Monday, August 07, 2006

PREMIERE://Elgar's piece to be premiered at Proms

From - Wednesday, 2 August 2006

The final section of Sir Edward Elgar's most famous series of music has been completed and will be heard for the first time at a Proms concert. The sixth instalment of the Worcestershire composer's Pomp And Circumstance Marches has been finished by Elgar expert Anthony Payne.
Bits of Elgar's work on the section were found in the library of the Royal School of Church Music nine years ago.
Number one in the series is Land Of Hope And Glory, a Proms favourite.
Composer Anthony Payne has brought March No.6 to life from Elgar's unfinished fragments of sketches found on papers. The fragments included a main tune and the composer's ideas, over one of which Elgar wrote "jolly good". They complement another, near-indecipherable manuscript, found in the British Library.
The performance at the BBC Proms, on Wednesday evening, comes more than 70 years after Sir Edward Elgar's death. Mr Payne said the main tune needed only "tiny changes", but more creativity was necessary with the March's rousing introduction and grand final flourish.
BBC Proms director Nicholas Kenyon said: "The piece will be about eight minutes in length, the same as the other Pomp And Circumstance Marches. "It hasn't come out at all like the end of Hope And Glory, it's not as exuberant, is more sombre and has a wistful quality."

INTERVIEW://Kirchner: 'I'm not writing for myself'

By James Chute
From SignOnSanDiego - July 30, 2006

Take the music of Robert Schumann. Add the works of Berg, some early Schoenberg and, for good measure, Mozart. Put it in a blender . . .
“And you pretty much get Leon's music,” said Daniel Phillips, violinist with the Orion String Quartet. The Orion will premiere Leon Kirchner's Fourth String Quartet next Sunday at the La Jolla Music Society's SummerFest, which, along with the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, commissioned the new work from the esteemed composer.
It's Kirchner's first foray into the string quartet medium since he won a Pulitzer for his Third String Quartet in 1966. “For a time, and I'd say, unjustifiably, Leon's music wasn't as well liked as it should have been,” said Phillips. “What's nice now is that music has turned back to being more accessible. People want to hear something they can respond to, and if they heard it 10 times, they could kind of understand it. “But he's really stayed true to his style all along.”

At 87, Kirchner, who served on the music faculty of Harvard University for nearly four decades and whose students include cellist Yo-Yo Ma and composer John Adams, has gained some perspective, and a sense of humor, about his place in music history.
“One time, a conductor from the National Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin, came to Cambridge, where I was living,” recalled a genial Krichner in a recent phone conversation. “It was a radio interview, and they asked him how he was so interested in contemporary music, and he said: 'My parents were two members of a very distinguished quartet, the Hollywood Quartet, and they were always playing Kirchner.'
“And they said, 'You know, he lives here.' And he said, 'Is he still alive?'
“So there you are: the proof that I was a contemporary at one time.”

California dreaming

Although he was born in Brooklyn, Kirchner received much of his music education in California. He studied at Los Angeles City College, UCLA and Berkeley, and was especially influenced by Arnold Schoenberg, who was then living in Los Angeles, and Ernest Bloch in San Francisco.
“Bloch was a magnificent actor, and a magnificent musician,” said Kirchner, who relishes the opportunity to tell a story. “And he's at the piano, and he said he was going to tell us something that day about modality and tonality in the music of Bach.
“And he began to play a wonderful chorale, and in the midst of this, he said, in his very high voice – and remember, he was a great actor, so you immediately paid attention – 'One can hear the turn of the century.'
“I remember a lot of us looked for weeks for where it turned, and in the process got to know a lot of wonderful chorales.”
For Kirchner, it was not so much the turning of the century as the turning of the decade, the 1960s into the 1970s. During the 1960s, he was appointed to the faculty of Harvard (1961), his Piano Concerto No. 2 was performed around the country by a young Leon Fleisher (1963), he won the Pulitzer Prize, and his Music for Orchestra was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic (1969).
But Kirchner wouldn't return to writing a piece for orchestra until 1990, and he abandoned the string quartet for four decades. During the 1970s and 1980s, he wrote a few large-scale works, including, as he describes it, “a failed opera” (“Lily” in 1977), but he had a decidedly lower profile as a composer, even if he continued touring as a conductor and pianist.
“For better or worse, the real 'serious' musicians like Elliott Carter, Milton Babbitt, were the people who became the most respected guys,” Phillips said. “They were writing stuff that was far more atonal, and more complicated, and difficult to listen to.
“It was pretty much a no-no to write a chord that anyone could recognize. If you were to write a major triad in your piece, you were considered corny, or only good enough to write for films, or something like that.”
While experimental composers like Cage were challenging the very definition of music, and avant-gardists such as Pierre Boulez were talking about wiping the slate clean, Kirchner was concerned with the continuum of music.
His music owes a debt to Bartok and especially Schoenberg, but he writes in a highly individual, emotionally charged style that is unmistakably forward looking. In his notes to the Fourth Quartet, Kirchner tells of attempting to reveal “the necessary intimacies that exist between the past and present, which keep the art of music alive and well.”
Phillips, who with the Orion will perform all four Kirchner quartets at New York's Lincoln Center next year, has worked extensively with Kirchner in interpreting his music.
“He's influenced a lot of great musicians,” Phillips said. “He was a huge influence on Yo-Yo Ma,” who commissioned a cello concerto from Kirchner. (Ma later recorded it on the album “Premieres,” which won two Grammys in 1998.)
“Leon is all about what the life of a note feels like when you are in it. That's the best way I can describe it. Like, don't just play the notes, but what's it feel like? What's the activity of the note? The whole gesture, that kind of thing.
“As a musician, he really gets you thinking about that, not just playing the music well in a nice, appropriate style, but the real meaning, and the movement of the notes. So his own music is infused by that.”

