In a sentence or less, how would you describe the music to someone who’s never heard it before?
I can only refer to it in terms of my style: accessible, tuneful, hopefully memorable with a text that is ‘universal’.
What was your brief?
The work was written, to commission, to mark the 10th anniversary of Grayshott Concerts whose aim is to provide top quality classical music performances by renowned soloists, instrumentalists, choirs and orchestras for the people of Grayshott and surrounding villages in the area of the Hampshire/Surrey borders. Essentially, Grayshott Concerts comprises two people: Vivien & Peter Harrison who in 2012 received national recognition when they were awarded the Lady Hilary Groves Prize for their ‘outstanding contribution to music in the community’ from the Making Music organisation which supports over 3000 groups throughout the UK. Most of their concerts take place in their church, St. Luke’s.
Luke, a gentile and an apostle, was known as Luke the Physician and the whole work concerns healing, hence the title, The Healer – A Cantata for St Luke. Carol Barratt (composer of the celebrated Chester Piano Books, librettist and my wife!) collated the text and wrote much of it herself, with further contributions from both the past (The Shepherd by William Blake) and present, Terry Waite, with one movement written by Vivien, which deals with healing our plant, Earth. Some was taken from the Bible.
In 2009, the Excelsis Choir, co-founded by Grayshott Concerts and Director of Music Robert Lewis, performed my Stabat Mater and in due course I became their Patron. This world premiere was performed by the Excelsis Choir, the Marylebone Camerata, Soprano Lucy Knight and Baritone Hakan Vramsmo, and oboist Rosie Jenkins with me conducting.
How long did you have to write it?
The journey began three years ago but actual composition time took up to one year in total.
What were your inspirations?
I don’t believe very much in inspiration. One has to get on and write it if it is a commissioned work with a deadline (the deadline being well before the premiere of course since the choristers have to learn their part). Much of the greatest music ever composed was written by ‘jobbing’ composers, even if they were ‘jobbing’ composers of genius, like Bach or Mozart, writing music for specific occasions whether for the church or for a patron. Having said that, I had to be mindful and respectful of the text which is the structure over which the music is draped. I find by writing each day, I get into the flow of it. When I wait for ‘inspiration’, nothing happens. I suppose I became accustomed to deadlines when I worked in the commercial world. Miss a deadline and, not only did one not get paid, you’d never work again!
Where did you write the piece?
Some in Wales, on the Gower Peninsula, in a mill house we once had, and the remainder in London. As long as I have my tools, a digital piano that can ‘talk’ to my Mac lap top and Sibelius notation programme, I can write anywhere. People like to envisage the romantic ideal of peaceful idyllic countryside but the reality, for me anyway, is that once I’m underway, I could be anywhere.
Did you have a musical ‘EUREKA!’ moment where everything fell into place?
Not really since the span is 40/45 mins, not one short song. It’s a slower and more organic process but ‘good moments’ do occur.
Is there a musical moment in the piece you’re most proud of?
One movement, ‘And suddenly’ is memorable for both Carol & I. The text is about being in a foreign land and walking on a frozen sea. This actually happened. I was recording, in winter and in Helsinki, where the harbour freezes over…so we walked (as did the locals I hasten to add) on the frozen sea. There’s also a restaurant, on an island, that people drive to in mid winter!
What was the reaction when you first played it to the people who commissioned it?
They were overjoyed.
How did you feel hearing the piece for the first time at the premiere?
Well I was conducting, so I was involved, but it was expertly performed. I, of course, had taken rehearsals so I pretty much knew what it was going to be like.
If you had to compose it again, what would you change?
If you could hear anyone say they’re a huge fan of this piece, alive or dead, who would it be?
Well, Vivien & Peter, for whom it was written and thankfully they loved it. Also my late father, who died before Adiemus, The Armed Man and the rest of my ‘works’.