Julian Bream has asked me to write a new major work for solo guitar as part of an on-going series of commissions for the Julian Bream Trust. I suggested to Julian that I’d like to write something which memorialises decades of living in the Wiltshire and Dorset landscapes as he has and still does! A magnificent and memorable day with Julian, over 18 months ago now, and conversation ranged deeply and widely from Britten to Birtwistle- from small guitars to bigger ones- from how to play a guitar badly to how to think about writing anything for anything! The man’s a genius for all that and has insights into the instrument that are quite frankly- awesome!
We talked a lot on FORM. I know he’s intrigued by my processes of ‘visualisation’ (drawing towards the music), though I’m not going to blame him for finding it hard to understand what I’m on about when I tell him that I’m more interested in finding fresh formal ideas from nature than I am from analysing or using a formalistic set of musical models from music itself. Julian talked a lot about how important a FORM is in shaping and determining how a work can become a REAL powerhouse of invention and effect. I know he admires Britten especially for the way he was able to find such a potent and apposite form for his great Nocturnal for solo guitar, which of course was commissioned by Britten.
It’s taken me a VERY long time to settle on a form for MY piece for his Trust. First, however, having had his agreement and enthusiasm for a new work inspired by a sense of place (places he and his much-loved dog walked for years), I considered the use of Julian’s name in finding at least a small key to open a very big door. Bream is the name of a rather lovely freshwater fish (though Julian disparages the taste of it!), and it contains the musical pitch-names BrEAm. Three notes only but capable of many transformations, inventions, transpositions, retrogrades and inversions. Time (wonderful alone-time) walking some of the beautiful and acoustically scintillating Chalk Streams of Wiltshire and Dorset- many drawings of pools and strips of running water, and idea for Stream and Variations began! So here I am, sitting on the floor looking down the first couple of minutes of the piece. The notes stretch away from me as coil, bend, curve, fast and slow of the stream would. It’s astonishing how much the music LOOKS like the convulsions and melismas of the stream itself. How else to study the work as it unfolds but to sit in some elevated position and look down on a continuous stream of musical ideas like this!