Project with Jeremy Thurlow

Posted on February 7th, 2012 by


First performance-extract-Sidney Sussex Chapel, Cambridge 23rd May 2012

Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin, Jeremy Thurlow-Electronics (Recording courtesy of Myles Eastwood)

Concert Extract: ‘Invocation’ and ‘Among Voices (I)’

March 15th 2012

Second day of filming and development with Jeremy. Here are outtakes of the experimentaton -very lo-fi, just recorded on the lap-top mic. All the synthesised electronic material is provisional. It will be replaced in performance by pre-recorded material which I will be preparing. The Cambridge premiere is slated for 23rd May.

Jeremy Thurlow-Ouija (development stage)

Jeremy speaks more about the origin and idea behind Ouija- the table tapping obsession of Jelly d’Aranyi and her sister Adila. A few years ago, the pianist Hester Dickson told me a lovely story. When she was a teenager, she had been given the chance to play with Jelly. They were rehearsing, Schumann, the A minor Sonata. Midway through their rehearsal, Adila burst into the room: “You’r playing it the wrong speed!” “No, I am not. I was talking to Robert [Schumann] last night, and he told me that this was the speed at which it should go.”(!)


This is the most outwardly ‘hungarian’  of all the movements, evoking the sound world which we associate with d’Aranyi. Jeremy asked me to work on the playing-listening-waiting, aspect of the statments, as I was involved in a seance, waiting for a result. In the final version, gradually, a penumbra of resonance, like a strange, veil-like presence, will gather around the piece as it builds. We have experimented synthesising this by just holding the pedal down-on this outtake, I have just added some outrageous reverb as the piece continues. Interesting to be playing and experimenting with this in the Robinson College Chapel, standing by the altar.

Among Voices

We worked on several versions of this movements, across the day. However free it sounds, I was fascinated to find that recycling the material except in the large-scale manner indicated does not work. The harmony and growth of levels of tessiturae are so tightly controlled, that any adjustment of their gradient in the short term results in ‘bumps in the road’.

Repartee (provisional improvisational version with Jeremy Thurlow-Piano)

Note from the composer-15th March.’One thought – I liked our quick sketchy outline of the ‘Repartee’ movement this afternoon, and I think this can work. But it will need plenty of rehearsal – for me, even if not for Peter. I have to be fluent and instinctive in that movement, and unless I really can play the computer key-triggers like a piano it will be wooden and clumsy’

Under the shadow of thy wings



Jeremy has made a beautiful tapestry constructed from material culled from Paganini caprices. I am instructed to play into this-so initially I construct a structure from Caprices  1, 6, 13, 15, 14, 20, 23, 24. Appropriately, judging where I am standing, the composer asks me to put ‘more windows’ into my material. Shorthand for DONT PLAY THE WHOLE  TIME. Good point! So I add holes, and then find myself including material by Tchaikovsky.

Will o’the wisp

This workshop session took place whilst I was standing in the extraordinary afternoon light cast by the John Piper windows (1978-80) in the Robinson College windows. Memory started to play an important part in my 'hunt for colour'.Memories of finding a great spot of light in which to practise Ysaye in my school chapel, or or playing Bach under the simple stained glass windows of St Anthony in Meneage, Cornwall.

February 7th 2012

This is the beginning of an exciting project which I am doing with the composer Jeremy Thurlow at Cambridge University, and Dr Mark Doffman at the University of Oxford. 

Research Project: Creative Practice in Contemporary Concert Music

Jeremy Thurlow is writing new works for me, and the collaborative process will be documented in great detail, leading up to performances in Cambridge, Oxford and London. Mark Doffman is docomenting the process. 

Composer Jeremy Thurlow-at work with me at Robinson College 14th February 2012

First sketches from Jeremy Thurlow:

February 8th-the project just about to start, and as ever, when beginning a collaboration with a composer, I begin to look at the material, puzzling out the composer’s motivations, interests, processes, and wonts. It’s a dreaming process for me and very unformed. The first workshop recording tomorrow.

