Alastair Stout

August 28, 2013

Alastair Stout
Alastair Stout was born in Derby, England in 1975. His family moved to the Shetland Islands in 1981 and he grew up in Vidlin, around 20 miles north of Lerwick; and nearly 140 miles from the Scottish mainland and around 220 miles to Norway, as the crow flies.

He studied at the Royal College of Music (1993 – 97) with Joseph Horovitz and John Birch (winning prizes in composition, organ and music history), the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (1997 – 98) with Robert Saxton and Graham Elliot, and Royal Holloway, University of London (1998 – 2001) with Simon Holt where he graduated with a PhD in composition.

During his time in London, he became Assistant Organist at Wesley’s Chapel, the Mother Church of World Methodism.

In 1995 he won the Glasgow Orchestral Society’s Young Composer Award and in 1996 received a commission to write an anthem for the opening of the summer exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. His first String Quartet won the Gregynog Composers Award of Wales 1999.

In 2002, Alastair relocated to the USA to take up the position of Music Director at the Coraopolis United Methodist Church near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2010 he became Director of the Pittsburgh Compline Choir. He is also Assisting Organist at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Highland Park, Pennsylvania.

Scottish folk music flavours his work, and he also cites diverse compositional influences like Purcell, Gesualdo, Messiaen, and Elliott Carter.

Selected works:

Deep in your coral caves :

Empty fathoms :

Kenneth Dempster

August 24, 2013

Kenneth Dempster
Kenneth Dempster was born in Edinburgh in 1962. He began his advanced musical training at Edinburgh Napier University before going on to study at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) in London.

Dempster was awarded a variety of scholarships which enabled him to travel to the United States to study at Yale University. During his time at Yale, he studied with many eminent composers: Jacob Druckman, Martin Bresnick, Louis Andriessen, Earle Brown and Frederic Rzewski.

On returning to Britain, he studied further with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and James MacMillan on the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s Course for Young Composers.

Since completing his studies, he has received commissions for new pieces of music from a wide variety of ensembles and organisations.
His orchestral work, Seven Fans for Alma Mahler, commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, was widely acclaimed by reviewers and audiences alike. He also conducted the first performances of a large-scale community opera on the subject of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, commissioned by the St. Magnus Festival to mark the 70th birthday of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. His music has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio Scotland.

He has received noted recognition for his compositions: the Inter-Collegiate, Theodore Holland Award at the RAM, two Yale University prizes, the Cornelius Cardew Composition Prize and a Creative Scotland Award. He is currently Composer in Residence at Edinburgh Napier University.

His String Quartet No.4 ‘The Cold Dancer’ is on the eponymous CD featuring contemporary String Quartets from Scotland :

The Saltire Quartet have his work ‘Under the Hammer’ on a hard to find and occasionally unavailable CD :

Judith Weir

August 23, 2013

Judith Weir was born on 11 May 1954 in Cambridge, England, to Scottish parents: her father was a psychiatrist, her mother a teacher – and both were serious amateur musicians.

She became an oboe player, performing with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. “When I was a teenager I had a few lessons with John Tavener, who lived down the road,” she says, “and then in 1975 I had a piece played at a youth orchestras festival in Aberdeen. One of the jurors was Aaron Copland, and he suggested I go to Tanglewood.”

Her visit to the famous summer music school in New England was a life-changing experience, but years of confused struggle would follow before Weir found her own compositional voice.

“It was the tail end of the modernist period, which in a way I found very inspiring. It was wonderful to hear Boulez conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and new pieces by Birtwistle. But I was trying to do something completely different, which didn’t feel like ‘proper’ music, and I just felt completely incompetent compared with these great figures.”

The result was King Harald’s Saga (1979), a witty account of the Norwegian invasion of Britain in 1066. “That’s the real me, I think, because of the way it refers to the history of opera and compresses something big into a small frame.”

In the year of its première, Weir moved to Glasgow – “around the edges of the university music department” – where she encountered Scottish folk music and legends.

