On and Off the Road – 25th November 2021

Thursday 25th November 2021 – 30th Anniversary Season

Keting Sun
Yǒng World premiere

Robert Reid Allan
Some Pictures of Guitarists World premiere

Gordon McPherson


Conrad Marshall flute  |  Rachel Clegg oboe  |  Dov Goldberg clarinet
Georgie Powell bassoon  |  Naomi Atherton French horn
Tom McKinney guitar  |  Benjamin Powell piano  |  Tim Williams percussion
Benedict Holland & Sophie Rosa violins  |  Heather Wallington viola  |  Jennifer Langridge cello

Stephen Barlow conductor


Gordon McPherson’s Detours, the centrepiece of tonight’s concert, is a road trip deep into memory – a set of deeply personal moments frozen in time, each one as witnessed from the driver’s seat of a car. By turns elegiac and pulsating, haunted and beautiful, the work pays homage to everyone from Igor Stravinsky to Glen Campbell across five hypnotic movements.

Exactly 20 years after Psappha made the world-premiere recording, the group tonight gives a rare full performance of Detours in a concert that also features two world premieres of works created for Psappha’s Composing For scheme: Robert Reid Allan’s playful portrait of the artist, written for and premiered by Tom McKinney; and Keting Sun’s spectral work for violin and cimbalom.

Tonight’s concert will last around 70 minutes with no interval, ending around 8.10pm.


Keting Sun
World premiere

The inspiration for my piece comes from Chinese calligraphy and the name Yǒng, which in Chinese means forever or permanence. It was traditionally believed that the frequent practice of this character as a beginner calligrapher could ensure beauty in one’s writing, and the Eight Principles of Yǒng explain how to write eight common strokes in regular script. During the lockdowns of 2020, I wrote this character in order to practise my calligraphy, and the experience inspired not only the structure of this piece but also the gestures and textures of the violin and the cimbalom. I hope that through the visualisation of the calligraphy and the physicality within the practice, the music reflects the aesthetics and philosophy from a different perspective.

Keting Sun

About the composer: Keting Sun
Sun Keting is a London-based Chinese composer and artist. Her recent works focus on performance arts and instrumental sound exploration combining Eastern cultural, spiritual and philosophical elements. Sun’s music has been performed in the UK, US, Europe and Asia. She has received commission from the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC Singers, The Silk Road Ensemble, the Chroma Ensemble, the Tangram, The Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra and The National Chinese Orchestra Taiwan. Sun is currently studying doctorate at the Royal Academy of Music, and artist director of Tangram’s Voices concert series.

Robert Reid Allan
Some Pictures of Guitarists
World premiere

Some Pictures of Guitarists is one of a series of pieces that use interview processes to generate material. In our initial interview, Tom McKinney spoke a lot about his first musical influences and experiences as well as his current relationship with the instrument, and these reflections are woven into the piece. The musical material comes from the specific songs and bands he references, as well as some of the songs I started to learn to play on the guitar when coming to terms with the instrument at the start of the process of making this piece.

– Robert Reid Allan

About the composer: Robert Reid Allan
Robert Reid Allan is a Scottish composer, pianist and activist based in east London. He creates visceral, innovative and hard-hitting music with a focus on radically interdisciplinary and collaborative methodologies, drawing on techniques in the fields of documentary theatre, film, sociology and investigative journalism to examine real events, lives and stories. He has collaborated with writers, directors, filmmakers, actors, dancers and doctors, as well as many of the world’s leading performers including Ensemble Modern, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

Gordon McPherson

I.     Echo’s Tape
II.   Memory Crash
III.  Only the Driver Deserves to be Saved
IV.  Lorelie
V.   Phoenix

In contemporary music, we often seem reluctant to hold the mirror up to our own events and experiences. We are seemingly more content or comfortable to search the world for drama, to explore Greek myth for narrative, or to trawl anthologies of 20th-century verse for poetry to set, connecting up with ‘art’ rather than the mundane and ordinary that screws up many of our days. In other words, never write about Brazil if you’ve never been to Brazil.

Detours concerns itself with personal memories and reflections concerning cars, and it is very difficult to apologise for their confessional nature. The language of the five works draws upon musical loves and references from genres outside the classical canon. (This reminds me of something a fellow composer said recently, which is probably relevant to the use of references. In a talk I gave at a recent composition course, he intimated that in this ‘ironic’ age, it is very difficult to suggest the musical vernacular without it being misinterpreted as irony; either that or the dreaded misnomer ‘crossover’. This is indeed frustrating if the musical memories that fire your imagination are morning radio, punk, or the country and western boom of the early 1970s.) Particularly in the first and third works, irony may perhaps be detected – but the references here are meant to be, happily, real and not ironic; annoying or unsuccessful, perhaps, but real nevertheless.

