text: Marilyn Bowering (from “To all appearances a Lady”
Duration: c. 4’
Dedication: to Holly Cole
Instrumentation: solo contralto (jazz) voice: bassoon; 2 horns; percussion (one player); strings ( - 1 bass is amplified jazz bass)
First performance: Holly Cole, CBC Radio Orchestra (Gavin Bryars jazz bass), conductor Owen Underhill; Orpheum, Vancouver June 30th 2002

Note : I have heard it said that a spirit enters (2002)

I have heard it said that a spirit enters (2002)

for low female voice and chamber orchestra

This song, to a text from Marilyn Bowering's novel "To all appearances a lady" was written for Holly Cole, and is dedicated to her, and was designed specially for the concert at the Vancouver Jazz Festival  and for subsequent recording by CBC Records. It is designed to be the first of a group of three songs, of which the other two are Planet Earth and The Apple. There is a progressive reduction in orchestration with the three songs, especially in the strings. In I have heard it said... there is a full string section; whereas in Planet Earth the violins are removed, and in The Apple we are left with only 6 solo celli and 4 solo basses, and no wind instruments at all. This attention to orchestration comes from a careful observation of the special qualities of Holly Cole's voice and of the appropriate vehicle for its accompaniment, especially after our having worked together in Winnipeg in 1999. In this song, one of the basses is a jazz bass, and Marilyn Bowering's evocative text gives the possibility of a brief allusion to the song "I'll be with you in apple blossom time" - linking it to the more abstract third song, The Apple.

Note : Text of I have heard it said that a spirit enters 

Text of I have heard it said that a spirit enters 

I thought of the rising sun, the singing of birds, and the pale stretch of blue that made up the morning heavens, for I did not like the turn my thoughts had taken, and had learned long ago not to give free rein to them.

But as I looked at the shoreline, which was only a shoreline, and raised my mug of rum to my lips, I heard a cracked voice singing, "I'll be with you in apple blossom time," and then a laugh.

I turned my head slowly in the direction of the scent of joss and opium. She was seated on top of the wheelhouse wearing the heavy black cashmere shawl that I had brought back for her from one on my voyages. And she was tapping her pipe out on my teak.

(from: Marilyn Bowering, To All Appearances a Lady, 1990)

Text: George Bruce
Duration 10'
Male choir, solo double bass, solo baritone, strings (violas, celli, basses)

Note : Ian in the Broch

Ian in the Broch

For solo baritone, solo double bass, male choir, strings

Text: George Bruce

For a recent work, for string quartet and 4 part vocal ensemble commissioned for Steve Reich's 70th birthday, I chose two poems by the Scottish poet George Bruce, whose work I discovered when setting sonnets by Edwin Morgan. I decided to use his poem, Ian in the Broch, for a new work for the Estonian National Male Choir and to use the same forces as those in Schubert's Gesang der Geister über den Wassen, which is included in my concert with the choir. Schubert uses only low strings (violas downwards), which is something I have used in many works starting with my first opera Medea (1982) and this is a formation that characterises my own ensemble, which has 2 violas, cello and bass at its heart. Here, though, I also add a solo baritone voice and an obligato solo double bass (written specially for Daniel Nix, the soloist in my bass concerto, which also has no violins in the orchestra).

George Bruce is a poet from the east of Scotland (Edwin Morgan is from the west) and write also in Scots, an essentially east coast language (Gaelic is from the west) and wrote a number of poems in this language (Edwin Morgan translated Mayakovsky into Scots). "Broch", for example, is the local Scots name for the east coast fishing port Fraserburgh, George Bruce's home town and he also uses two Scots expressions in this poem: "fou's aa?"  ("how's everybody?") and "fit's deein?" ("what's doing?"). Ian in the Broch is a poem whose narrative is revealed in its dedication:

"To Ian McNab, civil engineer and singer, who sang the Iona Gloria in St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh, at a commemoration of the 1400th anniversary of the death of Saint Columba, memorably."

