As the end of the year approaches, I wanted to take this moment to take stock of the year and its many developments.
Returning to so-called normality after the pandemic was not without its difficulties, but the year began excitingly with the recording sessions for my new album on Delphian Records (out now to listen to here!) in the beautiful setting of Stapleford Granary. It was an absolute joy to record with so many of the outstanding musicians that I’ve worked with over the years and bring them together for the album, which features Guy Johnston, Mark Simpson, Benjamin Baker, Daniel Lebhardt, Matthias Balzat and the Goldfield Ensemble.
At the time, the Granary was also exhibiting the textile art of my mother, Sabine Kaner, which made it an even more special experience, and her inspiring, intricate stitch-work now features on the cover of the album. Sadly, one session did in fact have to be postponed due to one of the musicians testing positive for Covid, but we nevertheless made it through to the final production stages, and the recording was released as planned on November 11th.
A little launch event took place in the intimate surroundings of the Red Hedgehog in Highgate on November 23rd, with Benjamin and Daniel performing Five Highland Scenes.
Enormous thanks go to the PRS Foundation Composers Fund, RVW Trust and the many generous individuals who supported the release, financially and in other ways. So far the release has been warmly received, with a delightful 5* star review in the Scotsman from Ken Walton: “They present such highly imaginative and truly picturesque music with adeptness and affection, from the spectral reflectiveness of Suite for Solo Cello and flecked tracery of Five Highland Scenes, to the overriding quiescence of the Piano Trio, the dreamy intricacy of At Night for Clarinet Quintet, and the swooping virtuosity of Flight Studies. Kaner is a composer worth getting to know better.”
Meanwhile, the summer also saw the premiere of my (covid-delayed) BBC Proms Commission, with the outstanding baritone Roderick Williams supported by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth. The piece, entitled Pearl, is a setting of extracts from the medieval poem of the same name, in a stunning modern English translation by the poet laureate, Simon Armitage.
The piece received some fantastic reviews, particularly in the Guardian from Erica Jeal: “Matthew Kaner is by no means the first composer to wrestle with representing the mystical in music. In his new work for baritone, chorus and orchestra he captures it uncommonly effectively. Pearl is a half-hour journey through grief… It’s quiet, gently glittering stuff, and slow-moving in the expository section, then growing more agitated as the dream-vision begins… Then come the words spoken by Pearl – and, as sung by the BBC Symphony Chorus, these were spine-tingling”, and from Roy Westbrook for Bachtrack: “The score often shimmered, high strings and tuned percussion representing both the jewels Pearl wears and her iridescent white gown, as well as the dazzling vision of paradise. Kaner’s orchestral imagination and poetic word-setting made his 30-minute piece a fascinating response to this transcendental text.”
Nevertheless, there was a poignancy to the aftermath of the Proms premiere, as it was also the last time I saw my dear friend and colleague, the composer, singer and all-round intellect Alastair Putt, who tragically took his own life just a few days later. (He is pictured between myself and the composer Julian Anderson below, in a photo with friends and family taken outside the Royal Albert Hall just before the performance). My obituary for Alastair appeared in the Guardian on 5 October and can be read here.
It’s so hard to sum up the sense of loss for such a talented and generous friend, whom I first met as a fellow postgraduate student at the Guildhall back in 2008. In many ways our careers as composers ran in parallel (astonishingly, he was already an accomplished singer when I met him); as well as studying together, we took part in the LSO’s Panufnik scheme and attended Tanglewood as fellows in the same years. Like the many, many other musicians who knew and loved him, I will continue to miss and think of him, especially when attending concerts and premieres in London – he was almost always there to support his friends involved in new music. His compositions were stunning; I particularly recommend getting to know his beautiful wind quintet, Halazuni, which was performed at the Proms in 2019, and his beautiful choral work Under the Giant Fern of Night.
Going on more quietly in the background over the past year, I’m pleased to be able to share the news that I submitted and received my Doctorate in Composition in September. I’ve been teaching at the Guildhall School for several years now, and in 2016 began a doctorate there as a member of staff, supervised by my wonderful colleagues Richard Baker and Julian Philips. Several of the works on the new album were included in my final submission, which focuses on the narrative aspect of some of my music; the final thesis and portfolio was assessed by composer Richard Causton and musicologist Christopher Wiley.
Lastly, since the album release and Proms premiere, I’m delighted to announce that I’m now represented by Blom Music Management. I’m really looking forward to working with Rienk and seeing what exciting projects the next few years lead to. Various things are in the pipeline, but can’t be announced yet, so stay posted for more news. In the meantime, if you’re attending the West Wight Arts Festival in January, my Piano Trio and Five Highland Scenes are being performed by the Northern Chords Ensemble: Benjamin Baker, Daniel Lebhardt and Jonathan Bloxham. Tickets are available from https://www.westwightarts.co.uk.