September 16, 2019 – Avant-Accessible

Our Fall touring programme, Foreign Inspirations, is an avant-accessible exploration of romantic and contemporary repertoire. 

Through performances of Foreign Inspirations SHHH!! Ensemble endeavours to bring new music to new audiences while simultaneously performing masterworks from the classical canon, albeit with a refreshing twist. 

First, our own adaptation of French composer Francis Poulenc’s Sonata for Flute and Piano. The Foreign Inspiration for this work is a little more practical than the other pieces— Poulenc was commissioned to write a new piece for an American flutist by the Coolidge Foundation… so it was foreign money that inspired the creation of one of the composer’s most beloved works! The French flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal remarked in his autobiography that upon receiving word of the commission Poulenc telephoned Rampal and relayed the good news: “you know you’ve always wanted me to write a sonata for flute and piano? Well, I’m going to. And the best thing is that the Americans will pay for it!”

In complete contrast, the next piece on our Foreign Inspirations programme is John Beckwith’s Meanwhile for Marimba and Piano. Commissioned by SHHH!! Ensemble in 2017, Mr. Beckwith’s inspiration for writing this work was found in his passion for Scottish Country Dancing (even as a nonagenarian!!). Specifically, the act of performing a “meanwhile” during a dance, which can be described as “when one or two couples in a set of eight dancers follow one pattern of steps, another couple performs a meanwhile— that is, quite a different pattern”. The effect of this kind of spontaneous counterpoint reminded John of “the aleatory found in Lutoslawski and others, or the works by Ives in which he recalled the effect of two bands converging on the town hall for the July 4th parade, each playing a different march”. While Beckwith’s Meanwhile may not be music for dancing, it is certainly one of the most interesting and enjoyable works we have had the privilege to perform.

For some of our Foreign Inspirations tour (including schools shows and Concerts in Care performances) we are featuring Christine Donkin’s nostalgic Album of Old Photographs. When writing the six movement work, Christine was inspired by character pieces by Robert Schumann (i.e. Kinderszenen) and others. Sitting firmly in the “neo-romantic” genre, Album of Old Photographs is a unique and charming addition to the piano/marimba repertoire. 

The last selection on Foreign Inspirations is Italian-American composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Fantasia for Guitar and Piano, op. 145. The piece was written for legendary Spanish classical guitarist Andres Segovia and his former wife and pianist Paquita Madriguera. Castelnuovo-Tedesco made his career as a highly successful composer of film music in Hollywood. He also maintained ties to the concert music scene with Segovia, Heifetz, and Piatigorsky as some of his long time collaborators. Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music is diversely inspired; taking cues from his Italian and Jewish heritage, his work as a film music composer, his reverence for the music of Bach, and his dismissal of many 20th century writing conventions, which ultimately give his music a timeless and fresh sound even today.