There are references in the poem to the occasion when George Bruce and Ian McNab climbed the steps of the Kinnaird Head lighthouse whose three ton light could be moved by one finger, once set in motion. Bruce from one of his poems, which referred to "ballbearing frictionless lamp" but Ian McNab pointed out that they were not ballbearings but "tapered rollers" and this was the genesis of the poem.

In my setting I allude several times to Schubert's piece, especially in the orchestral strings. However, I do not quote the Iona Gloria directly, but rather allow an extended, almost baroque, expression of "Gloria" as the duet for baritone solo and double bass that ends the piece. I take this idea from the fact that, in the poem, the word is written "GLORIA!" in capital letters, and followed by an exclamation mark!

Gavin Bryars

Note : Text of Ian in the Broch

Text of Ian in the Broch

(To Ian McNab, civil engineer and singer, who sang the Iona Gloria in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, at a commemoration of the 1400th anniversary of the death of Saint Columba, memorably.)

Returned, but never away.

Rain storms at arrival, but

sun prevails. Brightness is all,

white on the wings of the glancing

fulmar. Wave breaks, white light

shakes from its blue. All one

to him at the centre, an internet

in himself: hardly a step

at the harbour, and another

McNab has a word with him.

This is the flower of friendships

engendered in the generations,

caught up now in this talk-talking

town, aaye toun, 'fou's aa?'

'fit's deeing?', and on again

as if heaven were not about him

in this place in time, where

the running boy runs forever

in the mind, yet he would know,

know his place, know how

the lighthouse light projects its beam,

timely, exact on the dark waters.

But look at the tapered rollers

bearing the weight of the

gyrating mirrors, steel supports,

that issue the light to all seamen.

Now he walks the town simply

as if the common talk's enough,

but from him, from head and lips -



George Bruce

+ version for string orchestra
Duration: 10'
Dedication: Fretwork
Instrumentation: viol consort (2 trebles, two tenors, two basses)
First Performance: Fretwork, Purcell Room, London May 1995

Note : In Nomine (After Purcell)

In Nomine (After Purcell)

There were several factors which attracted me to write a piece for Fretwork based on Purcell's In Nomine. One was my interest in writing for strings and particularly for families of string instruments. I have written a number of string quartets, of course, but an early piece of mine was for the eight-part "new violin family", and I pay particular attention to the composition of strings within an orchestral context - the opera Medea uses only violas, cellos and basses. The homogeneous blend of the 6-part consort, with its three pairs of viols, is a sound that I have enjoyed for some time.

A second factor relates to an interest in music which refers to other music or to other musical values. In the recent past, for example, I have written pieces for other 'early music specialists' such as the Hilliard Ensemble where I incorporated vocal and ensemble techniques from their repertoire, which goes back to the 12th century. The Purcell 6-part Fantasia itself comes towards the end of almost two centuries in which many English composers wrote pieces based on Taverner's mass Gloria tibi Trinitas and I focus on this origin as well as on the Purcell Fantasia itself.

There are many, to me, curious aspects of the viol consort as an ensemble, for example the tuning of the instruments which make natural harmonics a useful device given the fact that there is a string of every named note except B. In addition, the restraint found within the consort's dynamic range attracted me especially (ff is not really a viol dynamic) making it a natural vehicle for understatement.




(Text from Dante: La Vita Nuova and Pico della Mirandola: Conclusiones).
Duration: 7’
Dedicated to Erica, Robert and Vita Hewison.
Instrumentation: Solo alto, violin, viola, cello.
First performance: St Mary de Castro, Leicester, 1 April 1989

Note : Incipit Vita Nova (1989)

Incipit Vita Nova (1989)

