When I was asked by the BBC to write the opening piece for its upcoming concert to celebrate 40 years with the Ulster Orchestra, I felt truly honoured. Growing up as a teenager in Belfast I’d spent much of my time going to Ulster Orchestra concerts, so to have my music played by the Orchestra on Monday 8 November in the Ulster Hall will be a truly incredible experience.
Richard Yarr, the BBC producer’s brief for this piece was to ‘expansive, joyous and evocative of place’ and I hope I’ve achieved that. My inspiration were the beautiful words by Louis MacNeice from Autumn Sequel, which at once gave me a wonderful sense of optimism. This is my ‘Fanfare for the Makers’ as we have such a rich heritage of creative artists in Northern Ireland, I wanted to celebrate them.
Scored for brass, organ, string and percussion, many images came to mind as I started to compose, the dramatic beauty of the North Antrim coast and the spectacular ruins of Dunluce Castle set amidst windswept empty beaches. Like many, I have had time to think about life, music and my place in the world over the past 18 months. So while this piece has moments of dissonance reflecting on the shadows of the pandemic, those darker times are pushed aside as we emerge from it, to a joyous celebration of life.
‘So Fanfare for the Makers… Let us make. And set the weather fair.’
Louis MacNeice – from Autumn Sequel
An Ulster Reverie
The BBC then surprised me completely by asking me to write the penultimate music for this concert too. Moya Cannon’s poem ‘Light Is What Days Are Made Of’ was to be the inspiration for my second composition which I call ‘An Ulster Reverie’.
Moya’s words created such strong images in my mind, evoking memories of pebble beaches in warm sunshine. Her poem was written during lockdown reminding me again how I’d felt during those very uncertain first weeks last year, thankfully safe and surrounded by my family. I had a feeling of delicate fragility, but I also felt that we would overcome this and emerge from it stronger, so I hope that hopefulness comes across in my composition.
Composing for the concert hall is very different to my world of scoring for film and television. I do not have the support of images to tell the story. I am on my own. But it also allows huge freedom of expression as I am no longer constrained by lengths of scene or dialogue. I find it a very pure form of composing, highly stimulating and exciting and one where my music has to do all the work.
I hope the audience in the Ulster Hall find it as uplifting to listen to as I found it to compose, and I am so looking forward to being part of that audience on the 8 November, with my family, for a celebration of music, the arts and the Ulster Orchestra.
The concert will be broadcast on Thursday 11th November at 7.30pm on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio Ulster.
‘Stones, warm on the morning sea-shore, know it.
Our sun is so much older than them’
Moya Cannon – from Light Is What Days Are Made Of