Up By The Roots – 2016 chamber collaboration with Sinéad Morrissey|
2016 saw the premiere of Up By The Roots, a collaboration between piano trio Fidelio Trio, Hellawell and acclaimed poet Sinéad Morrissey. The work was premiered in Sheffield University in May 2016 before being heard at Cheltenham Festival, Belfast Book Festival, Sounds Festival Aberdeen and venues in Wales and Dublin; Up By The Roots was commissioned as part of a PRS for Music Foundation ‘Beyond Borders’ award, and so it seemed appropriate that the Irish musicians of Fidelio Trio based in London should collaborate with an English composer working in Belfast; the catalyst proved the involvement of Belfast poet, Sinéad Morrissey, whose words in fact provide a meditation on migration itself.
The work approached the relation of music and text in a new way; the interaction of chamber music for trio and poetic texts respects, though it also later dissolves, the bounds between these separate territories. Three pieces for piano trio are interleaved with a sequence of three poems, delivered in performance by the author – but these bounds dissolve, so that music seeps into poem and poetry becomes sound. Thus the latter stages of this spoken chamber music lie closer to an operatic scena than to either chamber or vocal music.
"It was a delight for me to work on this project, liberated as I was from the constraint of having to write language which can be sung, and concentrating instead on words for the spoken voice (my own), placed in a context of music but not entirely meshed with it - the complex cross-contamination of language and sound." (Sinéad Morrissey)
Hellawell at the BBC Proms
Wild Flow, a BBC Proms commission, was premiered on 21 August at the 2016 BBC Proms. It was given in the Royal Albert Hall in Prom 47 by the Ulster Orchestra conducted by Rafael Payare. In his programme note, Hellawell talked about “a zig-zag progression of mood and event…a discourse of abrupt contrasts of expression”. In one of many enthusiastic reviews ‘The Guardian’ talked of “moments of striking character, colour and texture along the way, with sudden bursts of manic activity offset by moments of uneasy stasis – though rarely of calm”; the website ‘thoroughlygood.me’ talked of “exciting, inventive and immersive textures, particularly at the beginning of the second movement. Wild Flow had clearly been orchestrated with passion. The work was full of drama. I really connected with it.” For ‘Sequenza 21’ (New York), the music was “admirably distinctive and personal, somewhat quirky, brilliantly and colorfully orchestrated, highly rhythmic, and always engaging and appealing” (click here for reviews in full). Wild Flow was broadcast live on Radio 3 and online, with a repeat broadcast in August 2016; it will be given again by the Ulster Orchestra and Rafael Payare in Belfast on 31st March 2017.
Hellawell Feature at Great Lakes, USA
Piers Hellawell was Stone Featured Composer at the 2016 Great Lakes Festival in Detroit, USA. This chamber festival is now under the artistic direction of cellist Paul Watkins, who invited Hellawell as part of their collaborative partnership. Works featured in June from Hellawell’s chamber output included Driftwood On Sand, played by Friction Quartet from San Francisco both in Detroit and Ann Arbor, Oh Whistle And I’ll Come To You, played by principals of the Detroit SO and Weaver Of Grass, played by London’s celebrated Nash Ensemble; Hellawell also gave a guest seminar with Friction Quartet as part of the feature. The Detroit Free Press found the music “unpredictable in the way it mixed traditional sounds and textures with experimental ones, such as the ghostly effects caused by attaching clothes-pegs to the cello strings. There was an abstract cast to his harmony and gestures, but also a clarity and economy of means that kept the music from wandering off course. Groovy!” (click here for review in full)
Featured Composer – Royal Academy
The 2015 ‘Mainly New’ feature in London’s Royal Academy of Music featured the work of Piers Hellawell. Teaching engagements and a seminar to the composition department were followed in November 2015 by a chamber concert, given by student performers; the programme saw the premiere of Horse and Canoe for brass quintet, as well as the 1988 Sound Carvings from Rano Raraku and the 2009 piano solo Piani, Latebre, performed by Joseph Havlat.
