We explore partnerships old and new in Duets in a Frame on Wednesday 1 June, with our 22nd commission from Sir Harrison Birtwistle and very first from the promising young voice of Tom Coult.

Ahead of the world premiere of Spirit of the Staircase, Tom has put together a playlist reflecting our theme of past and present:


For my ‘old’ music, a piece each from my five desert island composers. Maybe what links these pieces is their boundless energy and vivacity… the sense that the composers (sometimes against the prevailing winds of their musical cultures) were taking great pleasure in creating fizzy, bubbling, ebullient musical pleasure-palaces. As in The Wizard of Oz, when suddenly we leave monochrome Kansas and arrive in the sensuous world of technicolour.

W.A. Mozart The Magic Flute

Maurice Ravel Ma mère l’oye

György Ligeti Piano Concerto

Igor Stravinsky Dumbarton Oaks

J.S. Bach Brandenburg Concertos


For my ‘new’ music, I’ve picked pieces by five fantastic composers of broadly similar age to myself. They all seem to have something in common that appeals to me – an absolute single-minded focus and clarity. The musical ideas in these pieces are incredibly simple and direct, but any suggestion of naïvety is counteracted by the sophistication of their finely-tuned inner ears, so that the music has a refined, colourful and imaginative surface.

Christian Mason Learning Self Modulation

Naomi Pinnock String Quartet No. 2

Edmund Finnis Seeing is Flux

Seeing is Flux

Samantha Fernando Look Up

Arne Gieshoff Umschreibung

As a postscript to my ‘new’ music – a piece from my former teacher Camden Reeves, to whom my Spirit of the Staircase is dedicated. Many very fine composers since the 1960s have struggled to impose their personal compositional voice on the difficult medium of solo piano music, but I think Camden has written a rather distinctive and striking piece here. Again, there’s a clarity of idea – 18 movements are linked by a focus on ascending lines and acceleration – that nevertheless allows for a great variety in invention. The six mensuration canons within the piece also link with a number of favourite pieces of mine – many of Nancarrow’s Studies for Player Piano, George Benjamin’s Shadowlines, Hans Abrahamsen’s Schnee and Unsuk Chin’s Miroirs des temps – in finding an idiosyncratic (perhaps occasionally contrary) approach to writing canons in modern times.

Camden Reeves Lucifer’s Dynamo


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