“Despite my Scottish ancestry, until then I had thought of the bagpipes as just a loud instrument. But I shared a house with someone who played in a folk group and learned a bit about the pìobaireachd starts with a tune and then, in a very systematic way, variations are built up so the piece becomes more florid and ornate. It’s almost like you can compare it to baroque with its sense of ornamentation, to tradition, which is this amazing classical variation. It always 19th-century music with its variation and possibly even to 20th-century processed music.”

In Glasgow, Weir remembers that apart from Scottish Opera and the BBC orchestras, the serious music scene had a strong do-it-yourself ethos: “maybe not always of the greatest standard, but lots of opportunities to get work performed in a supportive, yet critical, community”. Her opera The Vanishing Bridegroom was commissioned by the Glasgow District Council and premièred by Scottish Opera as a part of the 1990 European Capital of Culture celebrations in the city.

She is the recipient of honorary doctorates from the Universities of Aberdeen (1995) and Glasgow (2005), Queen’s University, Belfast (2001) and King’s College, London (2007). She was appointed a CBE in 1995.

Currently resident in London, she was the Artistic Director of the Spitalfields Festival from 1995 to 2000. In 2007, Weir was the third recipient of The Queen’s Medal for Music.

Her music often draws on sources from medieval history, as well as the traditional stories and music of her native Scotland.

She is best known for her operas and theatrical works, although she has also achieved international recognition for her orchestral and chamber works.

Selected Works:-

Piano Concerto and Orchestral Works

Choral Music

The Welcome Arrival of Rain

Blond Eckbert

Distance and Enchantment : Chamber Works

A Night At The Chinese Opera

Flute Concerto on the CD Spellbound

On Buying A Horse : The Songs

3 Operas : Consolations of Scholarship; Missa del Cid; King Harald’s Saga

The Cold Dancer featuring Weir’s String Quartet from 1990

NMC hope to release The Vanishing Bridegroom in 2014/15 if their opera appeal is successful

Sally Beamish

August 22, 2013

Sally Beamish
Sally Beamish was born in London on August 26th, 1956 and started writing music and playing the piano at an early age. Beamish studied the viola at the Royal Northern College of Music, where she received composition lessons from Anthony Gilbert and Sir Lennox Berkeley. She later studied in Germany with the Italian violist Bruno Giuranna. As a violist in the Raphael Ensemble, she recorded four discs of string sextets.

She moved from London to Scotland in 1990 to develop her career as a composer and moved from London to Scotland, where she and her husband, cellist Robert Irvine, founded the Chamber Group of Scotland, with co-director James MacMillan, and where Beamish’s career as a composer really began to flourish.

Since moving to Scotland she has received a steady stream of commissions, and in 1994 and 1995 was Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ assistant on the SCO composers’ course in Hoy. From 1998 to 2002 she was composer in residence with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and the SCO, for whom she wrote four major works. Beamish won a ‘Creative Scotland’ Award from the Scottish Arts Council which enabled her to write her oratorio for the 2001 BBC Proms – the Knotgrass Elegy premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus with Sir Andrew Davis.

Scotland, she agrees, is the place to be. ‘It’s incredible up here,’ she said. ‘Everything has happened at exactly the right moment. It’s very important for composers to rub along together and talk. And that is what is so fantastic in Scotland – there is that sort of atmosphere between us of mutual support.’

In 2001 Sally Beamish was the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Music (DMus) from Glasgow University, for her services to musical life in Scotland.

Her music embraces many influences; particularly jazz and Scottish traditional music. Scotland’s lively and responsive musical scene have fed into her work, and she has drawn on the inspiration of Scotland’s landscape and its musical traditions, from Scottish fiddle playing to music for bagpipes.

