Revisiting the past
This month heralds the issue of a CD of my music through the generosity of the British Music Society, a now highly distinguished organization founded over 30 years ago specifically to promote interest in British music, and particularly that which is not heard as often as Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Delius and Britten.
The BMSrecording catalogue covers a wide range, but so far this is the first fully orchestral recording they have sponsored. They decided to issue my Cello Concerto played by the cellist to whom it is dedicated, Raphael Wallfisch, a short Fantasy Prelude for orchestra, and my first Symphony. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra was engaged for the recording sessions along with the eminent conductor David Lloyd-Jones, himself a vigorous champion of British music.
After I had recovered from the surprise of this proposed venture, my thoughts turned to feelings of apprehensive anxiety. That symphony had been written 40 years ago. Hearing it again undergoing detailed dissection (as must inevitably happen in extended orchestral rehearsals) and painstakingly put back together again, I feared it would not add up to anything that I still recognized.
It could be like hearing a replay of ancient speeches made at family functions full of embarrassing wisecracks and conceited youthful arrogance. Perhaps I should persuade them not to do it after all. These feelings can be major problems for someone who creates pieces of artwork. Once in print, or otherwise handed over to public scrutiny, used in a way that is out of the control of the work’s creator, nothing can be done to prevent performers re-creating it – in whatever way they choose. The work itself will represent many thoughts and feelings that have long passed, ideas that no longer interest its composer, technical processes that, with the experience of succeeding decades, might now be done much better. The emotional content, like an old photograph, doesn’t represent what we know as today’s feelings, and certainly not the inspiration that may well seize the spirit tomorrow.
However, it all went ahead through several cold wet Glasgow days last autumn, and I soon found myself amused to be admiring the audacity and energy of that young man long ago, taking risks with sounds that I may not now explore, having grown too careful in old age, jaded by the experience of the years between then and now into an autumnal mellowness that still dreams wild dreams but takes time to turn them into new sounds. For those who may now listen to these recordings, the past is the present. There is no public excusing for the passing years because the listeners know nothing of them. Like the wind that cannot read instructions not to damage the blossoms, it is useless for me to protest that I am not like that now.
If I am lucky, they will hear and even enjoy what was then as if it is current, and not know for many months or perhaps years what I am doing now!