Posted on January 17th, 2010 by


Composers' Hands. Library of Congress. Photo Richard Bram

Friday 22 January

 Royal Academy of Music
London NW15HT
 Piano Gallery

The collaborating interpreter enjoys a dangerously liminal position between composer and audience, and between composer and score. Peter Sheppard Skærved presents an exploration of this world, with particular reference to recent works written for him by Poul Ruders, Judith Bingham, David Matthews and Howard Skempton.

Every relationship between composer and performer is different, just as every conversation is different. The great joy of working with composers is the discovery of new ways to communicate about the creation and the interpretation of music, and, as a performer, finding, every time, a different place in that process.

I have selected four very well known composers that I have worked with for different lengths of time, and at different intensities, to explore a little of this process. In this session I will use pieces which I have had some part in bringing to completion and open up aspects of the different collaborative processes involved. By way of introduction, here are moments of communication with each composer:

Howard Skempton in the British Museum 2006: Standing in the Enlightment Gallery … his eyes drifting around the wonders in the room. To which will he gravitate…Doctor Dee’s ‘Shew Stones’, Champollion’s solution to the problem of hieroglyphics, Raffles’s miniature gamelan…? But no, he settles on the simplest objects in the room, two ‘Tally Sticks’…and abruptly begins to talk about the ‘Ode to a Grecian Earn’. So we sit and talk about discovering Keats as school boys, and the never fading wonder of his unresolved poetry…

 Judith Bingham on Paganini 2006: “For me Paganini is fascinaiting; he has long arms reaching both into the past and his future, our present. He stands as part of the long line of northern Italian violinists, Vivaldi, Tartini, Locatelli; at the same time he was incredibly influential on the new music of his day. Virtually everybody made an effort to hear him; the list of people-not just musicians and composers, but people like Goethe, like Mary Shelley, who hear Paganini play, is quite extraordinary. I like to think about comparing him to equivalent figures of more recent times, such as Jimi Hendrix.”

Poul Ruders 2008: “Thankyou for taking your time with this piece. I’m convinced that most of it is do-able, mayb even quite violinistic (that definitely goes for the Prelude, a piece deliberately conceived as ‘fiddle-yummy’ – meant to “oil the machine” in preparation for the atrocities to come in the Fugue. Which is definitely not easy, but I think (hope) that it’s not completely off the wall. I’m mostly concerned about the triple-fingered bits…this piece is nothing more than what it says: a Prelude and Fugue…but with a lyrical spelling out the contrasting moods of the two movements: the euphoria of summer – the austerity of winter.”

David Matthews in Genoa 2007:  After the concert, dinner conversation turns to Paganini’s imitation of animals. He would have enjoyed the meal –swordfish and ravioli, with excellent wine. My son was sitting with Judith Bingham at the end of the table, playing with the restaurateur’s dog, ‘Lapo’. David and I discussed dog sounds on the violin-hoping to come up with something better than Vivaldi’s viola bow-wowing. He tried various violinistic barks and woofs- no effect on the dog whatsoever. David used the paper table cloth to write various possibilities for me to play. Suddenly, he found the perfect formula, a gruff chord-surprised yapping from ‘Lapo’.