Fictions for Ensemble - World Premiere
November 2015 saw the world premiere of a new chamber work especially written for the Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players at Stony Brook University, Long Island, NY. The three movements are scored in the 'Pierrot Lunaire' tradition - flute (with doublings), bass clarinet, violin, cello, piano. The Chamber Players, directed by Eduardo Leandro, premiered the work in Stony Brook University and in Brooklyn, NYC, as part of the Stony Brook Department of Music's annual 'Premieres Concerts'. The three pieces take the name Fictions from the collection of stories, Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges; Borges makes great play in his fiction on the idea of imaginary, parallel worlds - and this idea is taken here as a metaphor for the individual expressive worlds that the composer hopes are created by music's own 'short stories'.
Hellawell/Hilliard - the final gig
The last ever concert by The Hilliard Ensemble, given in the Wigmore Hall on 20 December 2014, included items from Hellawell's The Hilliard Songbook. The song collection has been a staple of their repertoire since its premiere at a Hilliard Summer School in Cambridge in 1995, with the song Saphire in particular becoming one of the celebrated group's standard encores. A capacity audience of international performers, composers and supporters from the group's 40-year history heard two pieces from Hellawell's collection as part of this historic programme.
Bach To The Future: Balcony Scenes
In her 2014/15 Bach to the Future project, violinist Fenella Humphreys has explored the sonatas and partitas of Bach alongside new British works, commissioned for her project 'Bach To The Future'. During an Open Session residency at Snape Maltings in September 2014 she premiered the first three of these commissions, by Gordon Crosse, Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Piers Hellawell, performed together with movements of Bach that inspired the new works. Hellawell's Balcony Scenes, commissioned by Fenella for this project, is a set of four dialogues - conversations between different registers and different sound-worlds within the violin's spectrum. Fenella has since performed this work in England, Wales and Northern Ireland during 2014-15, with the London premiere taking place at The Forge, Camden; her new recording of all three of the first works in the project, with Bach's E major Partita, reached the Classical Charts and was BBC Music Magazine's Instrumental Choice for October 2015.
Read Piers Hellawell's thoughts on how this project responds to Bach's canon at http://bachnetwork.co.uk/ub10/ub10-hellawell.pdf
PRS for Music's New Music Biennial Premier
PRS for Music's New Music Biennial commission from Piers Hellawell, Sound Carvings, Strange Tryst, was premiered at the MAC, Belfast, as part of Moving On Music's acclaimed 'Brilliant Corners' Jazz Festival on Saturday 29th March, before an enthusiastic crowd. Improvising trio Bourne Davis Kane's highly colourful set climaxed with the premiere of the new piece, which goes on to Aberdeen (31st May) before the PRS Biennial gigs in London's Southbank (6th July) and Glasgow's Royal Concert Halls (2nd August).
"Brilliantly intricate, playful and intense first performance of Piers Hellawell"
"Unreal sounds tonight from Bourne/Davis/Kane at The Mac, Belfast via their collaboration with composer Piers Hellawell. Thanks" (Twitter)
Composition in the 21st Century
Piers Hellawell spoke at this, Trinity College Dublin's first composition conference, during March 2014. His paper, The Past Frames The Composer Frames The Past, considered composers' shifting relationships with their musical heritage in the wake of modernism.
atria in the U.S.
The American premiere of atria, Piers Hellawell's 2013 duo for Paul Watkins and Huw Watkins, took place on 31st January 2014 at Stony Brook University, Long Island as part of the Emerson Quartet's residency programme at the University. Paul Watkins, now the cellist of the Emerson Quartet, performed atria for the first time in America as part of a programme with his brother Huw; The Watkins brothers gave a further performance of atria on Saturday 1st February in the Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C.
PRS New Music Biennial Commission for 2014
PRS for Music Foundation has (26 April, 2013) announced that Piers Hellawell, in partnership with Belfast promoters Moving On Music, has secured a commission to collaborate with celebrated improvisation trio Bourne Davis Kane (BDK); this is one of twenty commissions for organisations and composers to participate in the first ever UK-wide New Music Biennial. The trio Bourne Davis Kane, which features Steve Davis, percussion, bass player David Kane and pianist Matthew Bourne, celebrated a decade of experimental music-making in 2011.
Beginning in January 2014, the first edition of the New Music Biennial has been developed in partnership with Creative Scotland, Arts Council England, The Arts Council of NI and the British Council. The 20 brand new commissions selected from over 130 proposals will receive premiere performances in 2014 across the length and breadth of the UK. All twenty pieces will also be featured at two weekend showcases hosted by London’s Southbank Centre (4-6 July 2014) and Glasgow UNESCO City of Music (2-3 Aug 2014) and on BBC Radio 3. NMC Recordings will be releasing each piece of new music via digital downloads. For more information, please see
Two February Premieres with Paul Watkins!
