Piano Quintet (2009)

For Piano and String Quartet   20 minutes

I began writing this quintet last May [2008] in Umbria, where, thanks to a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship, I spent six weeks in the tranquility of a remote castle, looking out over rolling hills and poppy-covered fields.  It was the perfect setting in which to imagine chamber-music.

Occasional trips to nearby towns offered all kinds of inspiration – paintings, frescoes, the spectacular giant floral pictures in the Corpus Christi festival at Spello, dramatic bell-spinning in Gubbio – but I didn’t want to depict any of these things directly in music.   My work has often involved words and drama, and my instrumental pieces frequently use fragments of music by other composers as their starting-point.  This time, I wanted to write music independent of outside sources.  So this Piano Quintet has no programme or hidden story.   The bells in the second movement are not the bells of Gubbio; yet, in some way, I suspect that all those summer sensations have coloured this score.

It is a great pleasure to write music celebrating the 80th birthday of George Law, an enthusiastic and supportive friend and patron of the Spitalfields Festival for many years, and a music-lover with the widest possible tastes.  It is also a treat to write for the wonderful Schubert Ensemble, partly for a personal reason.  As a teenager, I was obsessed with Brahms’ F minor piano quintet, and I used to play the piano duet version with a friend at school.  When I got to university, I had the thrilling experience of playing the quintet with real string players.  The cellist on that occasion was Jane Salmon, the cellist of the Schubert Ensemble.

Commissioned by Spitalfields Festival and funded by George Law in celebration of his 80th birthday

First performance: 11th June 2009, Schubert Ensemble, Spitalfields Festival.