Incipit Vita Nova is for male alto and string trio and sets those short phrases that appear in Latin rather than Italian in Dante's La Vita Nuova. It was written in February 1989 to celebrate the birth of Vita, the first child of my friends Erica and Robert Hewison. I wrote the piece at the same time as I was writing Cadman Requiem and, like that piece, it represents a personal response to a life. Both were written for the Hilliard Ensemble with whom I had developed a close working relationship. I chose this particular instrumentation because while Erica loves David's voice Robert is very fond of my string quartets. David effectively serves as an additional instrument to the string trio by achieving an imperceptible blend of voice with accompanying instruments at the beginning and at the end. Although I had decided to write the piece long before the birth I did not start the piece until after the baby was born, waiting until I knew whether the baby was a boy or a girl, and wanting to know the baby's name - Vita. I originally looked for all uses of the word "Vita" (life) among Pico della Mirandola's Conclusiones  (I had set Pico for Glorious Hill, my earlier piece for the Hilliard) and eventually added one of these sentences ("Omnis vita est immortalis") as the penultimate line of the text while working on La Vita Nuova ("The New Life") as the main source. The first performance was given by David James at St. Mary de Castro Church in Leicester on 1 April 1989, and shortly afterwards was performed with the first performances of Cadman Requiem in Lyon and Marseille.

Note : Text for Incipit Vita Nova

Text for Incipit Vita Nova

Incipit Vita Nova A new life is beginning

Ecce deus fortior me Behold a God more powerful than I

qui veniens dominabitur mihi. who comes to rule over me

Apparuit iam beatitudo vestra Your source of joy has now appeared

Vide cor tuum Behold your heart

Tempus est ut praetermictantur It is time for false images

simulacra nostra. to be put aside.

Nomina sunt consequentia rerum Names are the consequences of things

Hosanna in excelcis. Hosanna in the highest.

Bella mihi, video, Things beautiful to me, I see

bella parantur. beautiful things are being prepared.

(vita) qui est per omnia secula (a life) which is for all times

benedicta, benedicta. blessed, blessed.

Omnis vita est immortalis. All life is immortal.

Nomina sunt consequentia rerum Names are the consequences of things.

The piece is dedicated to Vita, Erica and Robert Hewison.

Duration c. 10’
Dedication: Harmonia Trio
Instrumentation: clarinet, cello, piano

Note : Intermezzo (1998)

Intermezzo (1998)

This piece, for clarinet, cello and piano, was commissioned by the Italian group Harmonia and was written immediately after I finished writing the opera Doctor Ox's Experiment. The piece is extremely quiet throughout, going down to pppp at times and the tempo drops at one point a metronome marking of 30. It starts with an extended passage in unison and evolves into a kind of duet with passages modelled on the lieder of Hugo Wolf. It was written for a recording which would feature works of mine: The North Shore in the version for cello and piano, Allegrasco in the early version for clarinet and piano. Intermezzo, therefore, was designed to bring all three players together for the final piece of the album.

It is dedicated to Harmonia


Duration: 8’
Instrumentation: piano, strings (
First performance: Theatre de la Ville, Paris November 5th 2002 (for “Writings on Water”, dance by Carolyn Carlson)

Duration: 45’
Commissioned by the Tate Gallery Liverpool for its opening celebration.
Instrumentation: 2 cathedral organs, female choir, alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet,  percussion ( 4 players, see Percussion for details), 5 trombones, euphonium, 2 tubas.
Performed: Albert Dock, Liverpool, 24-26 May 1988.

Duration:  38’
Opera, (realisation of Tom Phillips' work)
No live performance (version made for recording: Obscure Records)

For electric guitar, viola, cello and double bass

Note : Gavin's note

Gavin's note

It Never Rains is a short piece written in the summer of 2010 that was commissioned by Jim Fox for the Californian label Cold Blue Music and is dedicated to them. The title comes from two sources: the Beach Boys song "It never rains in Southern California" and the English expression "It never rains but it pours" that is used whenever pressing matters arrive from all sides at the same time. It was written specifically for Jim to record, though the first live performance was by players in my own ensemble at a concert in Orléans, France in January 2011.