Echo’s Tape, Only the Driver Deserves to be Saved and Phoenix were commissioned by the Hebrides Ensemble with a financial subsidy from the Scottish Arts Council, and were premiered by the ensemble at the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh in 1999. Memory Crash and Lorelie were both written for Psappha, and were premiered by them at the Royal Northern College of Music in 2000 and 2001 respectively.

Echo’s Tape (1998)
Many years ago, after partaking of too much whisky I accidentally found myself in a rather beautiful stranger’s taxi on the way to a party and rather than argue whose cab it was we decided to share it. Two year later, after a particularly awful relationship, we found ourselves in the same cab, splitting up for the umpteenth time. On the cassette was a country number sweetly sifting into all that wasteful negativity and bile.

The car’s registration code was E.

Memory Crash (1999)
In 1999, at a particularly fraught moment, my computer blew up. I thought that everything that had not been saved would be lost and in panic I drove the machine to the nearest computer hospital in Glenrothes.

The road there from Dundee is ancient and straight, kind of like the piece it inspired. There were very few corners to be taken and as such….

Only the Driver Deserves to be Saved (1998)
It seems important that no matter how fast things appear to be moving you should always try to be in control.

Lorelie (2000)
Before Christmas in 1997 I was involved in a car crash in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow on a busy Saturday night. Thankfully I was not hurt although my car was almost written off. It had not been a good day, I had just split up with a flautist and Glasgow Royal Infirmary casualty department was not the beast to round it all off.

At the time I had been working on a short piece, Lorelie, and had been doing some research on the subject. What I had always expected to be a genuine Teutonic myth – the ancient German equivalent of the Siren luring sailors to their Rhine-soaked doom – turned out disappointedly to be nothing more than a nineteenth-century literary invention filling the void of history and myth with something that seemed to fit. The myth of the Lorelie seemed in fact to be exactly that, a myth. Fitting I suppose whilst trying to find inspiration from a more respectable source. I should have known better.

The melodic material for the work features extensive sue of Bavarian herding calls using structural devices from the Hogschulle Frumentevert manuals of counterpoint from c.1657. I centres around the flute.

Phoenix (1998)
The still underrated Jimmy Webb is one of those singer-songwriters that straddled the ballad and pop worlds without ever fully fitting into either. Generally regarded as one of the best post-war American song-writers, many of his songs have slowly become standards. ‘By the time I get to Phoenix’ was taken into the charts by Glen Campbell in 1967 and has been covered numerous times (perhaps most notably by the great Isaac Hayes in a glorious eighteen minute version – now that’s brave).

The song was about the end of a love affair and an early morning journey from LA to Phoenix taken after the split. Later Webb admitted that it was an episode that actually happened, the difference being that it was a journey he never made, the song being more about something he would have liked to have had the strength to do than actually carry out. I was in a similar position once, the only difference being I didn’t have a car, The piece remembers 3:00am in a Glasgow flat merged with a dream of Californian plains.

– Gordon McPherson

About the composer: Gordon McPherson
Gordon McPherson was born in Dundee in 1965. He was brought up in the Hilltown district where his father worked as a caretaker and his mother was a part-time cleaner.

He studied music at the University of York from 1983 to 1986 specialising in composition and performance. He was one of the first accordionists to study at degree level in the UK, performing many new works and commissioning others. He returned to York to complete his doctorate in 1991, giving up performing and concentrating on composition. For over 20 years he was Head of Composition at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where he facilitated many performances of new work.

Throughout his compositional career he has worked very closely with Psappha who have performed and commissioned many of his works. Recent works by him include a series of works entitled Stunt Doubles which explore the relationship between the difficult and the impossible , and real and virtual Instruments. The first three, for ensemble and virtual ensemble were premiered by Psappha, and later ones for solo Instrument and virtual Instruments include a marimba Stunt Double called “Williams Machine” named after Psappha’s own Tim Williams. Recent works have included a piano concerto, a fourth string quartet and on ongoing Passion based on the Lorimer translation of the New Testament.

A serious illness forced his retirement in 2019, and he is very happy and honoured to be part of Psappha’s birthday celebrations

Stephen Barlow – Conductor
Former Artistic Director of the Buxton Festival‚ a position he held from 2011 to 2018‚ Stephen Barlow’s recent and current projects include La Cenerentola (Staatsoper‚ Stuttgart)‚ MedeéKoanga (Wexford Festival); Les Contes d’Hoffmann (Beijing); The Life and Death of Alexander Litvinenko, Porgy and Bess, La Bohème, Romeo et Juliette, Die WalküreLa Fanciulla del WestCapriccioRusalkaTristan und IsoldePique DameDialogues des CarmélitesPeter GrimesFalstaffNorma (Grange Park Opera); MacbethLeonoreLucia di LammermoorLouiseJacobinLa Princesse JauneLa ColombeIntermezzoThe Barber of Baghdad (Buxton Festival); Otello (Birmingham Opera Company); The Rape of LucretiaOwen Wingrave (Irish Youth Opera) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Guildhall School of Music).

