Jenny Jackson is strongly influenced by a long-term interest in the visual and dramatic arts and often writes pieces which incorporate elements of theatricality, or challenge audience perception and expectations in what they see/hear. Jenny completed a PhD in Composition at the University of Sheffield in 2009 following an investigation into the theatricality of musical performance, supervised by George Nicholson. This approach has continued to influence Jenny’s work.
Recent performances include Limb for solo viola and orchestra (2019) – Hallam Sinfonia with violist Maria Do Vale Antunes; and Mimesis for piano, percussion and midi drum pad (2017) – Passepartout Duo. Expel – a single breath piece for solo flute – was commissioned and recorded by Kathryn Williams for her Coming Up For Air album, released by Huddersfield Contemporary Records in November 2019. Jenny has three pieces for solo flute/ flute choir published by Tetractys.
Jenny teaches piano, composition and theory classes in Sheffield, and she is an ABRSM Theory examiner. She directs the Sheffield Viola Ensemble and First Position Strings – an adult beginners string ensemble.
List of works
Instrumental & Vocal
- Focus Pull
- Hooting, not Drinking
- Desire Lines
- Self Portrait
(2019) for solo viola & orchestra
In Limb the soloist is set apart from the main body of the orchestra (as is the norm) and could be perceived to be an ‘extra limb’ – separate but still connected, or as being ‘out on a limb’ – isolated and exposed. In the performance, rather than enjoying this separation and the focus of attention (as we anticipate a soloist would do), the violist, instead, strives to be fully integrated back into the orchestra (this idea hints at the stereotypical notion of the viola player lacking ego).
At the start of the piece the character of the solo part is strong and unrelenting, exhibiting determination and vigour, as well as anguish and despair at the (involuntary?) role of soloist but, as the piece progresses, the part becomes more and more absorbed into the orchestral texture until, at the climax (marked, ‘Monstrous, triumphant’), it is impossible to separate them, physically or au- rally. The assimilation is misleading, however, as once the massive tutti section subsides a fragile soloist is once again exposed, defeated and resigned, in a final section which is weary, dark and gloomy: an unsuccessful attempt at permanent integration.
(2018) for solo flute
Expel is a one-breath piece. It was commissioned by Kathryn Williams, having performed my solo flute piece Purge (first movement of the collaborative Platform 4 suite for winds – Melodrama) at the Sheffield Chamber Music Festival in 2018. It uses material taken from Purge .
(2018) for solo c flute or alto flute
This short piece for solo flute is robust and blatantly aggressive in a way that captures attention, using the voice extensively to augment and compound a breathless and relentless outpouring. It is guttural, gestural and almost animalistic: a dramatic display which expels and purifies as it flits skittishly between music that is resolute or warm, flighty or driven.
Purge is the first movement in a suite for flute, clarinet, horn and bassoon – Melodrama – commissioned by Music in the Round and performed by Ensemble 360 during the Sheffield Chamber Music Festival 2018. The suite was composed collaboratively by the four members of Platform 4.
Premiere: 13.05.18 St Matthew’s Church, Sheffield (Ensemble 360 / Kathryn Williams – flute)
Melodrama was commissioned by Music in the Round
Purge is available to purchase from Tetractys Publishing as a stand-alone piece for c flute or alto flute
Duration 2’30” minutes
If you are interested in performing the complete suite please email email@example.com
(2018) piano & percussion (including midi drum pad)
This piece uses the idea of mimicry to provide a framework for exploring the similarities between the instruments and the music they play. The addition of prepared piano and a midi drum pad enables the mimicry to be expanded so that it is often difficult to establish who is copying who, presenting a confusing audio-visual experience.
Premiere: 20.04.18 Upper Chapel, Sheffield (Passepartout Duo)
Commissioned by Passepartout Duo as part of a Platform 4 collaboration.
(2017) for string quartet
Composed as a companion piece for Haydn’s string quartet Op. 33 No 1 in B minor (one of the six ‘Russian’ quartets). The relationship between the two pieces relies heavily on three bars taken from the first violin melody in the 3rd movement, which is used as a kind of tone row for the entire piece. Apart from sharing the same DNA, however, the piece is rather like the exuberant distant relative and, although the quartet strives hard to pull focus and reveal its identity, an erratic display makes the family resemblance hard to perceive.
