Martin's musings on new SCO Commission
Our Associate Composer Martin Suckling reflects on the process of writing his new piano concerto, ahead of its premiere performances on 12-14 October 2016.
I know I'm in safe hands, and with musicians like Tom and the SCO they always add so much to the piece through their interpretation. From this point on, I can just enjoy the ride.
I've known Robin Ticciati since we were in youth orchestra together, and Tom Poster since university, so we've been friends for a long time. It's always special writing for people you know: your experience of their personality inevitably finds its way into the music, and imagining how they will respond to a particular passage or sound is a great way of getting the piece off the ground. I feel the same way about the SCO as an orchestra now – this will be the third piece I've written for them – both as a whole group and individual players. It's probably no coincidence that a viola solo found its way into the first movement after hearing Jane Atkins' stunning performance of Britten's Lachrymae last year, or that working on a community project with timpanist Matt Hardy led me to sneak in a little duet for solo claves and piano.
Writing this piece has been a long process. Robin first suggested it several years ago and I began work in the summer of 2014 (there have been breaks for other pieces so it's not been all concerto all the time). The concerto – and particularly the piano concerto – is one of those rare genres that has been a constant feature of concert life since pretty much the beginning of concert life as we know it. Although it has transformed a great deal in 200+ years there are firmly embedded ideas of what such pieces should entail. It's a fantastic resource for a composer because all that history gives you so much to play with – and against – but carving out your own space is a challenge, and manipulating audience and performers' expectations for the best possible results is a delicate business!
At the start of the process I spent a considerable amount of time figuring out what the overall shape of the piece might be. At the same time, I was reading Niall Campbell's collection of poetry, Moontide, and one of these poems, 'And this was how it started' played an important role in focussing my ideas.
In many ways, this is the 'biggest' piece I've written to date; certainly the longest and most through-composed in terms of working with a single set of materials from beginning to end. Building up to the rehearsal period and first performance is always a combination of exciting and nerve wracking, particularly when the writing period has been extended. Did I judge this balance right? (I hope so.) Did I really write that chord? (Definitely. Get a grip: microtones are great, so are bare fifths.) But when the orchestra is there rehearsing all these doubts slip away: I know I'm in safe hands, and with musicians like Tom and the SCO they always add so much to the piece through their interpretation. From this point on, I can just enjoy the ride.