Norwich premiere for Twitter inspired collaboration between Patrick Hawes and Emma Johnson
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Norfolk composer Patrick Hawes is much in demand working on everything from albums with Blur's Alex James to a Great War Symphony. Now a concerto he wrote with renowned clarinettist Emma Johnson is to be premiered.
Social media was the unlikely origin for a musical collaboration between Norfolk composer Patrick Hawes and world renowned clarinettist Emma Johnson that is set for its world premiere performance in Norwich.
The pair worked on a clarinet concerto, which the acclaimed composer wrote especially for Emma and which appears on her latest album An English Fantasy, after first coming into contact on Twitter.
'It was on New Year's Eve 2014 and there were various tweets wishing people happy New Year and all of a sudden I had Emma's Twitter address,' explains Patrick.
'I have always really admired her because when she won Young Musician of the Year back in the mid-1980s it was a big thing and I remember thinking she was amazing. I used to buy all her CDs and never believed in a million years I'd work with her. So I just tweeted her saying I'd always admired her and how about a concerto?
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'Two minutes later she sent one back saying 'how marvellous, let's do it'. She had heard of me because her husband Chris had played double bass on my debut album, Blue in Blue, back in 2002.
'About a week later we met up in London and she said she was recording an album at the end of 2015 with the BBC Concert Orchestra. We were thinking of a commission fee, because its a lot of work for a composer, but I said forget all that. If she'd record it, I'd write it.'
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Now the piece is to gets its performance premiere when Emma performs with the Academy of St Thomas at St Andrew's Hall in Norwich on March 12 on a programme that also includes Ravel Le tombeau de Couperin and Dvorak Slavonic Dances.
Patrick, who moved to the Norfolk Broads just over a decade ago for the 'peace and silence' and who is one of the country's most popular and inspirational new composers, will be amongst the audience, nervously listening to hear how his composition comes to life.
'I don't always find it an easy experience, especially if I'm not conducting,' he says of attending premiere performances. 'It is easier if I am conducting but it is that sense of letting go. I suppose it is like what a parent feels when their child reaches late adolescence.'
Though he has never worked with the Academy of St Thomas, he is happy to entrust the live debut of his work to the local performers.
'I hear that they have a good reputation locally,' he says. 'I'm hoping that they will do a really good job of this new piece because a premiere is important. Though the music has been recorded and we've heard what it sounds like, in a way the music is only really ever born when it has got an audience. I'm going to be interested to see how the audience responds and whether they warm to it in a live situation.'
The concerto is very much in the English romantic music tradition and Johnson soars with ease in the gorgeous Sarabande, delicately scored and really rather haunting. The purposeful march for the finale ends with a sustained top C, pulled off with aplomb.
'I think Emma knew I would write something in the English romantic tradition because that is the kind of tradition I'm set into to,' said Patrick. 'That is where I am as a composer, following in the footsteps of Vaughan Williams particularly. I do think that the inclusion of my piece helped to lead to the album's title [An English Fantasy] because I think my concerto is the probably the most English on there. The Will Todd concerto and the John Dankworth piece are very jazz influenced.'
Patrick is used to collaborating and after years of listening to Emma's work from afar he was able to tailor the piece to her musical personality.
'It wasn't difficult,' he says. 'I wrote for the instrumentalist I'd heard for so many years. I wrote a piece that I thought would suit her as a musical personality. I started with the slow movement, the Sarabande, which is very feminine. As I finished each section I sent it to her and she made a few comments about the range of the instrument, may be to tweak the odd note or phrase. But when I'd finished it in a rough state I visited her house in South London and I played the piano and she played through it. Then I made it a few more alterations. But she genuinely seemed thrilled with it.'
Born in Lincolnshire, Patrick read music as an organ scholar at Durham University, and soon went on to make an impact in the world of choral music with his cantata The Wedding at Cana. It was with the release of his debut album, Blue in Blue, however, that Patrick first gained widespread public recognition. It was nominated for a Classical Brit award and was voted by Classic FM listeners as the fastest ever and highest new entry into the station's Hall of Fame. He is best known for writing the Highgrove Suite for the Prince of Wales, for being a Composer in Residence for Classic FM and for the his number one album, Angel.
He is much in demand as a composer, conductor, organist and pianist and Emma Johnson's concerto is just one of numerous projects he is juggling. He has just released Revelation, an album of 22 brand new choral works including a collection of nine pieces based on text from the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation.
'This is the first of my albums that have been released internationally, particularly in America,' he explains. 'I'm going to a choral convention this month in Minneapolis to promote it. But it has also had some interest over here too. I'm going to be a guest on Clare Balding's radio programme on Easter Sunday to talk about it and there has been some interest from Songs of Praise to feature it later in the year. I'm hoping that these sorts of things will get it to the attention of the choral world.'
A more unusual collaboration has been with Alex James, bassist with Blur, with whom he is working on an ongoing project to do a series of classical crossover albums.
'I take and arrange various well known classical themes and include a part for bass guitar which gives them a kind of contemporary feel. I've also done a Christmas album with him, one of uplifting classics and we're about to do one of chilled classics.'
Describing what it is like when the classical world meets the rock world, he says: 'We record at his house in Oxfordshire where he has got his own studio and his own cocktail bar so we always have a great celebration after the recording. He is great host and he provides me with lots of his cheese, which he makes and which is fantastic.'
He is also working with Sarah Brightman with one of his instrumental pieces being chosen to be on her new album, to be recorded at Abbey Road in May, with added lyrics.
'Her manager approached and said they loved again one of the tracks from that first album, Blue in Blue, a piece called Pavane, and would they mind if they mind if they approached someone to put words to it. I think the lyricist has worked with Disney but I've haven't seen the words so far.'
By far his biggest on-going project though is a Great War Symphony he is currently composing that is set to be featured in next year's events marking the centenary of the end of the First World War.
'This is my biggest project to date,' he explains of the prestigious project. 'It is going to be an official event at the Royal Albert Hall on October 9, 2018. This will be the first time that I've had work performed in the Albert Hall which is very exciting. It is going to be quite a big deal with some very important guests.
'I'm in the middle of the work at the moment. I'm hoping to have it finished by the end of 2017 and we have received funding to make a recording early next year, so that Classic FM can play some of the symphony in the run up to the premiere.'
• Emma Johnson and Academy of St Thomas will perform at St Andrew's Hall, Norwich, on March 12, 3pm, £17-£11 (£16-£11 cons), £5 students/under-16s, 01603 628319, www.academyofstthomas.com• Emma's album An English Fantasy and Patrick's new album Revelation are both out now