Selected Works:-

Symphony No.1, Violin Concerto, and Callisto

The Imagined Sound of Sun on Stone

The Seafarer


Bridging the Day

Bridging the Day

Flute Concerto on the CD Spellbound

Haunted House on the CD A White Room

Geraldine Mucha

August 3, 2013


Geraldine Mucha, née Thomsen, was born on 5th July 1917 in London. She was born into a musical Scottish family. Her mother enjoyed success as a singing-actress and appeared in several notable London musical productions. Her father, Marcus Thomsen, was a popular concert baritone. He was missing in action in 1917 when she was born. When he returned, rescued by Belgian peasants, his voice was wrecked by mustard gas. Unable to perform professionally he turned to teaching and became Professor of Voice at the Royal Academy of Music.

Encouraged by her father, the young Geraldine was given lessons in harmony after school with the composer Benjamin Dale, a professor at the Royal Academy. She was introduced to Sir Arnold Bax, a prominent figure in British music, by his daughter Maeve, who was her school friend. Bax took a keen interest in Geraldine’s music and would often play through her latest compositions and discuss them with her. She continued her studies in composition and also conducting more formally at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Here she studied harmony with Benjamin Dale, and also met composers Alan Bush and William Alwyn.

In 1939 the War intervened and although the Royal Academy remained open, Geraldine was obliged to combine her studies with working on a telephone switchboard. She still found time to compose incidental music for an anti-fascist play, however, and to make musical arrangements for the BBC.

In 1941, while visiting her aunt as a student, Geraldine met in Leamington Spa her future husband; the writer and journalist Jiri Mucha – at the time a BBC war correspondent and RAF Flying Officer – and the son of Art Nouveau artist, Alphonse Mucha, who died in 1939, and recent widower of the composer Vitězslava Kaprálová, who died in 1940. Following the fall of France, Jiří along with most of the Free Czech Army succeeded in escaping to England. They came to be based at Leamington Spa, where he met Geraldine at a party. Their love kindled that night when singing The Skye Boat Song.

They married in 1945 and returned together to Prague in the autumn to live in Czechoslovakia. Things were to become difficult when the Communists came to power in 1948.

The Muchas were targeted because of their so-called bourgeois roots and they were forced to abandon the house Alphonse Mucha had built. Jiri – because of his links with the BBC and the RAF – was imprisoned because of his links to the West and interred in a uranium mine for four years. The secret police came to confiscate their belongings but as Geraldine then claimed they belonged to her – and she was still a British citizen – they left their home alone. Geraldine stated she started composing “to take my mind off things”.

On Jiri’s release from prison he was denied the right to travel. As Jiri wanted to go abroad to organise exhibitions of his father’s art, they sought a loophole. Geraldine stated in an interview:
“Somebody advised us. They said, if I would return to Scotland and simply live there, he could then apply through a different channel for a visit to his wife in our shared home in Scotland – which he did. I went to Scotland, I lived in my mother’s house in the Scottish Highlands – this is in the 70s. I had to invite him, of course, but he never came near Scotland, naturally, he went off and did an exhibition. Well, he did come occasionally but it was too remote. He was all on edge to be doing the exhibitions. And then, of course, we met up in all sorts of interesting places.” The Communists seemed to tolerate this breach on realising the revenue the exhibits brought to Czechoslovakia, though it has also been alleged that Jiri became a Czech spy.

When the Communist regime ended in Czechoslovakia in 1989, the Muchas returned to Prague. Geraldine continued to regularly visit Scotland each summer.

Jiri died in 1991 and Geraldine composed the Epitaph In memoriam Jiří Mucha. It ends with a haunting evocation of the Skye boat song.

Throughout Geraldine Mucha’s work there are strong Scottish themes. She was to write 16 Variations on a Scottish Folksong, for piano in 1957 and a ballet Macbeth in 1965. Her Orcadian descent is noted in the work Carmina Orcadiana written around 1960.

Geraldine Mucha died in Prague on 12 October 2012. She was 95 and still an active composer. She said in 2007: “I just can´t help composing. It´s what I do”.

Her Divertimento is available. Written especially for The Arlequin Trio, it features on their CD:

Janet Beat

August 3, 2013


Janet Beat was born in Streetly, Staffordshire on 17 December 1937. She graduated from Birmingham University in 1960, with a Bachelor of Music degree. She continued her studies to Masters level studying early Italian Opera receiving the Cunningham award in 1962. Alexander Goehr provided her composition tuition. During the 1960’s she worked as a freelance horn player and teacher.

