On 6 June players from the BBC Philharmonic premiered Ryley’s Ramble by Tom Coult at the Whitworth Art Gallery to open the Manchester Histories Festival 2024. The 9-minute work for flute, bass clarinet, violin and cello was commissioned by Manchester Histories for the 200th anniversary of the University of Manchester, where Coult studied as an undergraduate. 

The musical prompt for Ryley’s Ramble came from the bawdy broadside ballads of the early- and mid-19th century – printed on cheap paper and sung with lusty vigour by street vendors by way of advertisement. The songs usually concerned local or national news, fictional heroes, love, and the lascivious and seedy corners of Manchester. Others were satirical or polemical – referencing factory conditions or trade unionism, or events such as the Peterloo massacre, the Cotton Famine, or the great flood of 1872.

Ryley’s Ramble, or: the Humours of Manchester Races was one such song – it mentions a number of Manchester pubs, some of which remain there to this day. Coult writes of the work,  

The song’s melody forms the backbone of this piece – a ‘theme and variations’ of sorts, or perhaps a particularly unfaithful cover version. Like the University has, the melody goes through many transformations, landscapes and forms. Though the piece sounds perhaps a little sadder than I had intended when I started, it forms some kind of love letter to the city where I decided to become a composer.

Coult’s composer-in-residence position with the BBC Philharmonic continues until the end of the 2025 season. In 2023 they premiered Coult’s Three Pieces that Disappear, conducted by Nicholas Collon, and After Lassus for soprano and orchestra with Anna Dennis and Andrew Gourlay, as part of a curated programme alongside his orchestrations of Robert Schumann’s Studies in Canonic Form and his song cycle Beautiful Caged Thing. Coult also created reworkings of music CorelliTartini, and Biber for the orchestra and Daniel Pioro, who premiered new works for violin and voices at this year’s Aldeburgh Festival on 10 June.

June also saw a performance of his debut chamber opera Violet in Paris – a reprise of the French premiere production by director Jacques Osinski and L'Aurore Boréale. Bianca Chillemi conducted Ensemble Maja in the 85-minute score for 13 instrumentalists.