Tom James

I studied Music and German at the University of Sheffield and subsequently completed a PhD in composition under the supervision of Dr George Nicholson.
My compositions are mainly explorations of the myriad possibilities of small chamber ensembles – from the simple to the complex and from the joyful to the serious. Influences include many “B”s: Bach, Berio, Birtwistle, Boulez, Bridge…
As a performer I am primarily a horn player, but have been known to play any brass or woodwind instrument when needed.

List of works

This piece started off as an orchestration exercise of one of the eight small preludes and fugues, which may or may not actually have been composed by J.S. Bach. After an experiment in reimaging the organ sounds of the original through the timbres of multiple wind instruments, I found myself branching out in the fugue, as the possibilities of many more lines and thicker textures became irresistible. There is a certain amount of homage to Stravinsky as the piece builds, and I used collage techniques to create a joyously raucous coda – BOOM. !

The original Bach (?) material can still be heard but it is smeared and overlaid and compacted and stretched… it was a liberating experience to throw notes at the paper in this way, and I hope the fun I had is evident in the result.

Barely a trace remains of the huge steel works in Consett, County Durham – they closed in 1980, the year I was born.

Looking through photo archives, I have been fascinated by the way the stark, monumental buildings dominated the town, at times filling the atmosphere with a veil of red dust (still to be seen on roofs of the buildings to this day).

Presented with the opportunity to write for a larger ensemble, I have created an atmospheric landscape;

Four short pieces, each written as a response to a watercolour painting by Lisa O’Brien as a part of a collaborative project with Platform 4 and Lisa for www.remoteperformances.co.uk Broadcast on resonancefm.com on 6.8.14. See also

Vent – Jenny Jackson
Changeable, Out – Chris Noble
Hut Ritual – Tom Owen

Lisa O’Brien Biography

Lisa O’Brien is based on the North West coast of Scotland. Her practice over the years has encompassed, performance, composition, video, sound, and installation. Her practice has been influenced by living in one of the remotest parts of North West Scotland for the last 10 years and is often linked to the environment and weather conditions. Her work explores the idea of temporality, and she strives to capture the essence of fleeting moments so that they can be re-examined, to some extent re-lived and this also links with how we experience memories. She is interested in how the link between time, place and sound contribute to a specific moment in time. For remote performances Lisa will make field recordings of perceived silence in the rural setting and she will continue her exploration of developing a graphic notation to record nothingness, or what we think of as silence.

Depression Well
A distant solo clarinet tries to soothe the mind; the cello floats on a cloud of medication, while the piano is a reminder of recent anxiety.

Rube Goldberg Variations
A chain of variations violently rips up the material from Depression Well. Each variation is metrically linked to the previous one, in the manner of a Rube Goldberg machine (more familiarly called a Heath Robinson contraption in the UK).

Coda – A Watching Trinity
Solo piano with distortions, a trio (?) left sounding in the mind.

Waxing Crescent & Waning Crescent are songs 2 and 6 from a projected 7-song cycle setting fragments (in translation) by the ancient Greek poet Sappho (~630-570 BC). The two poems here talk of the moon; the first optimistic and radiant:

Awed by her splendor
Stars near the lovely
Moon cover their own
Bright faces
When she
Is roundest and lights
Earth with her silver
… and the second defeated and empty:
Midnight!
And like the hour,
The Moon and the
Pleiades have gone
And I,
I sleep alone.

In setting these words, I have created two songs that are in many ways reflections of one another; the musical material is shared but the treatment is quite different. The structure is also mirrored in that the first has a substantial instrumental coda, whereas the second has a long introduction before the soprano entry. The mixture of old and new instruments reflects for me the unusual exoticism of the poetry, ancient yet immediate.

Waxing Crescent & Waning Crescent are songs 2 and 6 from a projected 7-song cycle setting fragments (in translation) by the ancient Greek poet Sappho (~630-570 BC). The two poems here talk of the moon; the first optimistic and radiant:

Awed by her splendor
Stars near the lovely
Moon cover their own
Bright faces
When she
Is roundest and lights
Earth with her silver
… and the second defeated and empty:
Midnight!
And like the hour,
The Moon and the
Pleiades have gone
And I,
I sleep alone.

In setting these words, I have created two songs that are in many ways reflections of one another; the musical material is shared but the treatment is quite different. The structure is also mirrored in that the first has a substantial instrumental coda, whereas the second has a long introduction before the soprano entry. The mixture of old and new instruments reflects for me the unusual exoticism of the poetry, ancient yet immediate.

St Anthony’s Sermon to the Fish takes its title from the Catholic miracle where St Anthony preached to an ever-growing shoal of fish instead of the congregation who would not heed his message. Gustav Mahler’s retelling in his song from Des Knaben Wunderhorn takes a surprising turn when the fish leave, having enjoyed the sermon, but they remain unconverted by the experience. This is presented as a metaphor for our audience tonight, who can come and go during the evening, and who may or may not catch a snippet of music which transforms their listening experience, solely depending on their movement.

The piece itself begins with a pulsing sea of sound, out of which emerges a glowing sermon. The splashy organ solo which follows was written as an intuitive reaction to the myriad of small lines and shapes of Gillian’s work, and the complexity of interplay between the smaller sculptures. The work reaches its peak with bright, artificial colours and then subsides into the murky depths.

Crop Circle started life as a work for three voices. It is a setting of the rather desolate poem “Like Barley Bending” by Sara Teasdale (1884-1933). The poem’s limited range of imagery suggested to me a restricted harmonic palette, the voice working against two other cyclical lines. The result is a sustained, hypnotic song against a constantly shifting backdrop.

A self-contained curio designed for this resonant acoustic, a solo clarinet is partially hidden under a sombre viola shroud.

Oboe / Cor Anglais, Alto Flute / Bass Flute, Clarinet in Eb / Alto Clarinet in Eb, Clarinet in Bb / Bass Clarinet (with extension to low C), Violin Viola, Violoncello, Contrabass.

Foenix occidit is based on the motet Ergone conticuit, attributed to Johannes Lupi (1506-1539). The original text was by Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469-1536) and was written in memory of Johannes Ockeghem (1410-1497).

Lupi’s work is in two sections, which I have transcribed for wind instruments. The string parts form a modern commentary on the Renaissance music, slowly warping and transforming the material, leading to the central (original) section of the work.

2 Violins, Viola & Violoncello .

Deconstruction Project I
Keel Row
Bowl Wife

Growing up in the North East, the rich folk music tradition of the area has always held a special appeal for me. I present three contrasting recompositions of traditional tunes for string quartet:

Deconstruction Project I takes James Hill’s (ca.1850) hornpipe “The High Level Bridge” and projects it in an overly-manic fashion – a construction which cannot physically be sustained and is dismantled as the piece progresses.

Keel Row, on the other hand, is stretched in time and coated in shining harmonics.

Bowl Wife provides a rip-roaring finale to the set, taking Biddy the Bowl [bold] Wife and adding a layer of heavy shipbuilding noise on the cello under the insistent melody.

Meet the composers

Tom James

Tom Owen

Jenny Jackson

Chris Noble