Premiere: Crucible Studio Theatre, Sheffield (Ensemble 360) 8th May 2017.
Commissioned by Music in the Round for performance as part of the May Festival (Russia in the Round 2017)
You can read two blogs about the process of composing this piece:
Listen to a Podcast of Jenny in conversation with Ensemble 360’s clarinetist Matt Hunt discussing the Music in the Round commission, and her working practice.
(2017) for flute choir
Commissioned by Sheffield Flute Choir for the Classical Sheffield Weekend 2017. I am fascinated by the sound of the flute choir which can be equally sweet and brash, and is reminiscent of the flute sound on a fairground organ. In composing the piece, I chose to celebrate the sameness rather than trying to find differences between the instruments, and to treat the choir as one big instrument.
To achieve the effect of masking and clearing clouds, the flute choir is divided into three groups with four different parts in each. Each group has its own unique set of pitches which are often combined to create blocks of sustained chords that fade in and out. I wanted to capture the feeling of a drifting and evolving cloudscape.
Premiere: 22.10.17 Sheffield Winter Garden Sheffield Flute Choir
Order here: Cloudscape
Duration 5 minutes
(2010) for string quartet
Torque n. Necklace of twisted metal; the twisting or rotary force in a piece of mechanism. In this piece the conventional grouping of the string of quartet is driven through a number of different moods in a single movement. Performance directions include ‘glassy’, ‘as if remembering’, ‘irritable’, ‘aggressively’ and other indications of an underlying tension.
The homogeneous nature of the strings is both acknowledged and challenged as the piece moves between light and dark shades while retaining a sense of unease and instability.
(2017) for massed voices
Kraal was commissioned by Classical Sheffield for the Classical Weekend 2017. It was first performed by members from five choirs:
Sheffield Chamber Choir
on Sunday 19th March 2017 at the Cathedral Church of St Marie, Sheffield.
‘Kraal’ is an Afrikaans and Dutch word for an enclosure for cattle or other livestock, located within an African settlement or village surrounded by a fence of thorn-bush branches, a palisade, mud wall, or other fencing, roughly circular in form.
In this piece, the audience experiences the feeling of being enclosed both physically (by the performers), and aurally (by experiencing the slowly evolving and changing sung harmonies as pitches travel around the circle).
(2015) for flexible ensemble
In this piece, performers are placed apart so that the listener experiences a live panning effect as the sound spans the entire performing space.
Premiere: Winter Gardens, Sheffield October 2015 (Platform 4)
(2016) for low strings
Teeter was originally conceived as a solo cello piece but has been revised, developed and augmented in order to expand the possibilities in creating greater density and textural complexity. Written for low strings (requiring three or more players in any combination of viola, cello and double bass), the ensemble is treated as one slightly cumbersome, lumbering instrument, rather than a collation of complimentary lines or parts.
The piece is loosely based on a short poem by Lisa Verdon; ‘Do You Feel Me’, and follows the poem’s structure marked by the words Teetering, Groping, Clinging and Drowning.
Premiere: Firth Hall, Sheffield March 2016 (Platform 4)
(2011) for horns (2) & flexible string ensemble
This piece exploits the relationship between physical and musical space as experienced by the audience. It grew out of experimentation with the notion of perspective in both audio and visual terms, so that there is a tension in the work between what the eye perceives as foreground, for instance, and what the ear hears. The conflation of the visual (including what is hidden) and the aural is explored in this work.
Premiere: performed as part of the Platform 4 Brandenburg Project, 18th-20th April 2013.
Hooting, not Drinking
(revised 2017) for solo flute (doubling Alto) with blown bottles & flutes ensemble
This piece was originally written in 2016 as a response to John White’s bottle-blowing piece Drinking & Hooting Machine (1968) which concerns itself with the gradual evolution of a continuum of sound from high to low. I wanted to write a piece that uses blown bottles in a more ‘musical’ way, by controlling combinations of high to low sounding bottles to provide a distant, harmonic backdrop for the flute solo. In this revised version, I have expanded the breathy bottle ensemble to include flutes, enabling a more colourful exploration of the sound world, and a heightened spatial experience.
