A visit to Birtwistle’s house

UPDATE: The Birtwistle Podcast is now available to hear and download.
Click here for an insight into one of Britain’s greatest modern composers.

As the London Sinfonietta’s new Digital Projects Intern, I am responsible for creating the majority of new audio and video content for our website. This work often takes me to far-flung, exotic locations in order to capture the magic on film or tape. In yesterday’s case, it swept me off to the tropical paradise of Wiltshire to interview a composer with a very long and fascinating history working with the London Sinfonietta: Sir Harrison Birtwistle.

Christoph Trestler, one of our board of directors who kindly lends us very expensive equipment to record with, joined me for the trip, as did his wife Marion, who documented it with numerous photos. At 10am we set off for the long drive through west London, down the M3, away from the hustle and bustle of city life and into the countryside.

The trip was punctuated by some unpleasant weather, followed by a very enjoyable trip to Stonehenge (for professional purposes, of course!) where the sky finally cleared, so we took photos and video footage. As some of you may know, Stonehenge and the nearby Silbury Hill (an equally mysterious man-made mound) have both inspired Birtwistle’s compositions in the past including ‘Silbury Air’ and ‘Ritual Fragment’.

We arrived in the village in the early afternoon where we met the interviewer, Sara Mohr-Pietsch, and took a light lunch at a very quaint little tea room next to the clock tower in the village square. Then it was on to Sir Harry’s house and down to business. He lives in a beautiful converted building, with a fantastically well designed and kept garden which contained, among other things, many different flowers, a water feature complete with carp, and of course the shed at the bottom of the garden where he composes the majority of his work.

Birtwistle was very kind and accommodating throughout our time there, allowing Christoph and I to film not just an interview but also footage of him composing, walking through his house and garden and various other shots, despite the fact that he was probably a bit tired having had his birthday celebrations the night before! Both he and Sara Mohr-Pietsch, who has only just joined us as the new voice of our upcoming podcast series, were wonderful to work with, and the interview was fascinating: Christoph, Marion and I all agreed we could have listened to them talk for hours.

All in all, not a bad day at the office, and there will be plenty for followers of the London Sinfonietta to enjoy as a result: expect an audio podcast of the interview very soon, followed by a video feature on Sir Harry later in the year!

Ben Saxon

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