Stephen was a boy chorister at Canterbury Cathedral‚ and studied at King’s School‚ Canterbury; Trinity College‚ Cambridge (as Organ Scholar) and Guildhall School of Music and Drama‚ under Vilem Tausky. He co-founded and was Music Director of Opera 80‚ and meanwhile was resident conductor at English National Opera‚ also working with Scottish Opera‚ Dublin Grand Opera‚ Opera North and Royal Opera House (TurandotDie Zauberflöte). He was Artistic Director of Opera Northern Ireland from 1996 to 1999. Other UK highlights include The Rake’s Progress (Glyndebourne)‚ The Cunning Little Vixen (ENO)‚ IdomeneoThe Barber of SevilleFidelio and Madama Butterfly (Belfast)‚ Albert HerringFalstaffThe Marriage of Figaro and Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Garsington)‚ Madam Butterfly (Opera North) and Sweeney Todd with Bryn Terfel (Royal Festival Hall).

Engagements abroad include The Rake’s ProgressMadam ButterflyTosca (Vancouver Opera)‚ Capriccio (San Francisco Opera)‚ FaustNabuccoLa CenerentolaTurandot (Florida Grand Opera)‚ Die ZauberflöteCarmenDuke Bluebeard’s CastleRomeo et Juliette(Australia)‚ Madama ButterflyDon GiovanniIl Trovatore (Auckland)‚ ElektraFaust (Seville)‚ The Cunning Little Vixen (Berlin)‚ The Rake’s Progress (Nationale Reisopera)‚ CapriccioI Capuletti e I Montecchi(Sicily)‚ Rigoletto (Tirana) and Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Riga).

In addition to his operatic work‚ he has conducted most of the major UK orchestras and ensembles‚ and concert appearances have taken him all over the world. In 1997 he was appointed Music Director of the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra. Recordings include Joseph James’ Requiemwith Sumi Jo and his own composition Rainbow Bear (with his wife‚ Joanna Lumley‚ as narrator)‚ and has conducted the premières of his opera King in Canterbury Cathedral and his Clarinet Concerto with Emma Johnson and the Ulster Orchestra. As a pianist‚ he has recorded the complete songs of Butterworth‚ Delius and Quilter.

Psappha is the North West’s only stand-alone professional contemporary classical music ensemble. Founded in 1991 by Artistic Director Tim Williams, the group is dedicated to commissioning, performing and promoting new music – particularly by living composers and emerging musicians.

Throughout its 30-year career, Psappha has commissioned and premiered music by more than 500 composers and has performed across the UK and worldwide on five continents. In the process, it has worked with the likes of Aldeburgh Music, the BBC Philharmonic, the BBC Proms, BBC Radio 3, Glyndebourne Festival, NMC, Opera North, Phoenix Dance Theatre, the Royal Northern College of Music, University of Manchester and the Royal Opera House in the UK; Guggenheim New York, the New York Philharmonic and Princeton University in the USA; and Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, the Jerusalem Festival and Muziektheater Transparant worldwide.

Psappha supports composers at all stages of their careers, inviting them to work with its core musicians to create, develop and present new work. Through its pioneering ‘Composing For…’ scheme, which launched in 2014, the group has worked directly with more than 140 emerging composers on brand new compositions. All these works are premiered via high-quality films on the group’s extensive YouTube channel, which contains more than 230 free-to-view films of live performances and has received more than 120,000 views in the last 12 months alone. The group also launched its own record label in 1997, and its catalogue of recordings are set for re-release in 2021 through its new relationship with NMC Recordings.

Composer Mark-Anthony Turnage was appointed as Psappha’s Patron in 2018 – succeeding Peter Maxwell-Davies, former Master of the Queen’s Music, who served as Patron for 20 years and was an enthusiastic supporter of the group’s work until his death in 2016. An Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation and PRS Foundation Talent Development Partner, Psappha is based at Hallé St Michael’s, the former Italian Chapel in the central Manchester neighbourhood of Ancoats.

Thank you for coming – and please join us for our next concert on Friday 4 February 2022 at Hallé St Peter’s: world premieres of new music by Rylan Gleave, Simon Holt, Derri Joseph Lewis and Bethan Morgan-Williams, plus pieces by Aaron Parker and Mark-Anthony Turnage

For details and to book tickets, visit psappha.com/diary