenth notes, the fondness for melodic semitones and the sheer vitality and good humour of the tunes. At the time of writing, I am arranging a recital in Norwich where the ‘first’ performance of these works will take place in the presence of the composer, just a week after Sir Malcolm’s 80th birthday. 

The new academic year is about to begin and in the UK, schools and Music Services (regional organisations that co-ordinate instrumental teaching in Government-maintained schools) prepare in-service ‘training’ a few days before the term begins. I will therefore be travelling far and wide over the next week; to institutions in Scotland and Wales, and the lovely cities of Oxford and Bath. It is a real privilege to work with enthusiastic teachers discussing ideas, strategies, approach and philosophy. I love this work – it is both highly stimulating and rewarding – and I learn a huge amount from it. It also allows me to meet some wonderful people who really understand the immense joy of teaching – their pupils are very lucky.

Among the various books I am working at presently is a volume of new clarinet music, specially commissioned from contemporary composers all over the world. The twist is that the music is must be approachable to younger players who may not yet have particularly advanced technique. Music in the most up-to-date idioms should not just be the preserve of the ‘professional’ and I hope this collection may prove a little bit ground-breaking! More about it next year.

Happy Christmas!