Seán Clancy: 45 Minutes of Music on the Subject of Football

Seán Clancy was born in Dublin and educated at Birmingham Conservatoire, King’s College London, University College Dublin and the Ecole Nationale de Musique. He is now a Lecturer in Composition at Birmingham Conservatoire and his work has been comissioned and performed by many of the world’s leading ensembles including the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, BCMG, Ensemble Krock and Orkest de Ereprijs.

To celebrate the release of Seán Clancy’s new full length album, 45 Minutes of Music on the Subject of Football with Birmingham Record Company we caught up with the composer to ask him about the origins of this interesting new work.

How did this composition come about? Was it composed for a specific event? And why now?

‘Around the summer of 2013 I became increasing interested in pieces that only had one overt action. Around the same time, I also got involved in studying different forms of attention spans and discovered that over the course of the past 20 years or so, the average attention span on a singular activity has diminished from 40 minutes to just 2 minutes! I got to thinking about structures in popular culture, and how they can sustain attention for longer periods of time. Football being an obvious choice for me, has the ability to sustain attention for 45 minutes at a time (focus is reset at half-time with adverts, analysis etc.) and I wanted to see if there was anything intrinsic to a football match that made it so, or do we focus on a sporting event because of the extrinsic elements (the team that we support, do we have a bet on etc. etc.)

It was composed with Ensemble Krock in mind, who were brave enough to commit to the project without me showing them anything, and it has been performed live a number of times throughout 2014 and 2015 in Birmingham, Dublin, and Stockholm. The recording is released now, owing to fine tuning every aspect of the recording which for a 45 minutes piece, takes a considerable length of time!’

Ray Houghton celebrates scoring the winner against Italy in the 1994 World Cup

What is it about this game in particular that inspired you to write this piece?

‘I have particularly fond memories of this match. The Irish football team in the 1990s were relatively successful and there was generally a sense of positivity around the country when they played. This was our opening match of the 1994 world cup and the country was so excited. After Ray Houghton‘s goal around 11 minutes however, the match very much ran out of steam, and I was fascinated at how an entire country could sit around and watch something so uneventful. I wanted to see if I could write something that kept people focused for the same length of time by using the flow, or the structure of this relatively uneventful match.’

You mention that the piece celebrates that particular 1994 match, but also “the average attention span on a singular activity has diminished from 40 minutes to just 2 minutes”. Can you talk a little bit more about why you think that is?

‘Yes, as I mentioned above, around the time I was composing this piece I began studying different forms of attention spans and was fascinated (if a little shocked) to learn that over the course of about 20 years, the average attention span for a singular activity has dropped from around 40 minutes to 2 minutes. This roughly correlates with greater access to the internet and maybe people consuming more information in much smaller chunks. As artists, we can either use this data and go along with it, which leads to interesting results, or we can also ask questions; again, leading to interesting results. There’s no right or wrong attitude, but I think it’s important for people to be aware of both sides of the coin. This piece I think, airs on the side of asking questions…’

At the risk of sounding naïve, how do you translate the physical actions of a football match in to a 45 minute piece of music? Are there exact points where we could say, “ah yes, that sound was that goal, or that moment was that tackle” and so on?

‘It’s not naïve at all! I sat down and watched the entire match and wrote out the duration that each team had possession. For example Ireland: 0’00” – 0’38”, Italy 0’38” – 1’07” etc, etc. I then had two blocks of sketch material which I composed the music from (one block for Ireland, the other for Italy). Every time Ireland had possession I used block A, whilst every time Italy had possession I used block B. This happens for the whole duration of the first half with significant events (Ray Houghton’s goal for example) punctuated in some way. The tempo of the piece loosely correlates to the tempo of the match also. It’s almost like composing a musical soundtrack to a silent film or to put it another way, it creates an alternative existence for a structure that occurred through chance in 1994…’

What made you chose a guitar quartet or Ensemble Krock for that matter?

