Sounds New Festival and Matthew Brown

May 1, 2014

On Wednesday 7th May, we will be performing some new works by Aidan and local composer Matthew Brown, written especially for Arlet musicians and the Leon String Quartet. The premiere is a Free Range event, as part of this year’s Sounds New festival which champions contemporary and experimental music making.

Aidan has composed a new work for string quartet and clarinet titled Fade to Green, to be performed by the Leon String Quartet and Owen Hewson. Matt has composed Concord of Sounds for Arlet and the Leon String Quartet.

Matt studied music at Christ Church University in Canterbury, before going on to post graduate studies in composition at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Matt now lives and works in Canterbury. He is the violist for the Leon String Quartet, but has taken the role of conductor for his new work, Concord of Sounds. In the pub one evening after rehearsals had finished, Owen started asking Matt a few questions…

1) So Matt, how are you enjoying the project so far?

I really am enjoying it enormously! It is wonderful for Aidan and myself to see our compositional ideas realised by such good friends and players. Aidan and I have encouraged each other to write sensitively and originally for my string quartet and for Arlet to play at our concert in the Sounds New Contemporary Music Festival. Our players include two of my friends from A level music and from my quartet whom I met at University. I am also very pleased to have invited my friend and violist, Paul Beckett, who recently played in Three Illusions of Peganam Hamarla for solo viola and orchestra, to play viola in my composition so that I can conduct the two ensembles.

2) ‘Concord of Sounds’ is a very substantial work of chamber music, about 15 minutes in length. When writing it, how much was it already sketched out in your head?

The beginning and end were already in my head before I started writing it. After I began, it was a case of working out progressively more detail to put in the middle. Initially, I knew that I wanted many changes of key and tempo. I also knew that I wanted a narrow selection of Aidan’s accordion writing and playing styles to be my starting point, and for all other instruments to join in at the beginning one after the other as a kind of extension of the initial sound world. On the other hand, I didn’t expect to start writing for each instrument in quite the way I did in the end. As the listener might gather further into the ‘middle’ of the piece, I have written some contrasting musical material for each player: sometimes aggressive, occasionally sinister, but often quite sweet and even romantic in style. Much of this, I hadn’t anticipated when I started, but rather discovered it within my rough structural plan.

3) A big part of this commission for both Aidan and yourself was having the opportunity to challenge yourselves as composers. Aidan has never written for a string quartet before. What challenges were you presented with as a composer?

The main two challenges for me was writing for accordion for the first time, and for the combination of instruments in Arlet – Accordion, Clarinet, Violin, Euphonium, and Guitar – a combination that I would not previously have thought to write for until the band had formed. Also, I wanted to achieve a strong sense of style that wouldn’t be linked directly to one specific existing genre. This meant it was especially important that I considered all instruments of Arlet and the Leon Quartet equally and didn’t favour one or other of them, hence avoiding associating the piece with the better known trends of just one instrument. Instead, I ignored my previous treatment of those instruments I had already written for in the past, and remembered that they were going to play a new piece together and how special that was as a notion. It felt important to capture the rapidly developing sounds or ‘fingerprints’ of Arlet and the Leon Quartet and echo at least some of them, but also create a new combined ‘sound’ that would seem a little bizarre and yet work well in a concert of new music. I was also aware of another significant challenge, which was that I had to make sure that I did not write a piece for Arlet accompanied by String Quartet, or vice versa, so I managed instrumental parts belonging to the two existing in as many different ways as I sensibly could within one piece of music, often by trying unusual pairings to play a melody (e.g: solo viola and accordion) or by passing musical material from one player or group of players to another within a few seconds.

4) There are a wide variety of musical backgrounds in this 9-piece ensemble, from classical to folk to jazz. How much did this have an impact on the composition?

The instrumental parts that I have written are very much tailored to each player’s playing style, but they are designed to challenge each player a bit as well. That is to say, I have given each player musical material to play that reminds me of the way I have heard them play in the past, but I have also given them contrasting styles of rhythm and melody that may or may not be new to them. It is safe to say that no two players in the group play in the same way, or have identical stylistic preferences. Therefore, I rarely ask all players to play one block chord together, except at the end of the piece, where I make a special point of doing so to provide a final sense of union!

5) What music are you enjoying listening to at the moment?

Honestly, I very much enjoy listening to the late symphonies of Tchaikovsky, Mahler and Bruckner, the Piano Quartet by Howells, Beethoven’s String Quartet in C sharp minor Op. 131, the sextets and piano quintets by Brahms, the latest album release by the Punch Brothers, Ahoy! EP and most especially: Edinburgh Fringe and The Woodturner by Arlet!

6) What’s next on the horizon for you and the Leon Quartet?

We are next going to play a concert of Haydn, Strauss, Webern and a new work of mine in the Deal Festival in July, and in October we will be joined by the cellist, Emily Rossiter, to play Schubert’s String Quintet in C at the Church of St Mary and St Eanswythe in Folkestone.

The Concert takes place at Mrs Jones’ Kitchen (60-61 Palace Street, Canterbury)
May 7th (Wednesday).
Start time 21.30.
Free entry.


photo: Karen Jolliffe, Mike Bacon, Matthew Brown, Kammy Pike (from left to right)