Pianist Duncan Honeybourne discusses his album Contemporary Piano Soundbites
“Contemporary Piano Soundbites is a collection of solo piano miniatures composed during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown. Each piece received its world premiere in a video recording, posted online during the lockdown, and I invited donations for the Help Musicians UK Coronavirus Hardship Fund from those who enjoyed listening. This disc, recorded under conditions of social distancing once the lockdown had been relaxed, presents a representative selection from the online series. It celebrates the diversity of styles embraced by a broad cross section of professional composers working today, and it was an invigorating experience to record an entire disc of pieces which hadn’t existed less than four months earlier! Especially stimulating and exciting is the juxtaposition of several leading senior composers with some of their most gifted and imaginative younger colleagues. Several young composers make their first appearances on disc.
Britain’s professional musicians are facing unprecedented hardship in the current situation, and the Help Musicians UK Coronavirus Hardship Fund is helping many of the worst hit. By the end of May 2020, the Contemporary Piano Soundbites project had already raised over £2000 for the fund, being in the top 10% of Just Giving fundraisers nationally during the month of April 2020. The Help Musicians UK Coronavirus Hardship Fund will benefit further from the present CD and a series of concerts promoting the collection of pieces in different parts of the UK. The idea for the project grew from my own “lockdown” activities once my playing and teaching had ceased under the impending threat of the novel coronavirus. Following the onset of the “cultural lockdown” in March 2020, I began posting a daily video on the Facebook page of my Weymouth Lunchtime Chamber Concerts series.
I wanted to find a way of engaging with our loyal audiences during an extended period of inactivity and, at the same time, to offer support to my fellow musicians, so many of whom were struggling following the cancellation of their work. Each day for 75 days, from March until early June, I introduced and played a short piano piece online, and it soon became clear that not only were our regular audience members enjoying the videos, but that these Piano Soundbites were also attracting interest far beyond my own Dorset community. This was to my own astonishment – and something I’d never have dreamed of doing in the general run of things – but, in extraordinary times, one can only try to respond creatively and flexibly. From the beginning, donations were invited for the Help Musicians UK Coronavirus Hardship Fund, and over £800 was raised during the first two weeks alone, all to help our musician colleagues struggling in the current crisis.
Given my own long association with contemporary music, I had already been making a special effort to find space in the Soundbites series for a few of the short pieces that had been written for me over the years. These were received with keen interest and enthusiasm, and this success prompted me to devise a related project, Contemporary Piano Soundbites. Why not ask contemporary composers to write new piano miniatures, premiere them on video from my home, and invite donations for Help Musicians UK? As this idea took root in my imagination, I decided to launch a second online series devoted to premieres. I called my friend and colleague Steve Plews to ask whether his recording label, Prima Facie, might consider recording a selection of the resulting pieces. Not only was Steve enthusiastic about my idea, he also offered Prima Facie’s full sponsorship and support from the outset. Ten days later, the first pieces were flooding in, and for twenty days I gave a daily premiere before reducing the frequency for the sake of my own sanity and practice routine! Overall I premiered thirty new pieces online during lockdown, and my only regret is that we couldn’t include them all on a single disc.
My objective, as I stated in my invitation to composers, was fourfold: to imaginatively harness the zeitgeist of our present situation: to bring comfort and enjoyment to a large ready-made audience stuck at home, to aid musicians badly affected by the “cultural lockdown” and to add to the contemporary repertoire, creating an artistic keepsake of this extraordinary phase in our history. In issuing the invitation to composers, I suggested the following:
“Each piece may or may not be specifically stimulated by one or more aspect of the current international situation. This is entirely within the whimsy and choice of each composer kind enough to contribute a miniature!”
This brief has yielded a rich and imaginative range of pieces, including Francis Pott’s lyrical Poem of the Air, John Casken’s dramatic and melancholic Tempus Plangendi (a masterpiece from one of Britain’s most established and acclaimed senior composers), Adam Gorb’s hypnotic and mysterious After the Darkness and the skittish Rona, by young composer Zoe Sones, whose own Masters studies in composition have been disrupted by the pandemic.
My long term plan is that, as well as helping our colleagues at a time of need, the collection will provide a snapshot of reflections and musings by some of the finest and most distinctive composers of our time at a unique and unprecedented moment in our history. I hope it will make for a refreshing, enriching, stimulating and quirky listening experience too!”
Duncan Honeybourne 2020