‘I wanted to have a relatively homogenous sound for a piece that asks questions about focus and attention, and a guitar quartet is possibly as homogenous a sound as you can get (They are all tuned the same and all occupy the same register). However, as Krock are an electric guitar quartet you also have the ability to radically change sounds at your will. (The best of both worlds). On a more biographical note, all I listened to in the mid 90s (even though I was quite young) was Nirvana, Sonic Youth and The Smashing Pumpkins. As this is a piece set in the 90s, I wanted to capture some aspect of that soundworld, and the electric guitar quartet is the perfect medium for that.’

What is it like working on a project with such strong collaborators as Krock and John Murphy? Does it add anything special to the final product knowing that as a group you have shaped and created something unique?

‘Yes, it makes it far more special. Krock were absolute legends throughout the whole process. We met in 2013 when they were over from Stockholm doing a composition department project. We immediately hit it off and shared many interests and a similar working method. I had the opportunity to test the electronics for the piece in EMS in Stockholm in early 2014 and this really allowed us to craft the overall soundworld of the piece and not just the notes. Similarly, John Murphy runs a fantastic studio in Dublin where he has recorded the best underground and leftfield music around. He has a fantastic pair of ears and is such a perfectionist with an acute attention to detail. He is also remarkably kind with his time and was always willing to entertain my tiny suggestions and my constant ‘it’s not quite right, maybe a little more of this’ which lasted almost a year. Knowing the people you’re involved with, liking them, trusting them and having the time to explore all avenues has led to a very rewarding experience and a piece that I’m incredibly happy with. I am eternally grateful to all of them and am forever in their debt.’

You’ve mentioned somewhere that ‘nothing else of note took place and the second half was completely devoid of physical drama.’ …but what about John Aldridge and Jack Charlton’s bust up with the illuminous yellow baseball capped FIFA official? Surely that incident warrants a piece of its own?

‘Ah that was the match against Mexico! I know you’re just testing my football knowledge now!’

Haha! So then, what is next for you?

Upcoming things I’m involved in:

Featured Composer in Soundings at the Austrian Cultural Forum London, 2-5 November 2015.

Currently writing commissions for Crash Ensemble and a joint large scale piece for Ensemble Krock and Workers Union Ensemble (Whom I’m composer in association with) to be toured in Spring 2016.


Release of solo electronic music in early 2016 (Birmingham Record Company).

You can read and hear more of Seán’s work on his website or head over to the Birmingham Record Company to see what Seán and other Birmingham Composers are up to.

Julian Lloyd Webber’s picks for the season ahead…

Welcome to another great season of performances at Birmingham Conservatoire!

This is my first term as Principal and I am well aware how good past seasons have been and how many of the world’s greatest musicians have worked and performed here. This autumn’s programme continues that tradition.

Birmingham Conservatoire Principal, Julian Lloyd Webber. Photo credit: John Millar.

Birmingham Conservatoire Principal, Julian Lloyd Webber. Photo credit: John Millar.

As usual our visiting musicians cover the spectrum of today’s music scene. Classical music is superbly represented by the likes of world-renowned violinist Tasmin Little, legendary fortepianist Robert Levin and a complete series of all of Brahms’s chamber works involving piano.

Cover of Birmingham Conservatories Autumn Concert Diary

What’s on this autumn at Birmingham Conservatoire

There is a bonanza for organists in Organfest, and there are great days out for string players, saxophonists, guitarists and for all brass players when the London Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Trumpet, Philip Cobb pays us a visit.

Our percussion department also comes to the fore with a lunch-time performance of Steve Reich’s landmark composition, Drumming. There is plenty of jazz, world and contemporary music, of course, our regular series of lunchtime recitals given by our most outstanding students.

And let’s not forget the two marvellous programmes of British music by the Conservatoire’s Symphony Orchestra including a rare performance of Malcolm Arnold’s Concerto for Two Violins and Strings.

Truly there is something for everyone and I urge you to look closely at the programme
for yourselves in case I have missed out your own particular favourite.

Julian Lloyd Webber
Birmingham Conservatoire

National Youth Wind Orchestra: An important national institution

On Saturday 8 August, the National Youth Wind Orchestra come to the Adrian Boult Hall. Fresh from their residential course in Oxfordshire, the orchestra will showcase their hard work over the previous week and aim to spread the word about the benefits of high-quality music making for young people. We caught up with Leonie Minty, a member of the NYWO team to get to know the orchestra a little better and to hear her views on the importance of music courses like this one.

