Anthony Gilbert moved north from London in 1970, teaching composition at the Royal Northern College of Music from its inception in 1973, where he was Head of Composition and Contemporary Music until 1999. It was a time of extraordinary creative energy – in the first 10 years alone he created a highly acclaimed set of large scale works including Symphony, Ghost and Dream Dancing and two operas The Scene-Machine and The Chakravaka-Bird. Gilbert has been a central figure in the creative musical life of the city ever since and holds great affection for it and the musical and personal relationships he’s enjoyed there. It is with this affection that he has embarked on a new work to celebrate his adopted home, a new orchestral work which we hope will find a stage on its completion.
We asked the composer about how he’s going about celebrating his Mancunian life;
Well, I hope the piece won’t show ALL my feelings about Manchester, only the positive ones! And I certainly have very positive feelings about the RNCM – its policies in its first 30 years (when I taught there), the quality of its students in all disciplines, and of course the superb quality of the teaching there. And the contemporary Operas that were put on – By Britten, Crosse, Schoenberg – oh, the list go on & on . . . And I’m particularly indebted in all the above elements for the way, under the musical directorship of Tim Reynish and Clark Rundell, they brought together the College’s performing resources to create 2 superb CDs of my music for the NMC label in my final years there, at the highest professional standards. And the students who came under my supervision have, in so many cases, remained good, even close, friends, as well as making their way successfully in the profession in the ways I hoped they would (it’d be invidious to name them though). Each of those I taught responded well to my guidance, and so many of them graduated with Firsts!
As to Manchester itself;
The wonderful things I recall were, in chronological order: a nest of Peregrine Falcons on the roof of the building just outside my window!; some wonderful performances of 20th-century music by the Hallé and the BBC Philharmonic (or Northern Symphony Orchestra as they were first known); by the independent contemporary music set-up I was invited by its initiator Erica Seligman to be overall director of (New Music Forum), and by Dick Witts’s Normedia, which specialised in contemporary ‘music theatre’ woks. These forces, working in parallel, helped to build up the audiences for the new in Manchester to a breathtaking new level in the early 1980s. Soon after the latter two were abandoned due to slashed funding, a wonderful RNCM student initiative was set up, of an ensemble of more-or-less the same constitution as that required for Akanthos, a work by Xenakis. So, it was given that title, and I was invited to supervise it. And later on, in the professional world, the ensemble in its graduated form (for that year), adopted another Xenakis title, Psappha, by which is has become world-renowned.
And the piece?
I haven’t tried literally to celebrate these connections in the music, but my feelings will, I hope, come out in what I hope will be a deeply-felt piece in a ‘quasi-cyclic’ fashion. And if the piece gets commissioned and performed, I shall, well in advance of the date, circulate invitations to as many of my former students as I still have contact with, likewise former colleagues, all the friends I’ve made around the south of Manchester and north of Cheshire, as many of the co-composers linked with the various composer-associations I’m still with, and those of my family who can make it to Manchester. The work will be dedicated to Timothy Reynish as a small gesture of gratitude for all he has done for new music, and another piece will follow in due course, dedicated for the same reasons to Clark Rundell.
Other pieces have already been written by me in an overall gesture of deep respect and gratitude to the Founder-Principal of the RNCM, Sir John Manduell, CBE. I’m hoping that the most recent one will be given its premiére that same year, 2023.
We look forward to the completion of these works and their premieres. If you’d like to find out more, don’t hesitate to get in touch.