World Premiere of “Salvage” for Hebrides Ensemble at St Magnus Int Festival

I was so delighted to be invited to attend the prestigious St Magnus/Orkney composer course in Orkney, Scotland, June 15-26 which only 8 composer participants (no age restrictions) are chosen every year for this 11-day-course.

The course was run by Alaisdar Nicolson and Sally Beamish and with patron Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Too bad Max was undergoing a therapy that he had to withdrawn from teaching the course. We worked closely with tutors and the resident ensemble (Hebrides Ensemble) in practical sessions. Having been paired with a conductor from the Orkney Conductors’ Course run by Martyn Brabbins and Charles Peebles, new works was performed in a final concert on Wednesday 26 June 2013 at 12.45 as part of the St Magnus International Festival concert in the stunning St Magnus Cathedral. I am very happy that my piece was conducted by Charles Peebles.

The highlight of the course for me was the session with Ann McKay, Chief Producer of BBC Symphony Orchestra and knowing that she does remember me from the BBC Baroque Remixed Concert at Roundhouse back in March. We had a quick chat afterwards about why my piece went into 2 BBC websites (BBC Radio 3 website and BBC Music Showcase website) for a while in March-April –check out my Gallery tab Apparently she did not recognized the Showcase website as it seems to be a new one, but commented that I must have done very well that my piece was put on two BBC websites. Well, that is something nice to hear 🙂

Back to the world premiere of my piece for Hebrides Ensemble, “Salvage”, an exploration of light and dark. Here is more or less the programme note: “This is quite a personal piece as it was written after my father had undergone a stroke. It was a difficult time for me as he is ten thousand miles away. He has been delivered from death at least 3 times in his life. The first one was with me during a bad car accident when I was four years old. The fact that he is still alive, and now walking and speaking as normal made me feel to write a testimonial piece as a gratitude on how much God has been miraculously sustaining our family life. In the performance there will be a representation of the sounds of trembling knees and hands, the weepings, racing heartbeats, breaths, emergency service’s siren, the panic and the prayers we lifted in the darkness. There will be a moment of light, my imagination is perhaps my father was already at the heaven’s gate but God decided to bring him back to life as the high register of strings was descended by a solo cello pentatonic melody followed by the clarinet.”

I used five pitch material that underlies the composition, symbolizing my family of five (mom,dad and 3 daughters).

I was very glad that the piece got a warm welcome and was well-received by audiences, performers and conductor Charles Peebles himself. Charles and the Hebrides Ensemble gave the piece a justice, and I felt honored to hear Charles Peebles saying “it was a good piece, a very good piece” the moment he conducted it first time at the workshop. I think after the performance when I thanked him, he said “it was a great piece”. When I was trying to explain the composition, Charles said to me that the music had told him all, and it was there on the music. I was surprise on how he had captured it. Even more, I was sitting next to Martyn Brabbins at the workshop who also gave good comments on both my name and the music. He smiled to me a few times during my workshop.

Three people from the audiences came to me after the concert congratulated me and said how it touched them. Some asked me to make sure that my dad is okay 🙂 Some conductors from the course and a brilliant accordionist who gave us workshop earlier admitted that it had hit them right in their hearts and some said it was their favourite. Fellow composers and other performers at St Magnus festival were also very encouraging and supportive. A tutor told me how the Hebrides enjoyed playing my piece.

The best comment I received that still makes me smile I think was “you made the siren sounds poetic”.
And the violinist from Hebrides ensemble, Alexander complimented my conducting after I conducted the piece at one of the workshops had made my week. He also said that my pitch selections to convey the ‘light’ was effective.

Oh and during the course we were also asked to compose a song from a poem by poet from the Orkney Writer Course to be sung by a brilliant mezzo-soprano, Alison Wells on a workshop. I was paired with a nice poet lady, Stephanie Green, to turn her deep and meaningful poem “The Child of Breckon Sands” into music. We only met at the workshop, so after I finished composing the tune.
She kindly had commented in her blog “Marisa’s music was hauntingly beautiful and very evocative of what I was trying to achieve in my poem. I was thrilled with it, and also delighted to meet the charming Marisa.”

Find here:

Alison Wells, after sight-reading and singing my two versions of the song poem commented that my word setting with the music sounds very natural to be sung, agreed by the tutors, that she enjoyed singing it and liked the shape of the tune.

Tutors give me a note to learn about where to musically emphasize the phrase “and the rain-throated rain-goose” which is quite tricky for me as English being the second language.

I really cherished this experience and the opportunity to meet brilliant musicians, artists and almost everyone in the industry in a beautiful land of Orkney which apparently have such a distinct weather compared to London/Egham during Summer.

Could not be happier about my first journey and premiere in Scotland 🙂