Public aspirations

The life force that seems to exist within his best music creates an immediate connection not only with musicians, but with an audience. If many composers of his generation turned their backs on the public, Kirchner never saw the public as the enemy.
“Who else is there?” Kirchner asks. “Who am I talking to? I'm certainly writing for an audience. I'm not writing for myself. For a time, 12-tone composers, who were also electronic composers, found that they could control music totally, and that it would be for them and their computer.
“I never felt that way, and I don't think they feel that way now, either. When they begin to age, they begin to hunger for the applause, and the notoriety.”
As connecting with a public has become an increasingly valued aspect in contemporary classical music, Kirchner has over the last decade or so been gaining more notoriety than ever. With performers like Ma championing his works, the support of chamber ensembles such as the Orion, and major orchestras such as the Cleveland Orchestra and the Boston Symphony putting his works in their repertoires, he's back on the A list.
“His music has a true authentic value anyone can relate to, which is what all the great classical music composers had,” Phillips said. “While for much of his life he may not have been in the public eye as much as, say, Elliott Carter, I think he will be remembered as the great romantic composer of the late 20th century, and the early 21st.”
Kirchner said he would be delighted if his music were performed into the next century, if audiences and musicians continued to value his music 100 years from now. But there's something else on his mind:
“It would be nice if I was here 100 years from now,” he said, laughing. “That would be even better.”

PREMIERE:// Rihm's Verwandlung in the UK

Shadowy start, brilliant climax

By Barry Millington
From (Evening Standard) - 28 July 2006

In view of criticisms of Proms programming this year, it is a pleasure to be able to report that last night's concert by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra was an imaginatively conceived affair. It even featured two women soloists - though admittedly a soprano is something of a desideratum in Mahler's Fourth Symphony.
The opening of German composer Wolfgang Rihm's Verwandlung leaves the listener unsure of precisely what is part of the score and what is noise supplied by a settling audience. This is music of suggestion and shadow, as though observed through a glass darkly, until the ruffled surface impinges on the consciousness.
The account of Schumann's Piano Concerto that followed, with Hélène Grimaud the soloist and British conductor Jonathan Nott, picked up the thread by highlighting the counterpoint between reverie and affirmation. The bravura gestures of the first movement were sharply articulated by Grimaud, but when the opportunity presented itself, she dissolved into poetic mode.
The finale too oscillated between elfin agility and the irresistible button-holing that characterises her playing.
Nott's Mahler daringly played up the contrasting colours and tempi of the first movement. If the woodwind's bells were not aggressively raised in the third movement, it was because everything was being held in reserve for the tremendous eruption at the climax.