A single week in February 2013 saw two Hellawell premieres, in different countries, with the same artist - celebrated cellist/conductor Paul Watkins. The Belfast Music Society commissioned atria for cello and piano for the opening recital in their international Chamber Music Festival, on 21st February; Paul was partnered by his pianist-composer brother Huw Watkins. Then, a week later on 28th February in Örebro, Sweden, Paul conducted the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Stockholm Chamber Brass in Syzygy, Hellawell's latest and most experimental exploration of the concertante medium; the brass quintet partnered this leading orchestral ensemble in a three-movement work, commissioned by the artists, whose composition was supported by a Leverhulme Fellowship in 2011.
Hellawell in Vienna's famous Musikverein!
The Von Webern Ensemble, a young Viennese group, gave the Austrian premiere of Hellawell's Weaver Of Grass (2002) on 14th December in the Metallener Saal of Vienna's historic Musikverein. Hellawell's quintet for violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano, which takes its name from the mysterious creations by grass weaver Angus McPhee, was written for the Schubert Ensemble in their 20th year, and was premiered by them at the 2003 Brighton Festival, which, along with the Steel Foundation and Schubert Ensemble, co-commissioned it. The Vienna concert finished with Schubert's own celebrated 'Trout' Quintet but also included an English rarity, the youthful but powerful Quintet by Vaughan Williams.
The Schuberts' recording of the work on the disc 'Dogs and Wolves' (MET CD 1076) was released in 2008; details can be found on Discography page
Click here to Download Musikverein Flyer (PDF)
Isabella's Banquet world premiere!
April 2012 saw the world premiere of a selection from Piers Hellawell's 2010 Isabella's Banquet, settings for vocal ensemble of words from Mrs Beeton's celebrated 'Book of Household Management'. The concert selection was given by the National Chamber Choir of Ireland, conducted by Paul Hillier, in concerts given in Waterford, Galway, Kilkenny and Dublin. The work uses colourful and poetic text fragments taken from Mrs Beeton's written advice on foodstuffs, drinks and even bathing habits, working these into a song book of separate pieces for chamber choir that are linked by short duos for members of the choir. Isabella's Banquet was commissioned by Gerry Mattock and Beryl Calver-Jones."
New Hellawell piano recordings by Clare Hammond
Rising star Clare Hammond makes her CD debut with Piano Polyptych, a collection of contemporary British piano music that includes Das Leonora Notenbuch and Bashö by Piers Hellawell. Acclaimed by The Daily Telegraph as a pianist of “amazing power and panache”, Clare Hammond has performed across Europe, Russia and Canada and has appeared over the past year at the Wigmore and Barbican Halls in London and the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. Her recent Purcell Room debut for the Park Lane Group concert series was praised by The Guardian for its “crisp precision and unflashy intelligence”. Her new disc, on the ASC Prima Facie label, is available by clicking the home-page image or this link: http://www.primafacie.ascrecords.com. More information on Clare Hammond can be found at www.clarehammond.com
Sound Carvings from the Bell Foundry in Australia and Canada!
Sound Carvings from the Bell Foundry will receive Australian and Canadian premieres this autumn, when Stockholm Chamber Brass, who commissioned it in 2006, give performances in Melbourne and Toronto. They will play it in the Australian National Academy of Music, Melbourne on Tuesday 27th September, and a month later at Soundstreams in Toronto, on Sunday 30th October. More information about the ensemble at Melbourne International Festival of Brass is at www.mifb.com.au/artistInfo.php?artistID=123. Since its premiere in 2006 the work has already been given numerous times both in Nordic countries and as far afield as Mexico. Hellawell is currently working on a concertante work for Stockholm Chamber Brass and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.