In 1972 Beat moved to Scotland. She took up the post of lecturer at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) and subsequently established their electronic music and recording studios.

She is one of the pioneers in electronic music composition in the UK; her earliest ‘musique concrete’ pieces belong to the late 1950s. Beat owned the first synthesiser to be made commercially available in the UK and her early electronic pieces were composed on it.

The vast bulk of her composition has been written since arriving in Scotland and Beat became a vigorous presence in Scotland’s musical scene. She became a founder member of the Scottish Society of Composers in 1980, along with Thomas Wilson.

In 1987 she was a founder and director of the Scottish Electro-Acoustic Music Society.

In 1988 she formed the contemporary music ensemble Soundstrata, a five-piece performing group.

During 1992 she was visiting composer at the Meistersinger-Konservatorium in Nuremberg.

In 1996 she began to lecture in Music Technology for Glasgow University, where she is now an Honorary Research Fellow.

Janet Beat’s published scores can be bought at Furlore Verlag.

Unpublished scores can be bought at the Scottish Music Centre.

Unfortunately, it is rare to find her works on CD or vinyl.

One such work, which is available, Circe (for solo viola) written by Beat for James Durrant in 1974, is on the violist’s CD :
Viola Pieces Volume. 1.

When the audio journal Unknown Public was established as a quarterly magazine showcasing contemporary music, with each issue they provided a CD. On their very first CD released in 1992, Volume 1: Points of Departure, they provided an 4 mins 50 seconds extract of Janet Beat’s 13 minute work for chamber electro-acoustic trio Mandala, performed by her ensemble Soundstrata. This CD has long been deleted, and although a subsequent release of a compilation of their first 4 volumes has been released, Beat’s Mandala has not been included in this. View-Details

Another of her works from 1980, Dancing On Moonbeams (An Electronic Fantasy), is on the long deleted LP; Music from Scottish Composers Volume 1. [Catalogue no. SSC 001 from 1981] This is an LP released by the Scottish Society of Composers, mentioned previously. It is sometimes available second-hand on ebay or other record sites. View-Details

Anna Meredith

July 27, 2013


Born in 1978 in Edinburgh, she came from an artistic family background. Her father is a retired university teacher of journalism, and her mother works in picture restoration. Her sister is the video artist Eleanor Meredith.

At school, Meredith took up the clarinet and percussion and, later, composition. She studied at Napier University and then earned a degree in music from the University of York. After this, she attended the prestigious Royal College of Music (her teachers would include David Sawer and Timothy Salter).

In 2004 Meredith became a composer in residence with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the PRS/RPS Composer in the House with Sinfonia ViVA, a post she held until 2007.

She was also a judge for the BBC’s Young Composer of the Year and a mentor for Goldie for his show Classic Goldie. In 2009 she was the only classical music nominee for the South Bank Show’s Breakthrough Award. She also won the 2010 Paul Hamlyn Award for Composers. Alongside her classical and acoustic work, she then began a more eclectic electronic project.

Selected Works :

Fin Like A Flower :

Axeman and Flak :

The Binks :

Black Prince Fury EP :

Jet Black Raider EP :

Hands Free (download only) :

Thea Musgrave

July 26, 2013


Born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 27 May 1928, she studied first at the University of Edinburgh with Hans Gál and later at the Conservatoire in Paris, where she spent four years as a pupil of Nadia Boulanger (1950-54). In 1958 she attended the Tanglewood Festival and studied with Aaron Copland.

Her music was initially recognized in Scotland, and it was from there that she received her earliest commissions. Among these are A Suite o’ Bairnsongs, A Tale for Thieves, and The Abbott of Drimrock. She has composed in many genres, but showed an early aptitude for dramatic mediums. The ballet A Tale for Thieves and her first opera The Abbot of Drimrock (1955), were both written on commissions from BBC Scotland.

