Archive for Stuart

New Oratorio to use Shelagh Delaney’s short story

Shelagh Delaney

Shelagh Delaney

I am excited to announce that I have been given permission by the estate of the late Shelagh Delaney (1938 – 2011) – one of English literature’s most important and relevant 20th Century writers – to base a new oratorio on the short story entitled “All About And To A Female Artist” (1964).

Shelagh Delaney assembled this prose piece from the mountains of negative, cynical, begging, sometimes threatening, often funny letters and harsh reviews (mostly critical of her gender) that she was bombarded with at just 19 years old following the enormous success of her debut play “A Taste Of Honey”.

It is an honour to be granted this permission – not only because of my immense respect for her writing talent and my enjoyment of her work, but also because Shelagh was very careful about who she allowed to work with her material, and her estate have turned other proposals down in the last 18 months that were felt inappropriate.

The oratorio is expected to premiere in Autumn 2014. Dan Watson has confirmed that contemporary ensemble Thumb will perform the new work, which will again build on my PhD research into microtonal harmony; and feature instruments specifically adapted for that use (You can see a few of them on this site, customised by expert guitar man Jerry Crosson).

Dan will also curate the concert, which will feature a call for scores from emerging composers in addition to the world premiere of my new oratorio.


Guitarra (2013) 31-et

Microtonal digital piano (details). Duration 1:50

Thank you Thumb!

Ruth Hopkins sings The Tempest

Ruth Hopkins sings The Tempest

I suppose I should have been nervous about what Michael Wolters jokingly called my “first portrait concert” last week, but having attended rehearsals I simply sat back and enjoyed an incredibly skilled performance under the intelligent lead of my good friend and conductor Dan Watson.

I have only heard, in recent years, of one other group attempting to perform in 31-et (James Weeks/Exaudi) – and that was a choral rather than instrumental piece. Thumb acheived something very special – transforming fixed temperament, diatonic instruments into new, microtonal versions through sheer hard work and experimentation. The results were surprising and stimulating, and Ruth Hopkins effortlessly intoned some of the strangest intervals as if she had always sung that way. You were all wonderful – thank you Thumb x

The Tempest

The Tempest (2012) 31-et Tempest Part 4 (excerpt)

Flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, Tempest Chimes (details), percussion, 31-et electric guitar (details), Microtonal digital piano (details), piano, soprano, violin, viola, double bass. Duration: 20:00
Full premiere performance here

Stretching guitars to the limit


re-fretting to 31-et

When I showed him my calculations and he saw the size of the frets he said it could not be done… and then did it! I won’t tell you the secret, but by clever use of materials and through micro-precision skill, Jerry Crosson of The Fret Workshop in Felixstowe has transformed an ordinary semi-acoustic guitar into a 31-et microtonal masterpiece. Playing is a little tricky, but Thumb’s Tom Martin has quickly mastered this strange fretboard. Debuts on Dec 3rd, Birmingham Conservatoire Recital Hall.

How Do I Love Thee?

How Do I Love Thee?  (2012)

Girl’s choir, organ. Text: Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Commissioned by Phillippa Cairns & Mark Somerville for their wedding ceremony, Dec 22nd 2012, St. Anne’s Cathedral Leeds. Duration 4:30