Piani, Latebre performances this autumn
This autumn sees two UK performances of the piano solo set Piani, Latebre, premiered by William Howard at the 2010 Spitalfield Festival. William Howard will again perform it in London, at King's Place, on Sunday 11th September at 12.15 pm, along with music by other composers with whom he has been especially associated - Judith Weir, Howard Skempton and Pavel Novak. More information is at www.kingsplace.co.uk
The work will also be given in Manchester, at St Philip with St Stephen Church, on 1st November at 1pm. The pianist on that occasion is another long-term collaborator of Piers Hellawell, Richard Casey. Also in the programme will be works by Beethoven and Nielsen, and Richard Whalley's 5 Preludes.
Edinburgh world premiere
Sarah Watts (bass clarinet) and Antony Clare (piano) gave the world premiere of Piers Hellawell's Minnesang on Wednesday 9th March, at the St Mark's ArtSpace, Castle Terrace, Edinburgh at 6pm. The piece was written as a response to Sarah Watts's artistry on her instrument and her infectious enthusiasm for it; she has done much to create a modern British repertoire, and she champions that repertoire in numerous concerts across the U.K. Her programme in Edinburgh, for example, also included music by John Hails, Thomas Simaku and Iain Matheson.
Hellawell Dublin portrait in RTÉ NSO 2011 'Horizons' series
On February 22nd 2011 the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra gave a Hellawell portrait concert, as part of its lunchtime 'Horizons' series of living composers in Dublin's National Concert Hall. The central work was Agricolas, the clarinet concerto from 2007 commissioned by Robert Plane, who played it here. Also included were works from Hellawell's Degrees of Separation series, pieces written for the new concert halls of Sage, Gateshead in 2004. The concert, promoted by RTÉ, was conducted by Garry Walker, and was preceded by a talk by Hellawell. More details are at http://www.rte.ie/performinggroups/2011/0222/horizons2011hellawell.html
on the RTE website.
World Premiere at Spitalfields Festival 2010
17th June saw the world premiere, in Shoreditch Church, London, of Piani, Latebre, commissioned by William Howard with funding from Landmark Chambers for premiere at the 2010 Spitalfields Festival. Piani, Latebre (layers, hiding-places) is a set of three diverse pieces for solo piano, preceded by an introductory flourish presenting a tiny preview of their core material. The order of the three pieces is the choice of the pianist; differences of character between them suggest alternative dramatic narratives, depending on the ordering. The world premiere was given as part of a piano double bill in the festival, a pair of recitals given back to back by William Howard and, before him, Melvyn Tan.
Leverhulme Research Fellowship
Piers Hellawell has been awarded a coveted Leverhulme Research Fellowship for spring 2011, to provide time away from teaching for the composition of a major work for brass quintet and chamber orchestra. The project, initiated by Stockholm Kammarbrass, is a joint commission between British and Swedish orchestras.
Quartets Old and New at the South Bank
Three Hellawell piano quartets of different sizes, and one trio, featured in the 10th Anniversary celebrations for Chamber Music 2000, in the Purcell Room, London on Wednesday 10th February. The birthday party for this project, which has created over 60 new chamber works for young musicians since 2000, included the premiere of Hellawell’s fourth commission for CM2K, Hide In The Attic, which was performed by primary-level musicians from Henrietta Barnett School; the programme also included one of Piers Hellawell’s previous CM2K works for students, A White Room. Meanwhile professional performances were given of two large-scale works, The Building of Curves, his 1998 work commissioned by the Schubert Ensemble (founders of CM2K) and Etruscan Games: this, the London premiere of the piano trio of 2007, was given by the Lawson Piano Trio.
To read a review by Bernard Hughes, click here click here
Another Hellawell premiere in London is due in June when the Spitalfields Festival hosts the premiere of Piani, Latebre for piano, given by William Howard, as part of a double-bill of piano recitals in Shoreditch Church.
Up in (Northern) Lights
Sound Carvings from the Bell Foundry returned to Norway when Stockholm Kammarbrass gave two performances north of the Arctic Circle: Hellawell’s 2006 brass quintet, which was co-commissioned by the Kristiansand Festival, travelled north to Tromsø’s NORTHERN LIGHTS Festival on Thursday 4th February and to ILIOS FESTIVAL in Hårstad on Friday 5th February.