By Andrew Clements
From the Guardian - Saturday July 29, 2006

Wolfgang Rihm is one of the leading European composers of today as well as one of the most prolific, yet it is eight years since one of his pieces was last played at the Proms.
At first sight the 20-minute Verwandlung - the title means transformation - is a 21st-century take on one of the great late-romantic slow movements of the kind you would find in a symphony by Mahler or Bruckner. Long, sinuous threads of a melody are spun out by the strings and coloured by wind instruments, until a menacing rhythm tapped out by the tambourine is taken up by the rest of the percussion, overwhelming everything else. The melody, though, is immovable: when the tumult has died down it continues on its way, still constantly transforming itself, and generating a succession of exquisite, spare textures, beautifully realised by the Bamberg players.
It sounds simple, and in some respects it is, for there is a sense of utterly organic growth about Verwandlung, as if Rihm had just allowed his musical material to find its own destiny, illustrating Mahler's claim that "one does not compose, one is composed". The Proms audience had an immediate chance to compare Rihm's view of late-romantic symphonism with the real thing, for conductor Jonathan Nott ended his programme with Mahler's Fourth Symphony, for which Inge Dam Jensen was the soprano in the child-like but never childish last movement.
In between, Hélène Grimaud was the soloist in Schumann's Piano Concerto, a performance that veered between passages of total enchantment - the dreamy dialogue between piano and clarinet in the first movement, the intimate conversational exchanges of the intermezzo - and sections that seemed almost anonymous.

From the Telegraph - 28/07/2006

These were two wonderful Proms, utterly contrasted in their music. The second of them was given by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, which played with the delicacy and lightness of a chamber orchestra.
This made it especially well-suited to Mahler's most understated symphony, the Fourth, and to Schumann's cosily intimate Piano Concerto - though in the latter the orchestra's tact was offset by the astonishing brilliance of pianist Hélène Grimaud.
The prevailing note of delicate introspection was struck in the opening piece, Verwandlung (Transformation), by the 55-year-old German composer Wolfgang Rihm. It began as a delicate Webern-like tracery, soon acquiring weight and depth. But then the percussion made a violent and implacable interruption. Witnessing the music's efforts to exorcise this shock was engrossing, and oddly moving.

By Annette Morreau
From the Independent - 31 July 2006

Hélèn Grimaud, in Schumann's piano concerto with the Bamberg Symphony under Jonathan Nott (Prom 18), went from exquisitely dreamy to tigerish, her solid left hand emphasising the harmonic bass. The fiendish piece held no horrors; she, like Josefowicz, knows that playing softly works surprisingly well.
In the same Prom, the Danish soprano Inger Dam-Jensen brought up the rear in Mahler's Symphony No 4, bringing bell-like purity to the nutty words of the last movement. Nott has a sleek machine in this orchestra, disciplined and sensitive to colour and phrasing. Alas, the UK premiere of Verwandlung ("transformation") by Wolfgang Rihm, a largely tonal work, was sabotaged by coughing.

By Hilary Finch
From - July 31, 2006

Schumann’s Piano Concerto and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony: this should have been a sell-out Prom. London’s peak of oppressive heat could have accounted for some empty seats. But it could also have been due to the appearance in the programme of Wolfgang Rihm.
Why anyone should find the music of this prolific 54-year-old German quite so daunting is difficult to fathom. Neither his symphonies nor his music theatre have really taken off here: the former, perhaps, simply too tricky to classify; the latter too Germanic.
The Proms hosted the UK premiere of a 15-minute orchestral work called Verwandlung. The title means “transformation”: the ensemble, and its cracked mirror of musical memories, is constantly changing. A single note pierces the silence.
Where does it come from? Breath and bow seem for a moment indistinguishable — and then the dark shadow of Romanticism seems to move through the strings. Spectres of Webern’s note-by-note colour changes, of Mahler’s melancholy, even Strauss’s opulence, scud by. But nothing is fixed: all is flux. Sudden crescendo points truncate the music’s progress, and it reels in aftershock.
Meticulously and tenderly performed by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jonathan Nott, this work was the perfect companion for Schumann and Mahler. Hélène Grimaud was the soloist in Schumann’s Piano Concerto. She reawakened us to what makes this over-familiar work remain unique: its heady reverie of dialogue and transformation with the orchestra; its airy, levitating brilliance; its free flow of ideas. Her strength was indomitable, her control of rhythmic energy rigorous.
The Bambergers’ playing was as much to be admired. And the orchestra’s highly individual soloists, mercurial reactions — and Nott’s determination to take nothing for granted — all came into their own in Mahler’s Fourth. Nott was a master of pacing, pushing every dynamic and tempo shift to its extreme and back again, for a performance of lithe muscle, tingling nerves and — with Inger Dam-Jensen as soprano soloist — authentically childlike wonder.

