Catching Fire (2016)

For Piano Solo   15 minutes

I have kNown Melvyn Tan, and loved his playing, for over twenty years.   I first wrote for him in 1993, when he was exclusively playing fortepiano, and his New Mozart Ensemble commissioned An Airmail Letter From Mozart – a set of concertante variations on a theme from Divertimento K287.

Years later, when I was artistic director of the Spitalfields Festival, and featuring the work of Messiaen, I learned that Melvyn was playing modern piano again, and was interested in learning Messiaen’s epic two-hour work Vingt Regards sur L’Enfant Jésus.  This was an irresistible idea.  He spent nearly two years mastering it, before giving an unforgettable performance in Christ Church in June 2005.  Rapt, exuberant, joyful, intense, the music sang and danced as I had never heard: his expressiveness was transporting.


For his 60th birthday, Melvyn asked me to write something lively.  Strangely, although I have nearly always composed at the piano, I have written almost no solo piano music.  So this was an adventure.  In my mind’s eye, there often seemed to be flames – sometimes the small, clear flame of a match or a candle; at other times, bigger flames licking along the edge of something combustible, or consuming it altogether.  Three times we stare at a still flame, but each time it comes near to something else, and catches fire.


Catching Fire was commissioned my Melvyn Tan and the Cheltenham Music Festival, with additional support from the Britten-Pears Foundation. Its first performance was in the Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham, on 9 July 2016.

Commissioned by Melvyn Tan and Cheltenham Music Festival with additional support from the Britten-Pears Foundation and Cheltenham Music Festival Society

First performance: 9th July 2016, Melvyn Tan, Pitville Pump Room, Cheltenham Music Festival.