Conductor Dr Reed Thomas discusses the coming week with Nigel

Nigel Clarke and Peter Sheppard Skærved (Violin) have just completed a week’s residency at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). The residency, by invitation of Dr Reed Thomas from MTSU, saw Nigel conducting his large scale wind orchestra work `Gagarin’ to mark the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight by the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on 12 April 1961.

Nigel conducting `Gagarin' with the MTSU Wind Ensemble

Within the same programme, Peter performed Nigel’s dramatic and demanding tone poem `Black Fire’ based on the first two books of John Milton’s (1608-1674) literary masterpiece `Paradise Lost ’. The performance of `Black Fire’ was juxtaposed with etchings by the nineteenth century French engraver Gustave Doré (1832-1883), which were displayed as a backdrop to the orchestra during the concerto. Nigel reminded the students in rehearsal that `Black Fire’ is not an easy work to perform, as it demands the ensemble to work outside of its ‘comfort zone’ and maintain a dramatic tension for nearly 30 minutes, often exploring delicate and fragile textures using extreme dynamic ranges.

Peter Sheppard Skaerved performing `Black Fire' under the baton of Dr Thomas

The MTSU residency involved seminars and master classes for composers, string, brass and wind players as well as conductors and music education students. In advance of Nigel and Peter’s arrival, the composition students prepared new works for violin and piano under the tutorage of MTSU’s Head of Composition Dr Paul Osterfield. Peter plans to perform some of these compositions during his planned concert season in Europe and around the world. Nigel was very taken by a percussion ensemble work composed by student composer Kevin Joest and was also fascinated by the compositional approach of MTSU student Ken Murphy. Peter and Nigel were grateful to Dr Thomas and Lindsey Seagrove (Graduate Assistant) for the preparation of the wind ensemble before their arrival in Murfreesboro. The formula for the week was firmly based around previous residencies that Peter and Nigel have developed in the Balkans, the USA and Asia over the last ten years.

Peter in the final seconds of `Black Fire'

As part of Nigel’s collaboration with MTSU, he plans to write a new large-scale work dedicated to Dr Thomas and MTSU Wind Ensemble based on a text by Nigel’s literary colleague, Martin Westlake. The composer is hoping to start on this new work towards the end of this year.

Nigel gives a seminar to MTSU brass students




Nigel and Peter also hope to collaborate in the future with Dr Thomas and MTSU on a performance of Nigel’s chamber violin concerto `The Miraculous Violin’. This work was developed with Peter as soloist through a number of workshops sponsored by the British Council and was premiered by the Zagreb Soloists (in Zagreb, Croatia) in 2000. `The Miraculous Violin’ was revised and extended in 2004 while working with the students at Xinjiang Arts Institute in North-West China. Dr Reed Thomas, Lindsey Seagrove and the MTSU Wind Ensemble recorded two of Nigel’s works `Heritage Suite’ (What Hope Saw) and `Their Finest Hour’ for the Naxos label last December for future release.


Composer Ken Murphy with Nigel

Student composer Kevin Joest shows Peter and Nigel his work

MTSU Student Ken Daniel Murphy writes (22 April 2011): “Since both of you have left, there has been a bubbling in many of us. At our composition studio party on Saturday I began spouting ideas like a waterfall on how we can accelerate our growth, talking about the benefits to composition that I have gotten through the other artforms and what we could benefit from reaching out to people in the other disciplines. Now, several of us are actively engaging in establishing cross college collaborations. I am hoping that we can begin student led workshops for each other, giving Composers art experience, giving visual artists acting exposure, giving English majors a music composing forum, etc. Through these workshops, connections will be made between creative minds for projects similar to what I had talked to you about with video/music, but we could incorporate Movement, Dance, Electronics, Poetry, etc. The possibilities are endless. E’narda and I sat down with the head of the English Department today and discovered many current conferences already involving collaborations that we didn’t know existed. Granted the existing student involvement is nowhere near where we hope to take this new initiative, but there seem to be plenty of potential interest and venues on which we can stand upon. I do not want to get too carried away as the endeavor is still in an infantile state, but the prospect of having an open forum of driven, creative people helping each other to grow is an amazing concept to strive for and was greatly modeled by both of your influences during the week you visited. Regardless of the outcome, there are sure to be key relationships made and knowledge acquired for those involved.”

Dr Reed Thomas with Nigel apres concert

“Many thanks for your masterful teaching this past week on the MTSU campus. Everyone involved with your masterclasses, lectures, and rehearsals left inspired and talked about their renewed energy. Working through “Black Fire” was both a privilege and a daunting experience that left everyone breathless at the conclusion of the performance. Your musicianship, insight and energy were contagious and have been on everyones lips since you left. We cannot wait until we are able to bring you back!  Thanks again for everything” Dr Reed Thomas, Director of Bands, MTSU.

`The Miraculous Violin’ and `Black Fire’ performed by Peter Sheppard Skærved are available on the Naxos label entitled `Nigel Clarke’: Naxos 8.570429 This disc can be downloaded from iTunes.