PREMIERE://George Banjamin's Dance Figures first in the UK

Stillness and energy crying out for dance

By Matthew Rye
From the Telegraph - 25/07/2006

George Benjamin's fastidious approach to his craft and resulting slow rate of composition mean that premieres of new works from his pen aren't exactly two a penny.
Dance Figures is his first large-scale work since Palimpsests of 2002 and received its first UK performance at last night's Prom a little over a year after its world premiere in Chicago. It was conceived as music for ballet to a commission from Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker for the Rosas Dance Company and had its stage premiere in Brussels in the spring.
But as with all the best dance scores it proves to be just as at home in the concert hall.
Although playing continuously for a little over a quarter of an hour, the work is made up of nine contrasting character pieces, or "choreographic scenes" and it is their juxtaposition that effectively creates the work's inner drama.
For, while calling for large forces - here the BBC Symphony Orchestra under its new principal guest conductor David Robertson - Benjamin frequently pares them down to chamber-sized proportions for moments of stillness and reflection. But there's energy, too - especially in the vivid sense of rhythmical play in the sixth and ninth scenes - that cries out for dance.
Something of Benjamin's refinement and musical wit were reflected in Haydn's "Surprise" Symphony, the work that had preceded Dance Figures in the concert. Here, in a performance as stylish as it was rhythmically alive, Robertson showed that Haydn still has a place in the repertoire of traditional symphony orchestras.
There was even a Benjamin link with the other work on the programme. Dance Figures is allied to a recent keyboard work, Piano Figures, written for the French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard. And it was Aimard who took the solo role in Brahms's First Piano Concerto.
This was a performance that not only brought out the deep tragedy in the sentiment of the first movement but also tapped the music's more inward vein - Aimard's soft, beautifully-shaped playing in the Benedictus-like slow movement was particularly affecting.
For his part, Robertson brought out much of the inner workings in Brahms's orchestral accompaniment to good effect.

By Tom Service
From the Guardian - Wednesday July 26, 2006

It's taken two years for George Benjamin's new piece to receive its first performance in this country, but it was worth the wait. Dance Figures, written as a ballet in "nine choreographic scenes", was played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in their Prom conducted by David Robertson, and it was a highlight of the Proms season so far.
Each of Benjamin's orchestral works - the last, Palimpsest II, was first heard in 2002 - is a miraculously crafted masterpiece, often the result of years of planning and sketching. But Dance Figures has a directness and at times a simplicity that is new in his catalogue. In writing a piece for dancers, Benjamin has thinned out the dense layerings and intricate polyphony that often characterises his music. The result, in the nine interlinked sections of Dance Figures, is a distillation of his style and an enhancement of its poetry.
The first six sections play together and create a single arc of gradually increasing speed and tension. The last three sections telescope and amplify this journey, ending in some of the most exciting and immediate music Benjamin has ever written. Robertson and the BBCSO gave a performance of real authority and conviction and, even in the vast spaces of the Albert Hall, Dance Figures was a hugely impressive Proms premiere.
Dance Figures was partnered by Haydn's Surprise Symphony in the first half, in an incisive performance from the BBC players. Pierre-Laurent Aimard was the soloist in Brahms's First Piano Concerto, and for all the power of the outer movements, it was the serenity of the slow movement that was most memorable, as Aimard found a whole world of limpid colours in Brahms's piano-writing.

By Paul Conway
From the Independent - 26 July 2006

In the Prom given by the BBC SO under David Robertson, which featured a curiously hard-driven Haydn "Surprise" Symphony and the sensitive artistry of Pierre-Laurent Aimard as soloist in Brahms' First Piano Concerto, it was the centrepiece of the concert, the UK premiere of George Benjamin's "Dance Figures", which found conductor and orchestra in their element, responding with great imagination to realising Benjamin's rich textures, enticing harmonies and audacious rhythms.
Comprising nine satisfyingly contrasting choreographic scenes, with the spirits of Stravinsky, Ravel and Webern recalled at various stages, this richly colourful piece is Benjamin's first work conceived for dance, though it works just as well as a Concerto for Orchestra, refreshing and invigorating the repertoire without arid experimentation or striving for effect.

