Mark Simpson

This month, Mark Simpson and two of his compositions for the oboe are being highlighted in the Journal. Both written in the past decade, Windflower and Nur Musik are both part of a fantastic recording featuring Mark’s music by NMC Recordings. Below, Mark introduces both works and a brief video exploring the release of his most recent NMC recording is included.

Oboe Quartet

Instrumentation: Oboe and String Trio

Duration: 5′

Premiere: 8th June 2019, Wigmore Hall, London. Premiered by
Nicholas Daniel, oboe / Jacqueline Shave, violin / Timothy Ridout, viola / Guy Johnston, cello

Flowing (crotchet =60)
Presto con fuoco (crotchet = 150)
Slow and expressive (crotchet = 60)

The piece begins with the solo oboe weaving its way through a brittle and expressive string texture. With each passing phrase the tension and energy builds leading to a dramatic outburst in the string parts.

The second movement is fast and full of energy. The viola and cello drive forward with aggressive semi-quavers whilst the violin and oboe intertwine with gnarly, angular material. The unstable semi-quaver outbursts from the beginning of the work repeat and punctuate the texture. Subsequently the cello becomes the lead voice in a scurrying tarantella-like passage. The music revisits the opening sound-world before disappearing off into the ether.

The last movement is slow and deeply expressive, showcasing the beautiful tone and powerful musicality of the work’s dedicatee, Nicholas Daniel.

My Oboe Quartet is dedicated to Nicholas Daniel in admiration and Christian Jessen.

© Mark Simpson

Click here to buy sheet music


Instrumentation: Solo Oboe

Duration: 5′

Premiere: Nicholas Daniel. Gregynog Festival July 2013.

Windflower was written to accompany Benjamin Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid for solo oboe. The task was to write a piece based on another of Ovid’s tales that Benjamin Britten had not use for his set. Instead I used Ted Hughes’s own brilliant Tales of Ovid as a point of inspiration and chose ‘Venus and Adonis’. At the end of the tale, at the point of Adonis’s brutal slaughter by a wild boar, Venus rips her hair and clasps at her skin, holding Adonis to her chest as he dies whilst screaming to the Fates. His blood splatters to the floor and she hails that it will bloom into an immortal flower. Pouring nectar into his mangled body, his blood begins to seethe. Soon after there stands a delicate, bright, blood-coloured flower. Its life is brief – the petals fall at the first breeze of the wind that flows over them. Windflower is its name.

I wanted to show the passionate wailings of Venus coupled with the unstable, flowing nature of the Windflower.

Windflower is dedicated to Nicholas Daniel.

© Mark Simpson

Click here to buy sheet music

Click here to buy recording

Nur Musik

Instrumentation: Solo Oboe and Ensemble

Duration: 10′

Premiere: Ensemble 10:10. Jonathan Small, Oboe. Clark Rundell, conductor. April 2008. St. George’s Hall concert hall, Liverpool.

When I was approached to write for Ensemble 10/10 in 2008, the year Liverpool was European Capital of Culture, I immediately heard the sound of a soaring oboe line wrapped inside a dense, dark and murky ensemble texture, fighting to be heard amongst aggressive, volatile and even explosive music. Immediately after, in stark contrast, I heard softer, tender and more intimate music. I also wanted to highlight the oboe’s power to sing with yearning, lyrical intensity. These two opposing worlds form the basic structure of the work. The piece was written during a stay in Berlin in 2008. It has no extra-musical influence, hence the title Nur Musik, which translates as ‘just music’ or ‘simply music’.

Nur Musik is dedicated to Ensemble 10/10.

© Mark Simpson

About Mark Simpson

Composer and clarinettist Mark Simpson (b.1988, Liverpool) became the first ever winner of both the BBC Young Musician of the Year and BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer of the Year competitions in 2006. He went on to read Music at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, and studied composition with Julian Anderson at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, before being selected for representation by the Young Classical Artists Trust. Simpson was a BBC New Generation Artist from 2012-2014. He received a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship in 2014 and the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Award in 2010, and is a Visiting Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. In 2015 he was appointed Composer in Association of the BBC Philharmonic for a period of four years.

Simpson’s The Immortal (2015), an oratorio for baritone, chorus and symphony orchestra, was premiered by the BBC Philharmonic and Juanjo Mena at the Manchester International Festival, with support from Sky Arts Futures Fund and IdeasTap, receiving immediate critical acclaim: ‘blazingly original’ (The Guardian); ‘the best new choral work I’ve heard in years’ (The Times). Other orchestral works include Israfel (2014), premiered by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Andrew Litton, sparks (2012), commissioned for the Last Night of the Proms and A mirror-fragment… (2008), written for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

Highlights of 2016 included the premiere of Simpson’s first opera Pleasure, with a libretto by Melanie Challenger, commissioned by Opera North, the Royal Opera and Aldeburgh Music with performances in Leeds, Liverpool, Aldeburgh and London. Simpson also premiered Hommage à Kurtág for clarinet, piano and viola with Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Antoine Tamestit, commissioned by the Salzburg and Edinburgh International festivals. He also gave the online premiere of Darkness Moves for solo clarinet, commissioned by the Borletti-Buitoni Trust. Other forthcoming commissions include a cello concerto for Leonard Elschenbroich and the BBC Philharmonic, and a piano trio for the Gould Trio, supported through Beyond Borders and the PRS for Music Foundation.

Simpson performs widely as a soloist and chamber musician and is hugely committed to the performance of new music. He performed and recorded the Lindberg Clarinet Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Adams’s Gnarly Buttons with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and has given many solo performances including the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (Vassily Petrenko), Northern Sinfonia (Yan Pascal Tortelier), BBC Philharmonic (Gianandrea Noseda), City of London Sinfonia and BBC Concert Orchestra . He has played recitals at Wigmore Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Sage Gateshead, Cheltenham Festival, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, BeethovenFest, O’Modernt and Trasimeno Festivals, with premieres of works by Simon Holt, Jonathan Harvey and Edmund Finnis. Recent highlights including Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto at the 2015 BBC Proms with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sir Andrew Davis and Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps at the Aldeburgh Festival with Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Isabelle Faust and Jean-Guihen Queyras.

Simpson performed Magnus Lindberg’s Clarinet Concerto with the BBC Philharmonic and HK Gruber in February 2016 and was invited to play the concerto again in Salzburg in November the same year. In summer 2016 he made his debut at the Edinburgh and Salzburg festivals in a trio programme of Schumann and Kurtág, alongside his own new work, with Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Antoine Tamestit.

Simpson’s first disc on NMC ‘Prism’ featured him as performer; the second disc for NMC  ‘Night Music’ was released in 2016, featuring Simpson’s own chamber and ensemble works.