In the 1960s she embraced serialism, which infused her work with a newfound liveliness and energy. Arising from her work with the Composer’s Guild, in the Spring of 1961, along with another Scottish composer William Wordsworth, she undertook a fortnight’s tour of the Soviet Union at the invitation of the Union of Soviet Composers of Moscow, where she met, among other composers, Shostakovich and Khachaturian.

She was commissioned to write her second opera, The Decision (1964-65), a work about a Scottish mine disaster characterized by Hugo Cole as “a closely worked, contrapuntal, freely chromatic score,” befitting the “glim and claustral mood” of the libretto.

Her best known works include The Seasons, Rainbow, Black Tambourine (for female voices, piano and percussion) and operas The Voice of Ariadne, A Christmas Carol, Mary Queen of Scots, and Harriet: The Woman Called ‘Moses.’

In 1970 she became Guest Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which anchored her increasing involvement with the musical life of the United States. In 1971 she married the American violist, opera conductor and general director of the Virginia Opera Association, Peter Mark, and has resided in the U.S. since 1972.

Mary Queen of Scots was the first opera for which Musgrave wrote her own libretto. She conducted its premiere performance at the 1977 Edinburgh International Festival. As a Scot she states it’s a work close to her heart, though admits “I would love to see Mary, Queen of Scots done in Holyrood [Palace] and Edinburgh Castle and France to gain some of the realism of the setting… and it would be quite good if we saw it in Holyrood and had the murder scene actually there in the place. On the other hand, that opera is really about people; it’s really about confrontations, and the settings are incidental.”

From 1987 to 2002 she was Distinguished Professor at Queen’s College, City University of New York. She was awarded a C.B.E. on the Queen’s New Year’s Honour List in January 2002.

Thea Musgrave is a composer who frowns upon pigeon-holing. To questions on being a female composer she has stated: “Yes, I am a woman; and I am a composer. But rarely at the same time.” and “Music is a human art, not a sexual one. Sex is no more important than eye colour.” And to questions of her versatility: “I do chamber works, I do orchestral works, I do opera, I have done ballet, I’ve done songs, unaccompanied choral pieces — all sorts of things. I like to do different things, so I don’t really like to be pigeon-holed. There are even some electronic things — mostly with live music, not on its own.” Instead, Musgrave tries to champion contemporary classical music composition: “I don’t think it’s a matter of sex, I think it’s not enough done for composers. Until the concerts have much, much more 20th century music of today in them, everybody’s neglected. You look at any concert program, it’s a huge preponderance of the Classical and Romantic period! Now a little bit of early music is coming into its own, very early music, but not 20th century music for the most part.”

Selected Works:-

Memento Vitae and Helios and Night Music and The Seasons :

An Occurrence At Owl Creek Ridge and Green and Wild Winter I :

Turbulent Landscapes and Songs For A Winter’s Evening and Two’s Company :

Concerto for Orchestra and Clarinet Concerto :

Pierrot Dreaming Chamber Music for Clarinet Vol. I :

Chamber Works for Oboe :

The Fall Of Narcissus :

Choral Works :

New World Records have flat transferred their CRI LP recordings to CD. The flute and string quartet piece Orfeo III is available on the album
Orchestra 2001 Vol. 1 – Distant Runes :

Peter Maxwell Davies

July 24, 2013


Peter Maxwell Davies was born in Salford in 1934. He took piano lessons and then started composing from an early age. He studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music with the likes of Harrison Birtwhistle and Alexander Goehr. After his graduation he moved to Rome and studied with Goffredo Petrassi.

In 1962 he moved to Princeton University studying with Roger Sessions and Milton Babbitt. He then moved to Australia, becoming the Composer in Residence at the Elder Conservatorium of Music in the University of Adelaide.

In 1970 he moved to the Orkney Islands in Scotland, and these islands have been his home ever since. He first, in 1971, rented a croft named Bunertoon on the clifftops of the island of Hoy, overlooking the Pentland Firth. It was sparsely renovated in 1974. He later moved in the late 1990s to the northern island of Sanday.