PREMIERE://Maxwell Davies' music for the Queen's 80th birthday

Music for the monarch

By Geoffrey Norris
From - 20/07/2006

The Queen's presence at last night's Prom signalled a celebration for her 80th birthday that began with a new pièce d'occasion by the Master of the Queen's Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.
Modestly entitled A Little Birthday Music, it steered a prudent course away from the knotty arguments that Davies has pursued in some of his other music and from the local colour of a piece such as Orkney Wedding with Sunrise.
But it was by no means bland, and it did what it set out to do. For all that it ended on an affirmative tonic chord, the music sounded appreciably modern while being relatively easy on the ear.
Shaped like a miniature, single-movement choral symphony, it had its dissonances and its rhythmic puzzles, but there was some compensatory harmonic mellowness.
The principal theme, given out in muscular form by the trumpet at the start, turned out to be susceptible to all sorts of metamorphoses, economically supplying material for the equivalent of a first movement, scherzo, slow movement and finale. It was the closing section that deployed the chorus, singing a text by the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, that ticked all the right politically correct boxes - coastal erosion, the ozone layer, corruption of language - while celebrating the constancy that the Queen represents.
With the BBC Symphony Orchestra boosted by the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Scots Guards and by 250 children's voices from various Chapels Royal, schools and youth choirs, the ending was aptly rousing.
Since the Queen's Medal for Music was Davies's brainchild, it was a nice touch that this year's winner, Bryn Terfel, should have been presented with it at this concert, singing My Little Welsh Home as a thank you.
The remainder of the evening comprised a fluent performance of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto by Julian Bliss, and a fresh, well-reasoned account of Dvorák's New World Symphony conducted by Jirí Belohlávek.
As for A Little Birthday Music, it is probably a one-off and will now be stored in a drawer, but at least the Master of the Queen's Music will have earned his butt of sack for writing it.

By George Hall
From the Guardian - Friday July 21, 2006

It has been a while since a British monarch was serenaded with a full-scale birthday ode. Purcell wrote some for Queen Mary in the late 17th century, but the practice died out under the Prince Regent. So it's a sign of the reinvigoration of the post of master of the Queen's music under its present incumbent, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, that a major new example has been unveiled at the Proms. Purcell's collaborators on such pieces included the poets laureate Thomas Shadwell and Nahum Tate, while Davies's is their successor in the post, Andrew Motion.
Davies first set Motion's poem The Golden Rule as an anthem, performed in April, a couple of days after the Queen's 80th birthday. The new setting, entitled A Little Birthday Music, is much bigger. Scored for full symphony orchestra, the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Scots Guards Band and massed children's voices, the result is a sizeable occasional piece.
Motion's text celebrates the Queen's constancy in uncertain times, with a few nods to contemporary eco-problems. Davies's unison setting of the poem comes near the end of his piece, giving it a late lift. But much of what precedes it is grey and meandering, with a few trumpet volleys enlivening some amorphous string writing and anonymous thematic material. Uncertainty has rarely sounded so dull.
The Queen came up on stage at the beginning of the second half, to present this year's Queen's medal for music to Bryn Terfel, who responded cordially by singing My Little Welsh Home. Elsewhere, Julian Bliss was the fluent soloist in Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, and conductor Jiri Belohlavek showed further evidence of his rapport with the BBC Symphony in a characterful account of Dvorak's New World, notable for some super-refined string tone.

By Martin Hoyle
From the Herald - July 21, 2006

"The sun unwinds its heat through threadbare sky," writes the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, in his words for A Little Birthday Music. The sentiment was apt to Wednesday's Prom celebrating the Queen's 80th birthday. Audience – and, doubtless, the Scots Guards Fanfare Trumpeters in their bearskins – sweltered; but Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's setting kept things emotionally cool.The Master of the Queen's Music illuminates the poetry all too clearly. Motion's tactful verses describe constancy in a world of change; moral ("the black-and-white of certainty dissolves"), cultural ("the language bursts its bound and breaks new ground") and ecological ("the shrinking woods fall backwards"). Max's music is spiky, more thistle than rose, from its ominous beginning – a monster (modern times?) stirring – to duelling brass as jaggedly thrusting as gunfire. This is less birthday jollity than a survey of 80 extraordinary, and sometimes devastating, years in the planet's history. At best sombre, the music is lightened by straightforward writing for children's voices, delivered with purity by 250 singers. Solemn, at first hearing foreboding, it's dour historical resumé rather than Hallmark greeting.After the interval, HM presented Bryn Terfel, pictured below, with the Queen's Medal for Music. The Welsh baritone responded with a song about his home valleys, villages and loving folks, sung in impeccably RP English. The programme ended with Jiri Belohlavek, the BBC SO's new Chief Conductor, blossoming with his compatriot Dvorak's "New World" Symphony: buoyant Czech rhythms, plaintively clear textures. And Mozart's Clarinet Concerto played by 17-year-old Julian Bliss evoked another young master – a stocky figure, down-to-earth squarish face, undeniable technical mastery and even unexpected poetry – the Wayne Rooney of the clarinet, only better-tempered.