National Youth Wind Orchestra

What is the age range of the orchestra and how does this effect the dynamic of the group?

There are approximately 70 young musicians in the orchestra aged 14-21. The spread of ages is great, because the younger musicians have the benefit of learning from the experience of the older ones who in turn either take on mentoring roles or often find that they actually have a lot to learn from the younger ones whose experiences have been different. It’s a real collaboration of shared experience. Each musician brings something unique to the table. The one thing that can be said about NYWO’s age range is that there is an energy and vibrancy in the sound that the orchestra produces that I believe is unrivalled by other wind orchestras in the country, if not the world.

This is a truly national orchestra, how far do musicians travel to be in the orchestra?

NYWO’s young musicians come from all over the UK. We have people from Cornwall, Perth in Scotland, Wales, East Sussex to the Northwest – all over the country. The young musicians come together to create some wonderful music, develop their musical skills and make (what often turn out to be) life-long friendships. One of the young musicians said to me yesterday that “NYWO is home” and it’s certainly does have that family-feel that is so conducive to learning, growing and developing, not just musically, but socially too and the geographic diversity is a valuable trait of this organisation.

How often do you meet in the year?

The NYWO meet twice a year for residential courses lasting approximately 9 days at stunning locations with excellent facilities, NYWO’s young musicians have the opportunity to work with internationally renowned conductors, soloists, tutors and composers. This week, the orchestra have been rehearsing in Oxfordshire and will perform in Birmingham and London at the weekend.

They surely can’t be playing all day, every day? What do the musicians do to relax after a hard day of playing?

Whilst NYWO offers an intensive rehearsal schedule, we also believe the social aspect to be vitally important to the development and well-being of the young musicians. We therefore put on a variety of social events and activities. This course for example – we are currently 5 days into NYWO’s Summer residential course – the young musicians have had the opportunity to take part in rounders, bowling, swimming, football, bing and film night which members of NYWO have enjoyed outside rehearsals.

When they aren’t splashing around in the pool, or chasing after a football what sort of music do they play?

The orchestra covers an extensive and challenging range of repertoire from traditional wind classics and orchestral transcriptions, to arrangements of film score favourites. The players regularly work closely with contemporary composers to perform new works and commissions which frequently attract world-class soloists to perform with the orchestra, so the repertoire is carefully selected to best serve the beneficiaries to expand their musical horizons and expose them to music that will challenge and inspire them and the audiences that come to listen to the concerts. So, this week, the young musicians are working hard on works including Sparke’s A Savannah Symphony, Saint-Saëns’ Occident and Orient and Maslanka’s Give Us This Day.

Who do you have coming in to coach the musicians, and how beneficial do they find being mentored by these people?

In addition to the conductor, ‘instrument specific’ professional musicians featuring names such as Adrian Spillett (CBSO Section Leader and Head of Percussion, Birmingham Conservatoire) to tutor the respective sections of the orchestra on interesting and challenging repertoire and give master classes. British composer, Kit Turnbull will be working with the orchestra on the course this week. The calibre of conductor and tutors coaching the young musicians will positively impact on the opportunity, learning and musical advancement outcomes that are transformative for young musicians’ lives.

How did it all begin for the NYWO?

NYWO was established as a charity in 1986 by Stephen Dodgson, Leonard Salzedo, Andrew McGavin and Robert Montgomery. The orchestra was originally named the British Youth Wind Orchestra when it was first founded in 1968 by founder and clarinettist Eric McGavin.

How important is the NYWO course for these young musicians?

NYWO courses provide opportunities to young musicians to meet and work with like-minded people from all over the country. The opportunities for professional networking in the music industry and playing at such a high level is what young musicians are looking for and what NYWO courses provide. By creating an inspiring environment, NYWO can unlock the potential and develop the talent of the UK’s young musicians to become the next generation of professional musicians.

How important is this level of music education for young musicians and what about NYWO is so special to them?

