A Year of Sheltering

When the news of the pandemic became serious, in mid-March 2020, I experienced great anxiety, not just for my own survival, but particularly for that of all my friends and family. Their importance became to the front of my mind, and musical ideas came creeping in which I felt might express my great gratitude for such friendships and support over so many years – in the north west for half a century, in fact. 

I sat down and sketched, and by April the outlines of two orchestral pieces were already in my imagination.  These, I felt, would be tone-poems simply expressing my feelings, and would form their own structures.  The first, which I’m still working on, would have the title Liaison, a word which covered the development of my warm and friendly relationship with friends and colleagues, primarily musical, over those 50 years.  Then I realized that these were almost entirely part of my association with the Royal Northern College of Music, which began in 1973, so that half-century would only be reached in two years’ time from now, which explains why I’ve delayed the piece’s conclusion.  I do hope its dedicatee, my friend the distinguished conductor Timothy Reynish, won’t mind. Before mentioning the next piece, I should however explain another significance of Liaison’s title.  My ideas for it all suggested a curious combination of tonality and serialism, involving a tonal 12-tone row.   How naughty of me!


As I paused, the next piece came rushing in.  It would consist of strong melodic lines leading through difficult phases in its, hopefully, vibrant life, and crystallizes a technical approach which has run through all my creative work since it began eighty years ago, namely modality. So it’s called Lifelines. It’s now complete, and its dedicatee is another very great and supportive friend, conductor Clark Rundell.  Both of these conductors have given superb performances of my works for symphony orchestra and wind orchestra, and also, in Clark’s case, for chamber ensemble.  So gratitude is the underlying force.


But this wasn’t enough.  A much earlier tone-poem came to mind, which had been commissioned for the Manchester University orchestra in 1975.  I asked Schott London for a score, and immediately realized that this would blend in with the others.  Its title is Welkin, meaning an infinite skyline, and celebrates the wonderful feeling I had, on arriving in the open north-west from smelly south-west London, of landing on another planet.  Looking at the score forty-four years after it was written, I realized it needed a thorough work-over.  That too is now complete, and its dedicatee, in huge gratitude for all his support, is the late Sir John Manduell. 


For me the pandemic has been one of ideas.  To congratulate myself, on 1st April I put together a mad little dance for recorder and bells, celebrating the opening of spring and hope this year, called Tulip Dance, dedicated this time to another long-standing, supportive friend, recorderist John Turner.


                                                                                            Tony Gilbert