Nature meets technology in Adopt a Composer composition

Anna Appleby's new composition with the Merchant Sinfonia evokes images of wind, machinery, hillsides and a train journey.

Once again, I am on the train back from Scotland with hills and wind turbines cresting in and out of view. Last night was my first workshop with Merchant Sinfonia; having spent a couple of months getting to know the orchestra and thinking about their musical strengths, I had the chance to try out a first draft, a sketch, and some sounds for the new piece.

David Horne (our mentor) and I handed over to conductor Louise Martin, who expertly guided the orchestra through the piece. Her techniques included introducing the main rhythmic motifs of the piece by clapping them with the whole orchestra, and working backwards through the score in bitesize chunks, so that a run through was less daunting.

The piece is called Turbines, as I was inspired by these train journeys from Glasgow to Manchester, and I’m a big fan (!) of Scotland’s attitude to renewable energy. 

The sounds we tried out in the workshop were extended techniques and orchestral colours that are intended to conjure up images of wind, machinery, hillsides and a train journey. I want to evoke a sense of the interaction between nature and technology, so I’m using ‘pastoral’ harmonies and melodies in combination with mechanical motifs and noises: there are whirring and clicking sounds in the brass and percussion, repetitive circling ideas, dark buzzing chords, with soaring tunes overhead.

The next steps are to rework the material we tried out last night, based on feedback and ideas from Louise, David and the orchestra, and then to sketch the rest of the piece with the aim of coming back in the next month or so to try out a more complete version.

I was pleasantly surprised that many orchestra members came to talk to me afterwards with creative suggestions and requests, as well as thoughts about what might inspire me further (pieces to listen to, places north of Glasgow to visit).

Going through the parts afterwards was also enlightening as I could see what annotations had been made. We’re also adding in a harp and maybe an extra flute or clarinet part and I’m even considering writing in some surprise instruments that the performers have up their sleeves… (not literally). Stay tuned!