Having previously performed Tom Coult’s whimsical Enmîmés sont les gougebosqueux, Manchester’s specialist new music ensemble Psappha commissioned a new work, Two Games and a Nocturne, from him for its 25th anniversary season. Supported by the Britten-Pears Foundation and the Ernst von Siemens Muzikstiftung, the 11-minute piece for flute, clarinet, percussion, piano, violin and cello was premiered in Manchester in February and will soon be available to watch online on the Psappha website.
The first two movements (the ‘games’) have a sense of play – the first alternating skittish piano solos (involving a sophisticated combination of normal playing alongside strumming the strings) with moments of absolute stasis, before the whole ensemble joins in what Coult described as a ‘bluesy, insectoid jamboree’. In the second game, an initially ominous trudge in marimba and piano is incrementally disrupted and sped up to become a fast and volatile rush to the finish. The nocturne that ends the piece is more sombre, its spacious atmosphere recalling the last of Coult’s Études for solo violin. Chiming octaves in the glockenspiel and piano are surrounded by gently swaying chords and astringent contributions from piccolo, as the music drifts towards its conclusion.
Coult has been continuing to develop a chamber opera with the award-winning young playwright Alice Birch as part of their Jerwood Opera Writing Fellowship supported by Aldeburgh Music. Aldeburgh has been providing the pair with two years of support in the form of bursaries, workshops, mentoring and showcases as they develop their project. Birch’s recent work includes Ophelia’s Zimmer, a co-production between London’s Royal Court Theatre and the Schaubühne Theater Berlin directed by Katie Mitchell. Other projects include a work for the Arditti Quartet to be premiered at London’s Purcell Room in May 2018.