PREMIERE://Maxwell Davies' Birthday Music coming up

The firebrand still burns

From - 13/07/2006

Once a rebellious avant-gardist, Peter Maxwell Davies has just written a piece to mark the Queen's 80th birthday. But he remains fearlessly outspoken, Geoffrey Norris finds
In his younger days, Peter Maxwell Davies was the enfant terrible of modern music, challenging our sensibilities and pushing back the boundaries of what was possible in terms of vocal and instrumental technique.
He wrote the score for Ken Russell's lurid, erotic film The Devils. His notorious theatre piece Eight Songs for a Mad King established a brave new world of Expressionist shock in music, graphically portraying the insanity of George III, locked in a cage and uttering piercing screams and half-remembered melodies against a savagely dissonant instrumental background. This was ground-breaking stuff. As a composer, Davies has always been fiercely independent.
Davies is now Sir Peter - and Master of the Queen's Music - but he rejects any suggestion that such accolades signal a softening of attitudes or a collapse into conformity.
He has written a new work to open next Wednesday's BBC Prom, which is to be attended by the Queen as part of her 80th birthday celebrations. With a text by the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, A Little Birthday Music is designed, in Davies's words, to speak to the public immediately, though it has been composed "without compromises", he says.
"Looking back at someone I admire, like Mozart", he says, "he could write a Coronation Mass and suit the music to the occasion. I don't think that's compromising; I think it's practicality."
Davies has certainly not become reticent in the two years since his appointment to a post bathed in centuries of royal tradition. If anything, his views have become more trenchant.
"People tend to listen a bit more," he says. "If I sound off about music education, it gets reported. Whether anything happens or not, I don't know.
"The government is not interested in education. I think most members of the government don't see the point of classical music at all. They are only aware of pop music."
Davies acknowledges that he might be swimming against an inexorable tide. But, with the fixation on pop, he insists, "the values of civilisation are being drowned out by dross".
He has no rosier picture of the Opposition benches, either. "There was that awful Desert Island Discs that David Cameron did. The piece he would take to a desert island was some idiotic ditty [by comedian Benny Hill] about a milkman. The book he would take was something by a TV personality cook called Heatheringstall-Whittingham-Something.
"It's terribly sad that a leading politician has to portray himself as an utter idiot with no cultural background whatever."
Suggesting that Davies might be regarded as part of the Establishment would have been unthinkable in his radical years. Now, at the age of 71, it draws at least conditional acceptance.
"I don't mind being a member of the Establishment", he claims, "as long as I can write the music I have to write."
His move to Orkney in the 1970s heralded a new stimulus triggered by the islands' history, folk music and landscape. He still lives and writes there, though he has now moved from Hoy to the even remoter island of Sanday.
"Hoy was becoming flooded with tourists," he says. "Not that the tourists got on my nerves. But you'd go for a walk where previously you'd been entirely alone on a beach or a hilltop, and you'd see people. This is not constructive."
Isolation is an essential component of Davies's creative process. With nobody around, he says, "you can project the structure of what you're working on out of your head and on to the landscape. You're walking through a three-dimensional architecture of your music. You hear the whole thing happening in slow motion, and you can shift things around."
Isolation, however, does not mean detachment. The third of his continuing series of string quartets enshrined his reactions to the invasion of Iraq.
"I think my attitude to Blair and the Iraq war would not make me very popular with a great deal of the Establishment. In fact, I was so disillusioned when the whole of Parliament more or less supported Blair on this idiotic enterprise that I thought, 'This is not democracy.' The British armed forces have been hijacked by a foreign power for purely colonial imperialist purposes. And it is an utter disgrace."
The Master of the Queen's Music remains resolutely outspoken. As he says, "One just has to fight one's corner."