Access to high quality tuition requires the services of first-rate professional musicians. NYWO recognises the financial and logistical challenges that face the young musicians (80% of whom are school children from a variety of backgrounds) seeking musical tuition that will inspire them. NYWO provides young musicians with an opportunity to access high-quality tuition and NYWO is therefore invaluable in benefitting the UK’s young musicians. What also makes NYWO special is its ability to help the young musicians produce results to which they aspire. Ultimately, access to the very best tuition, in conjunction with professional networks and performance opportunities, the UK’s young musicians can develop their musical skills in an environment that inspires them: This is what NYWO does. NYWO is also one of the very few organisations to encourage conservatoire students to join.

What can be done to further promote music education to more children and how does NYWO feed in to that?

We are delighted that NYWO is set to share some incredible music, played at a very high standard, with Birmingham this Saturday. It is important for national organisations to reach cities like Birmingham, in terms of inspiring both potential orchestral members and audiences and promoting music education. This August sees NYWO address these challenges and, in the process, put on a wonderful music event.

What can people do if they are interested in joining NYWO?

Anyone interested in joining NYWO would be welcome to come along to a NYWO concert to listen to the orchestra. I’ve been sitting in the orchestra’s rehearsals and they are already sounding fantastic so I have high expectations for an exceptional performance at Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham at 7.30pm on Saturday 8th August. Another thing to do would be to check out the NYWO website for details on how to join NYWO.

You can follow NYWO on twitter: @NYWOGB. They are also on Facebook: The National Youth Wind Orchestra of Great Britain (Official).

Tickets and booking information are available here.

British Piano Festival – Final Concert

Tonight, here the final concert of the British Piano Festival 2015 in the Adrian Boult Hall.

“I’m performing the Piano Sonata by writer and critic Robert Matthew-Walker, which is inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ – a real find amongst contemporary scores, combining high seriousness with accessibility.” – Mark Bebbington


 “Although the emotional content is clear, and the work is full of broad, dramatic gestures, the Sonata is also, in so far as any piece of music can be, a metaphysical work in which certain events occur causing changes of quite distinctive character, and yet which, at a deeper level, are joined (rather than unified) by a constant pulse and its multiples, and by a linking tonal thread.  Further than this I am not prepared to say.” – Robert Matthew-Walker, on his ‘Hamlet’ Sonata

“The Birmingham Conservatoire has regularly hosted festivals of British Music, the most recent being our Delius and Ireland Festival. Our students, from all over the world, are embracing this repertoire, which is exciting for those of us who love it so much” – John Thwaites

Pianist Rebeca Omordia

Rebeca Omordia will be performing three pieces by William Lloyd Webber, the father of Julian Lloyd Webber, the new Principal of Birmingham Conservatoire.

William Lloyd Webber (1914-1982)

Three Spring Miniatures: i. Gossamer (A Little Waltz) ii. Willow Song (A lament) iii. Tree Tops (A Toccatina)

William Lloyd Webber was born in London in 1914 and had the conventional early career of an English musician of his time. He inherited from his father a love of the organ and church music. He won a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music (he was then William Webber, but as there was already another student at the college with the same name, he inserted his second name, Lloyd, which has remained – and gained some fame). Lloyd Webber studied under Ralph Vaughan Williams, becoming an organist and choirmaster in London at All Saints, and later moving to Westminster Central Hall. Parallel to his activity as an organist, he composed vocal, instrumental, organ, orchestral and chamber music.

However, views on how contemporary music ought to be written were changing and Lloyd Webber, who continued to be influenced by composers from previous decades, felt himself to be out of step with the current fashion. He virtually stopped composing for a period of time and spent most of the time teaching at the Royal College of Music and directing the choir at Central Hall, Westminster. In 1964, he became Director of the London College of Music; a post he held until his death in 1982.

Today’s critics, when reviewing recordings of Lloyd Webber’s music, have expressed their admiration for “a composer of distinctive quality who could rise to ecstatic heights”.

William Lloyd Webber was the father of composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and cellist Julian Lloyd Webber.

Three Spring Miniatures (1952) for piano, also orchestrated for small orchestra, are three contrasting miniatures that contain a variety of textures and voicings.