The Orkneys have had a profound influence on Maxwell Davies’s music. Since his move to Orkney, Davies has often drawn on Orcadian or more generally Scottish themes in his music, and has sometimes set the words of Orcadian poet and author George Mackay Brown. Maxwell Davies’s Sixth Symphony, which was completed just at the time George Mackay Brown died, is dedicated to his memory.

He retains close links with the St Magnus Festival, Orkney’s annual arts festival which he founded in 1977, and is the Composer Laureate of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Maxwell Davies was appointed Master of the Queen’s Music in 2004 in which role he has sought to raise the profile of music in Great Britain, as well as writing many works for Her Majesty the Queen and for royal occasions.

He is composer/conductor laureate of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra  and is among the most honoured musicians in the world, holding more than 40 doctorates from universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Heriot-Watt as well as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

An association with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra which yielded the ten Strathclyde Concertos, in turn furnished a formula for the ten Naxos Quartets two decades later.

His most popular work, An Orkney Wedding With Sunrise,  includes a Scottish bagpiper and is one of the most widely performed pieces of classical music the world over.

Selected Works:-

Symphony No.1 and Mavis in Las Vegas :

Symphony No.2 and St. Thomas Wake :

Symphony No.3 and Cross Lane Fair :

Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5 :

Symphony No. 6 and Time And The Raven
and An Orkney Wedding With Sunrise :

Strathclyde Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 :

Strathclyde Concertos Nos. 3 and 4 :

Strathclyde Concertos Nos. 5 and 6 :

Strathclyde Concertos Nos. 7 and 8 :

Strathclyde Concertos Nos. 9 and 10 :

Naxos Quartets (complete boxset) :

Chamber Works (1952-87) :

Piano Works (1949 – 2009) :

Kenneth Leighton

July 22, 2013


Kenneth Leighton was born in Wakefield in 1929. In 1946, while still at school he gained the LRAM Piano Performer’s diploma. In 1947 he went up to The Queen’s College, Oxford, on a Hastings Scholarship in Classics; in 1951 he graduated both with a BA in Classics, and a BMus. In the same year he won the Mendelssohn Scholarship and went to Rome to study with Goffredo Petrassi.

In 1955, while only 26, he moved to Scotland and – apart from a two year spell between 1968-70 at Oxford University – Edinburgh was to remain his home. He was appointed Lecturer in Music at the University of Edinburgh in 1955, progressing later to Senior Lecturer and then Reader. In October 1970 he was appointed Reid Professor of Music – the post once held by Donald Tovey – at the University of Edinburgh, the post which he held until his death.

Leighton had a deep love of Scotland, especially of the landscape and Celtic tradition of the Western Isles. This influenced much of his music, notably his three-act opera “St Columba” (Opus 77), which was first performed in Glasgow in June 1981.

In 1970 he was awarded the Doctorate in Music by the University of Oxford, and in 1977 was made an Honorary Doctor of the University of St Andrews for his work as a composer. He was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Music in 1982.

Kenneth Leighton died in Edinburgh on 24 August 1988. At Kenneth Leighton’s request, the original manuscripts of his music, both composition sketches and completed scores, were presented to the Reid Music Library of the University of Edinburgh on his death in 1988 by his widow Mrs Jo Leighton.

His compositions include three symphonies, eight concertos for various solo instruments, an important output of church music and a wide variety of chamber, and instrumental and vocal works.

Selected works:-
Symphony No. 1 and Piano Concerto No.3:

Symphony No. 2 and Te Deum laudamus:

Symphony No. 3 and Cello Concerto:

Organ Works :

Sacred Choral Music :

Piano Works :

The Piano Works are a boxset featuring Angela Brownridge, who studied with Kenneth Leighton at the University of Edinburgh.

And, appropriately for a man who gave so much to Edinburgh and its University, the Edinburgh Quartet have two discs showcasing Leighton’s chamber works:-

Piano Trio, Piano Quartet and Piano Quintet :

String Quartets :