Recent BBC Radio 3 broadcast: Degrees of Separation
The first broadcast of the orchestral piece from Piers Hellawell’s 2004 set Degrees of Separation, delayed in Radio 3’s ‘Hear and Now’ schedules last year because of the sudden death of Maurizio Kagel, was in the ‘Hear and Now’ programme on the night of Saturday 29th August. The Ulster Orchestra is conducted by Fergus Shiel. Degrees of Separation was commissioned by The Sage, Gateshead for its opening ceremonies, and consists of pieces for various instrumental media, which were premiered in the different venues of The Sage; this orchestral work is the centrepiece. More information about the music is available on this website.
Sustained Excellence Teaching Award
Piers Hellawell’s 30-year career as a teacher of composition has been recognized by a Sustained Excellence Teaching Award from The Queen’s University of Belfast. The citation for the award reads:
“This award is made to a skilled communicator and inspiring teacher of composition within the School of Music and Sonic Arts. Professor Hellawell is providing an enriching learning experience for his students and has developed innovative teaching strategies to communicate difficult concepts. He is interested in the learning journey of each of his students and provides them with opportunities to develop skills which not only prepare career composers, but are transferable to other careers in music. He provides timely and constructive feedback to students, which effectively supports his students’ assessment for learning.”
In November 2007 Piers Hellawell’s work was acquired by Peters Edition Ltd (London). Peters Edition will represent the catalogue throughout the world through its sister companies in Frankfurt and New York and its international network of agents.
Agricolas – A sculptural concerto
Piers Hellawell’s latest large scale concertante essay, Agricolas, is a work for clarinet and orchestra commissioned by Robert Plane. He was the soloist, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Michal Dworzynski, in the world premiere at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival on 11 September 2008 – see www.valeofglamorganfestival.org/2008_festival/bbcnow.asp for more information. The premiere was broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s ‘Hear and Now’ on the evening of Saturday 20th September, introduced by the composer.
Agricolas takes its title and concept of design from the work of the American sculptor David Smith, many of whose works were grouped into sets in terms of their shared titles – for example the Agricolas. The work for clarinet and orchestra reflects the modular structure of many of Smith’s pieces by replacing the concerto’s characteristic narrative structures with a series of discrete items scored for fragmentary ensembles; the sequences of these sections form two overall movements. The solo clarinet is conceived in the role of commentator: eschewing strident display and conflict, it is free to explore a variety of chamber associations around the orchestra.
Spring of 2008 saw the release of Dogs and Wolves, the latest CD collection from Metronome Recordings of Piers Hellawell’s work, featuring substantial orchestral and chamber works from the last ten years. This period has seen a number of major scores from Hellawell, including several commissioned by the artists appearing on this disc, to consolidate what The Gramophone has called Hellawell’s “steadily building reputation as a musical non-conformist”. Two recent orchestral works frame the disc, which also includes Hellawell’s 2nd string quartet Driftwood on Sand and two chamber works widely performed by the Schubert Ensemble.
Writing in The Gramophone's Awards 2008 edition, Richard Whitehouse hailed the disc's title work, Dogs and Wolves, as offering a "subtle inference of blues and folk elements in perhaps the most engaging British orchestral showpiece this decade." He went on that "the performances are as expert as one might expect from musicians with whom Hellawell has collaborated extensively over the years." He concludes that "the composer's own annotations offer numerous intriguing pointers to his composing. Those who are yet to make its acquaintance could certainly start here." The whole review can be read in the section Reviews.
Sound Carvings on tour
Stockholm Chamber Brass continues to perform Sound Carvings from the Bell Foundry, which it commissioned in 2006, around the world.
This summer has seen two performances of the work in Mexico – one acclaimed by the festival audience in Oaxaca and the other, in Mexico City, given live on Mexican Television; these are followed by another performance in Norway, this time at Bergen’s BrassWind Festival, on 28th September.
The earlier part of 2007 saw the composition of Etruscan Games for piano trio, commissioned by Gerry Mattock and Beryl Calver-Jones, which was premiered by the Da Vinci Trio on 6 March 2008.
Overseas Premiere of Litholatry
In February 2008 'Litholatry' (2001) received its first overseas performance, given by the new music ensemble of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. It was featured in two concerts given in The Roundhouse, Vancouver, Canada on 17th and 18th February 2008, conducted by Rosemary Thomson. Review Vancouver described it as a rousing Canadian premiere… all swirling circles and colour and movement, with ideas shifting rapidly, a kind of Impressionistic palette with riffs". Reviews are given in full in the Reviews section under ‘Composition’.