John Ireland – The Scarlet Ceremonies, from ‘Decorations’. Performed by Rebeca Omordia

The title of The Scarlet Ceremonies derives from a short story, The White People, contained within the novel The House of Souls by Arthur Machen, a writer who exercised a profound influence on Ireland. The quotation from the novel at the head of the score reads:

‘Then there are the Ceremonies, which are all of them important, but some of them are more delightful than others – there are White Ceremonies, and the Green Ceremonies, and the Scarlet Ceremonies.  The Scarlet Ceremonies are the best.’

Pianist Eric Parkin rated this piece as the most technically challenging of all Ireland’s piano works.

John Ireland – The Island Spell, from ‘Decorations’

The Manuscript is dated ‘Fauvic, Jersey: August 1912’ and its atmospheric sonorities and shifting harmonies reflect the influence upon Ireland of the music of Debussy and Ravel coming on top of Liszt and Chopin. Gerald Abraham wrote of the piece that ‘it would be difficult to find a better example of pure pianistic impressionism’.

Ireland prefaces the score with a quotation from a poem by Arthur Symons, In the Wood of Finvara:

   ‘I would wash the dust of the world in a soft green flood

   Here, between sea and sea, in the fairy wood,

   I have found a delicate, wave-green solitude…’

John Ireland – Sarnia: An Island Sequence – Performed by Sofia Sarmento

  1. Le Catioroc ii. In a May Morning iii. Song of the Springtides

Sarnia is generally regarded as one of Ireland’s masterpieces of piano writing. His music is often described as ‘English impressionism’.

Link to Sofia Sarmento’s YouTube extract of this work as she will be performing it (any of the three extracts on there).

The English composer John Ireland belonged to that remarkable group of composers who emerged from their studies at the Royal College of Music at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Ireland became famous for his piano music, chamber music and songs and he developed a musical language less indebted to folksong and more influenced by the works of French composers such as Fauré, Debussy and Ravel. His music is often described as ‘English impressionism’.

His first visits were to Jersey, where he wrote his famous piano piece ‘The Island Spell’ (also being performed but not sure who by) and the orchestral tone poem ‘The Forgotten Rite’. During the 1930’s he often visited Guernsey and in 1939 spent a happy year as a tenant of Fort Saumarez at L’Erée. He also took up an appointment as organist at St. Stephen’s Church in St Peter Port. After the fall of France, when the Channel Islands were left defenceless, Ireland had to abandon his plan to stay in Guernsey, drop everything and leave on one of the last boats to the mainland before the Nazi invasion. One of the works he was writing at that time was ‘Sarnia’ – the Roman name for Guernsey ‐ a three movement work for piano inspired by his responses to different aspects of his beloved island.

‘Le Catioroc’ is a stretch of coast near where Ireland was living at Fort Saumarez. Ireland responded to places where he could sense the presence of pagan, pre‐Christian communities and legends, hence the brooding opening of the piece and the gradual build up towards a climax of wild Bacchanalian revelry.

‘In a May Morning’ was inspired by a beautiful May day when Ireland had moved from Fort Saumarez to Birnam Court Hotel near St Stephen’s.

The third piece, ‘Song of the Springtides’, is an evocation of the wild seascapes Ireland enjoyed so much on his island visits.

Back in England, Ireland completed Sarnia in 1941 and it was first performed by Clifford Curzon at the Wigmore Hall on 29 November the same year. It is generally regarded as one of Ireland’s masterpieces of piano writing.

Ian Venables

Three Pieces for Violin and Piano Op.11

The first works to be written by the composer after he moved to Worcestershire in 1986. Brimming with melodic invention and radiant lyricism, the music is both rich and varied.

The Pastorale is inspired by Elgar’s Worcestershire and in particular the Malvern Hills.

Venables, like many before him, succumbed to their influence almost immediately and his artistic response to this inspirational environment has remained a touchstone of his aesthetic.

For more information please head to The Conservatoire website

Mark Bebbington – Concertos by Jacob, Carwithen and Williamson

On Sunday 14 June, Mark Bebbington (‘A truly remarkable pianist …’ The Times), Richard Jenkinson and the Innovation Chamber Ensemble (strings from the CBSO) reunite to perform the three stunning concertos, which they recorded together on the SOMM label in 2014.

