PSS and Nigel Clarke at Middle Tennesse State University 2011. Just a begininning….

Posted on April 23rd, 2011 by

MTSU Collaboration

MTSU composers E'narda McCalister, David Hull and Katlyn Krueger, at a workhsop with PSS

 Nigel Clarke and Peter Sheppard Skærved (Violin) have just completed a week’s residency at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). The residency, by invitation of Dr Reed Thomas from MTSU, saw Nigel conducting his large scale wind orchestra work `Gagarin’ to mark the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight by the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on 12 April 1961. Within the same programme, Peter performed Nigel’s dramatic and demanding tone poem `Black Fire’ based on the first two books of John Milton’s (1608-1674) literary masterpiece `Paradise Lost ’. The performance of `Black Fire’ was juxtaposed with etchings by the nineteenth century French engraver Gustave Doré (1832-1883), which were displayed as a backdrop to the orchestra during the concerto. Nigel reminded the students in rehearsal that `Black Fire’ is not an easy work to perform, as it demands the ensemble to work outside of its ‘comfort zone’ and maintain a dramatic tension for nearly 30 minutes, often exploring delicate and fragile textures using extreme dynamic ranges. 

Nigel Clarke conducting 'Gagarin'

LINK TO Nigel Clarke

Discussing a new work with young composer Kevin Joest

The MTSU residency involved seminars and master classes for composers, string, brass and wind players as well as conductors and music education students. In advance of Nigel and Peter’s arrival, the composition students prepared new works for violin and piano under the tutorage of MTSU’s Head of Composition Dr Paul Osterfield. Peter plans to perform some of these compositions during his planned concert season in Europe and around the world. Nigel was very taken by a percussion ensemble work composed by student composer Kevin Joest and was also fascinated by the compositional approach of MTSU student Ken Murphy. Peter and Nigel were grateful to Dr Thomas and Lindsey Seagrove (Graduate Assistant) for the preparation of the wind ensemble before their arrival in Murfreesboro. The formula for the week was firmly based around previous residencies that Peter and Nigel have developed in the Balkans, the USA and Asia over the last ten years.

PSS with young composer Ken Daniel Murphy

After the concert. With students at Middle Tennesse State University, after playing Nigel Clarke's 'Black Fire'. Murfreesboro, TN. 15th April. 2011

As part of Nigel’s collaboration with MTSU, he plans to write a new large-scale work dedicated to Dr Thomas and MTSU Wind Ensemble based on a text by

Composer Nigel Clarke and Conductor Reed Thomas-Murfreesboro 10th April ; From 11 – 15 April 2011 Composer Nigel Clarke and PSS are Artists-in-Residence at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). During this residency Nigel’s violin concerto `Black Fire’ will be performed by the MTSU Wind Ensemble under the baton of Dr Reed Thomas. Nigel will also be conducting his wind orchestra work `Gagarin’ in the same concert to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic space flight, which took place on the 12 april 1961

Nigel’s literary colleague, Martin Westlake. The composer is hoping to start on this new work towards the end of this year. Nigel and Peter also hope to collaborate in the future with Dr Thomas and MTSU on a performance of Nigel’s chamber violin concerto `The Miraculous Violin’. This work was developed with Peter as soloist through a number of workshops sponsored by the British Council and was premiered by the Zagreb Soloists (in Zagreb, Croatia) in 2000. `The Miraculous Violin’ was revised and extended in 2004 while working with the students at Xinjiang Arts Institute in North-West China.

Dr Reed Thomas, Lindsey Seagrove and the MTSU Wind Ensemble recorded two of Nigel’s works `Heritage Suite’ (What Hope Saw) and `Their Finest Hour’ for the Naxos label last December for future release.


`The Miraculous Violin’ and `Black Fire’ performed by Peter Sheppard Skærved are available on a Naxos disc entitled `Nigel Clarke’: Naxos 8.570429 This disc can be downloaded from iTunes


PSS playing 'Black Fire' at MTSU


MTSU Student Ken Daniel Murphy writes (22 April 2011): Since both of you have left, there has been a bubbling in many of us.  At our composition studio party on Saturday I began spouting ideas like a waterfall on how we can accelerate our growth, talking about the benefits to composition that I have gotten through the other artforms and what we could benefit from reaching out to people in the other disciplines.  Now, several of us are actively engaging in establishing cross college collaborations.  I am hoping that we can begin student led workshops for each other, giving Composers art experience, giving visual artists acting exposure, giving English majors a music composing forum, etc.  Through these workshops, connections will be made between creative minds for projects similar to what I had talked to you about with video/music, but we could incorporate Movement, Dance, Electronics, Poetry, etc.  The possibilities are endless.  E’narda and I sat down with the head of the English Department today and discovered many current conferences already involving collaborations that we didn’t know existed.  Granted the existing student involvement is nowhere near where we hope to take this new initiative, but there seem to be plenty of potential interest and venues on which we can stand upon.  I do not want to get too carried away as the endeavor is still in an infantile state, but the prospect of having an open forum of driven, creative people helping each other to grow is an amazing concept to strive for and was greatly modeled by both of your influences during the week you visited.  Regardless of the outcome, there are sure to be key relationships made and knowledge acquired for those involved.