Very happy to hear from Chiara Beebe who sent me a live recording made in Guernsey last August of the Guernsey Sinfonietta’s premiere of her piece ‘Return to Sarnia’. The words of which were based on a poem I wrote about the island in my early twenties – more or less the same age Chiara was when she wrote this.
This recording was made at the premiere, which was conducted by Sebastian Grand and sung by Casey-Joe Rumens. Sarnia is one of the old names for Guernsey, and Chiara’s piece culminates in a yearning phrase from Sarnia Cherie, which is Guernsey’s unofficial island anthem.
What do you think?
And PS: here’s the original poem, or how it looked when it was being driven around the island in a bus a few years ago. It also appeared in the book written with my pal Richard Fleming called A Guernsey Double.
August 6th sees the premiere of a new piece by Chiara Beebe. She is a 22 year old composer, cellist and singer born on Guernsey, whose piece A Return to Sarnia, based on a poem by Peter Kenny, will be performed as part of Terra Nova, an evening of modern and new music, by The Guernsey Sinfonietta.
PK: So how did you get started as a composer?
CB: Well, I only really began to consider myself a composer when I went to University – I found the way it was taught at school quite restrictive. At the University of Manchester it was taught in a completely different way that allowed me to express myself exactly as I wanted to with fewer boundaries. I was very lucky to have studied composition there with Camden Reeves who I cannot thank enough for his incredible energy and passion! I mainly enjoy writing for singers and strings (would you guess I’m a cellist and singer) because I think there is something very special about the use of words in music, but I do hope to keep writing a variety of pieces.
PK: So what have you been working on lately? I understand you like music to be performed with a dash of theatre.
CB: Yes I do. My recent compositions have included a setting of selections from Dante’s Divine Comedy, which was written for eight men and solo soprano. I often use space in my pieces and in this instance I placed the singers around the hall in a circle with the soprano solo on the balcony – reflecting the journey from hell to heaven and the circles of his inferno. This was the piece for which I was awarded the Proctor-Gregg Prize and I really enjoyed creating it.
I also used theatricality in a piece for baritone solo, cello, trumpet and snare drum which used an extended metaphor of a bird as a prisoner of war. I feel that a lot can be added to music by using space as a parameter – it’s something that also makes the live performance unique and can captivate an audience.
PK: I wish I’d seen them. Do you have a particular approach to composition?
CB: I take influence from pretty much any experiences I’ve had. I play in a lot of orchestras and choirs and generally the repertoire I am playing at the time influences what I am writing. I like parts of all of the periods of musical history and think there is a lot to be learned from all of them, up to the present day – I try and listen to as many concerts of new music as I can. The music I write tends to be quite programmatic as I work best with a poem or story in mind, the tonality or nature of the music tends to come directly from the words or story and varies from piece to piece. I don’t have any special systems or method in my approach, but I normally do a lot of thinking and brainstorming, then do lots of sketches until what I want is clear in my mind. Then I’ll write it down and work from there. Compositions can always evolve and I always make sure I get second opinions and talk through it with friends, whether musical or not, to get a new perspective or clarify my ideas.
PK: So tell me more about your new piece A Return to Sarnia.
CB: Well, as you know I have used your poem A Return as the basis for this piece. I chose it because for me it evoked the feelings of coming home and feeling grounded and safe. It’s very difficult to put into words (why I don’t write the lyrics myself!) but this poem reminds me of how I feel whenever I come home to Guernsey from wherever I am. It’s such a wonderful place and I can’t help but grin every time I see it emerge through the airplane window with my Guernsey Press in hand. As you can tell I’m quite passionate about this beautiful little island I call home! With this in mind, the piece is about that journey of coming home. I have used a string orchestra, solo baritone and three trumpets – who are hidden from the view of the audience. The strings act as accompaniment to the voice, often with rising and falling dynamics reflective of the sea or the wind whereas the trumpets play in a different key at various points in the piece. Their melody is split up and in the wrong order and with each repetition it reorders itself to finally state a melody us Guerns are all familiar with…
PK: I can’t wait to hear it at the premiere. I’ve seen the score, and as far as I can tell it’s a stunning piece. And I’m really flattered that you used some of my words of course.
CB: No problem, I’m thrilled you allowed me the permission to do it. As soon as I lay my hands on A Guernsey Double I knew there would be something in it for me to use – what a fantastic collection of poetry. I have tried writing my own text before with little success so I am in complete admiration for what you do – I’ll stick to the music!
PK: So what’s next for you? I know you’ve been living in Italy for several months…
CB: I love performing and composing music but I am currently pursuing a career in the music business. Having graduated from Manchester, I have now moved to Milan where I am studying for a Masters in International Business Management. I’m absolutely loving it out there, and my Italian is getting better by the day! I’ve also kept a little blog mainly for friends and family called Chiara Alla Milanese (which also translates as ‘Chiara in breadcrumbs’ but I thought that was amusing). It is a really fun way of keeping track of what life is like in a new country. Aside from the course itself, I keep myself busy with orchestras and choirs in Milan as well as playing and receiving tutoring at the Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi and composing of course! I also currently work for Constella Ballet and Orchestra based in London, as well as for a composer of TV and film based locally and Music Connected, a social connectivity site for musicians which is in development and will be doing a six month placement with a production music company in Milan from January before I will move to London. As you can see I like to keep busy – I love all aspects of music and like to keep myself immersed in all of it!