Premiere: 18.03.17 Channing Hall, Sheffield (Rachel Shirley – solo flute & Platform 4) Classical Weekend 2017
(2013) solo piano & (hidden) mixed ensemble
Sanctum – a private place from which most people are excluded. A refuge, retreat, hideout.
Premiere: 17.10.13 St. Paul’s Hall, Huddersfield (Philip Thomas – piano, & Platform 4)
Duration 6 minutes
for piano, six hands
Desire Lines I
Desire Lines II
Desire Lines III
Desire Lines IV
These four contrasting miniatures are an exploration into the drama and textures of having six hands playing at one piano. The close proximity of the three players gives rise to a theatricality of performance, the concept of which informed the compositional process.
The number of hands allows for a density, complexity of texture and greater coverage of the keyboard than when played by a single pianist, while the limitations of physical space and access mean that the players have sometimes to negotiate and sometimes fight for their pathways through the pieces.
These routes though the terrain of the pieces are like ‘desire lines’ – paths chosen to achieve a particular goal; and in the same way the composer must force a creative pathway through the composition and the practicalities of the performance.
(2009) fl, ob, cl, perc, pno, hp, mand, gui, vln, vla, vc, db.
I. II. III. IV.
Inspired by a long-term interest in portraiture in the visual arts and, more recently, the work of David Hockney – in particular his self portraits – this collection of four short pieces reflects the paradoxes of expressing the ‘self’ in any art form. The self that is expressed is a product not only of the intentions of the artist, but also of contingent elements such as time, place and context. The music, then, explores the tension between the composer’s vision of self and its realisation.
Premiere: Musiekgebouw aan’t IJ , Amsterdam 19.11.09 (Nieuw Ensemble): broadcast live on Dutch National Radio
Second performance: Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 23.11.09 (Nieuw Ensemble)
Music Theatre & Dance
(2017) Sop., Ten., Bass & Pno.
A mini opera based on palindromic word-play (commissioned by Opera on Location for Classical Sheffield festival 2017)
The libretto is a concoction of single-word palindromes and palindromic sentences which have been forged to create a single scene. The scene is set in Dr Awkward’s consulting room – a tired old shrink. He and his secretary – Madam – prove themselves to be less than professional in the care of a slightly mad young man calling himself Adam – “’Tis Ivan on a visit; drab as a fool, as aloof as a bard!”.
Premiere: Upper Chapel, Sheffield (Opera on Location)
(2016) solo dancer, sop, fl, cl, B. Cl, hn (2), sop. rec, vln, vc
Choreography – Hannah Wadsworth
Performed by Hannah Wadsworth, Andrea Tweedale (sop) & Platform 4, University Drama Studio, Sheffield
The selected text is taken from a poem by the Italian Futurist poet Aldo Palazzeschi; E Lasciatemi Divertire! (Let Me Amuse You!) which explores the nature of what it is to be a ‘creator’, and the conflict between artistic freedom on the one hand, and the oppression of (perceived) criticism and judgement on the other. The original poem contains many nonsensical words which implies the collapse of sense but the words begin to suggest their own meaning as we try to interpret the inflections and phonetic sounds (“it’s like when someone gets to singing without really knowing the words”). The piece demonstrates how fine the line is between artistic freedom and madness: one is fun, and acceptable to society, and the other is worrying, perplexing and traumatic for others to observe.
Premiere: Saturday 24th September 2016 University Drama Studio, Sheffield as part of ‘Embodiments’ presented by Platform 4.
(2012) cl., hn., pno. & three dancers
– a collaboration with choreographer Sue Lewis and Ffin Dance – a professional dance company based in Abertillery, Wales.
The five short pieces are intentionally contrasting in character, texture and tempo and the choreography imitates this and, at times, relates directly to the relationships between the instrumental parts.
Five Dances was included in the Connections Tour 2012 by Ffin Dance with the music performed live by Platform 4.
Works for amateur & student performers
(2016) for viola ensemble
Premiere: Workshop performance 17.4.16 Huddersfield (BVS)
Commissioned by the British Viola Society
(2014) for orchestra & piano, six hands
Commissioned by the Endcliffe Orchestra, Sheffield, and was first performed by them on 28th June 2014 at the Victoria Hall, Sheffield.
The pianists were Tom Owen, Chris Noble and Tom James
Conducted by Martin Lightowler