First sketches-which I will record to begin the process




February 9th London-First Day of Workshop recording-as instructed by the composer:

E-mail from Jeremy Thurlow Feb. 7th 2012: ‘I remember from somewhere on your website that you enjoy looking at composers’ handwriting, so I’ve hand-written them. This has been rather a pleasure! I always used to enjoy the actual writing of music, and my script was always more elegant and more legible in music than my word-writing. But I’ve had Sibelius for well over a decade now, and have hardly written anything by hand since then. So this is a fairly rare MS…!/ Some explanations:tempo is around crotchet = 100 (but this need not be at all strict). dynamics: in the performance when you play these phrases live, the dynamics, and every aspect of the shaping and colouring of them, is open for you to explore. But for now, for the recording, please would you do every phrase once f, and once p ? (and with nice characterful shaping that suits the dynamic in question – I don’t want a ‘neutral’, computerish rendition) /You can just do the whole lot in one single recording, leaving a gap of several seconds between each phrase. If you’re not happy with a particular phrase, don’t worry, leave the recorder running, just say ‘i’m going to do that one again’ and carry on! Equally, if you need a break, it’s fine to break it into two or more different recordings. I just want to say that a) there’s no need to make each phrase into a separate file, and b) as long as the phrases themselves come out well, it doesn’t matter how messy the rest of the recording is, with restarts, dud takes, etc If you would like to make up one or two extra phrases, which seem in keeping in some way with the ones I’ve sent, please do – that would be fantastic.’ 

The workshop recordings have now been ‘Dropboxed’ to the composer, and he has sent the following material, which we will work on at the first documented collaborative session, in Cambridge this coming Tuesday. 

‘Meanwhile, here’s another movement.  It’s an odd one!  As a performer, I hate scores which come with a page of instructions.  So I apologise: this is one of those…   That’s why I’m sending it now, in advance of Tuesday – I think it will work much better if you’d had a chance to read it through and try it out a few times.   I really don’t know if this one will work, but it will be very interesting to try!   On Tuesday, we will also have the tape part for you to play with.  ‘ (February 9th)

Mark Doffman, behind the camera. 14th Feb 2012

February 14th-First day of collaborative work with the composer and Mark Doffman at Robinson College, Cambridge. I will write this up in more detail later. Jeremy has 4 movements up and running,  and the work is gathered under the title ‘Ouija’. I was so pleased when he explained his reason for this. He had spent some time thinking about my enthusiasm for Jelly d’Aranyi, and is a terrific enthusiast for the Bartok Sonatas which were written for her. Reflecting on this, he factored in Jelly and her sister Adila’s famous enthusiasm for ‘table-tapping’; this led him to the idea that the performer is essentially, a medium , channeling the voices of the composer, the composers and collaborators who have led up to a piece, and effectively, summoning up spirits in the act of playing. So many ideas flood from this point of departure. 

February 16th-Copenhagen

Post-session one, and ideas are flooding backwards and forwards. Our impressions of process are always different, as soon as we leave the Composer’s Workshop (LINK). Here is an example, as Jeremy Thurlow reflects on one of the movements with which we are experimenting: JT:”Under the shadow  – I’m basically very pleased with this.  I loved the way Peter was engaging with the tape.  There was just one thing I said which might have given a wrong indication.  I spoke about the way that a Bach Adagio is spacious and broad in feel, even though it has plenty of fairly fast notes in it.  That is a quality I’d like the improviser to bear in mind.  But, just to clarify, I didn’t mean that I want a kind of old-fashioned, 1950s slow and Heavy Bach-performance-style.  This point only really came up in our discussion – it wasn’t an issue in what Peter actually played, at all! “

NPG 5735,Jelly D'Aranyi,by Charles Geoffroy-Dechaume