Internationally recognised for his revivals of British piano music, Mark will bring excitement and sparkle to these vivacious yet neglected works. Continue reading

‘1615’ – Supersize Brass, Library of Birmingham

On 13 June at 1pm, members of the Birmingham Conservatoire Brass Department will be performing on the impressive balconies and open spaces of the new Library of Birmingham. They will be performing music written exactly 400 years ago by Giovanni Gabrieli, in one of Birmingham’s most iconic and ground-breaking new buildings. The experience of musicians spaced around a large space will create a 360 degree experience in an attempt to recreate the acoustic experience of St Mark’s, Venice and will see the players swapping their modern instruments for historic/authentic instruments to add to the experience.

The Head of Early Music and historical instrument curator, Martin Perkins met with Jack Lovell to talk a little bit about the history of the music and how he and his musicians will be bringing these masterworks to life.


Can you give a little bit of background to this pioneering music? How must it have felt to have had this early version of our modern day ‘surround-sound’ system, to have been in this incredible place with all of these musician playing together?

Gabrieli’s music epitomises the opulence of the late Renaissance style. He worked in St. Mark’s basilica in Venice – a city state renowned for not doing things by halves – and he knew the spaces and acoustics of the building intimately. He developed a style of music known as cori spezzati (split choirs) whereby rather than writing for one group of singers and instrumentalists, he would divide them up into smaller groups and place each ‘choir’ in a different part of the building – often in the interior balconies. The music would was written so that the choirs would question and answer each other, using call and response, echo techniques, as well as full sections where all would be singing and playing. Add to this, the magical acoustics of St. Mark’s, (with a reverb of 7 seconds!), the whole effect on the congregation – hearing voices and instruments sing out from above – must have been like hearing the angels themselves.

How will the performers benefit from performing in this concert and why is it important to still be playing this music?

1615 sees the anniversary of the publication of Gabrieli’s ‘Canzoni et Sonate’, a collection of 21 instrumental works for these large forces split into choirs in up to 22 separate parts. Originally conceived for sackbuts and cornets (the sackbut being the precursor to the modern trombone; the cornet being a wooden instrument played like a trumpet sounding more human-like), the writing is ground-breaking for the sheer virtuosity demanded of the performers and it remains a corner-stone of the modern brass ensemble’s repertoire.

So what instruments will we be hearing in this concert?

Conservatoire students receive specialist tuition in performing these earlier styles of music during their course, and get the opportunity to learn Renaissance and Baroque equivalents. Our performance on Saturday will include some pieces performed on sackbuts and cornets, whilst our trumpet students will down their modern, shiny valved instruments and pick up the valve-less natural trumpet to perform some fanfares composed for the Venetian military by Giovanni Fantini – a contemporary of Gabrieli.

Short of flying the brass department out to Venice how similar is the Library of Birmingham to the acoustics of St Mark’s basilica?

We’re delighted to be able to play this music at the new Library of Birmingham – no other space in the region comes so close to the layout of St. Marks, and will surely do justice to Gabrieli’s music, conceived on the grandest scale.

Come and hear this free concert on 13 June at 1pm at the Library of Birmingham. Full details can be found here.






British Piano Festival Sun 14 – Tue 16 June


Pianist Mark Bebbington

On 14 June, Birmingham Conservatoire and an array of international soloists embark on a wholly British affair. Inspired by previous festivals championing the music of Ireland and Delius, this years three day festival showcases works by Bridge, Howells, Holbrooke, Gordon Jacob, Bowen, Ireland, Ferguson, William Lloyd Webber, Anthony Payne, Malcolm Williamson and Doreen Carwithen. World Class musicians Mark Bebbington, Richard Jenkinson, the Primrose Piano Quartet, Innovation Chamber Ensemble among others will be on stage to promote the treasure trove that is the British piano repertoire. Professor Ron Woodley will be exploring Holbrooke’s highly unusual work Ballade for Bass Clarinet on 15 June and current student Sofia Sarmento, who is on the Advanced Postgraduate Diploma course tackles John Ireland’s great piano cycle, Sarnia on 16 June. Continue reading