Press Release

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Nic Pendlebury,
Electric viola

Catalogue Number: ORC100196

Release Date: May 20th

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Violist Nic Pendlebury presents a unique album of music transcribed for electric viola, including famous works by Steve Reich and Thomas Tallis, transcribed by Nic Pendlebury himself using loops and multitracking to create multiple layers of sound.


Steve Reich (b.1936)
1.  Electric Counterpoint
I Fast
II Slow
III Fast
Transcribed by Nic Pendlebury

Thomas Tallis (1505-1585)
2.  Spem in Alium
Transcribed by Nic Pendlebury

John Ashton Thomas (1961-2021)
3.  Variations on the Fourth Tune

Ell Kendall (b.1993)
4.  Bloom

Terry Riley (b.1935)
5.  Dorian Reeds
Transcribed by Nic Pendlebury

Nic Pendlebury, electric viola

Multiple is my first album of music for the electric viola; all the works have either been transcribed by myself, by the composer or written specifically for the album. The title of the album reflects the fact that the works are originally composed for multiple instruments or voices and in the case of the Tallis, 40 of them. Terry Riley’s Dorian Reeds however, is scored for a single instrument, the multiple aspect of the work coming from looping delays, which accumulate and fade throughout the piece.
I believe the electric viola to have tremendous scope for timbral exploration particularly when combined with sonic manipulation and I consider it an instrument that has exciting and wide-ranging compositional possibilities. I’m fairly confident in saying that not much has been written for it in a classical sense and that this album is unique in terms of genre and sound world – I don’t believe anything like it has been heard before and I’m looking forward to commissioning and recording new works which further demonstrate the instrument’s versatility and performance qualities.
As a violist, I believe it is incumbent on me to explore ways of adding new work to our repertoire (we don’t have the largest of repertoire at our disposal) and I believe that this is an unchartered and exciting way to do so. In my opinion the viola is the most beautiful of the string instruments, combining the virtuosity of the violin and the dark sonority of the cello and so am excited to discover the plethora of new sound worlds this exciting new approach has to offer.

Steve Reich (b.1936)
Electric Counterpoint (transcribed by Nic Pendlebury)

Initial inspiration for the album came from a long admiration I have for the music of Steve Reich and Terry Riley, composers I have had the pleasure of working with as a member of the Smith Quartet.
In the quartet’s early days, we performed Steve Reich’s Different Trains many times together with the Siobhan Davies Dance Company. We later went on to record the work for Signum Classics and workshopped it together with Steve Reich on the BBC’s Culture Show as well as featuring in the Bafta and Grammy award winning film Holocaust: A music memorial film from Auschwitz.
I remember buying the original Different Trains album on vinyl and being struck by the work on the B side, Electric Counterpoint, written in 1987 for Electric Guitarist Pat Matheny. The moment I heard it I thought that this extraordinary piece would work well for bowed strings and that one day, I would arrange it for my quartet.
That never happened but the sound of the multiple string version never left my head and when I was looking for material for this album, Electric Counterpoint seemed the natural place to start. I spoke to Steve Reich about the idea of making my own transcription and to my delight he gave his blessing, enthusiastic about the new sound world a bowed version would create. A year later and countless hours in the recording studio with my colleague, sound designer and producer John-Marc Gowans, I sent the finished version to Steve Reich who was to say the least, extremely enthusiastic.
As with the original, the electric viola version is in three movements, fast, slow, fast, played continuously one after another without a pause. Of course, plucking (guitar) and bowing (viola) produce very different sounds but I wanted to be as faithful to the original score as I could, so worked hard to capture the original musical gestures in terms of bowings and groupings of notes. Amongst the many musical decisions that had to be made was the issue of the bass guitar lines, played an octave below the range of the viola. I felt it was essential to keep these lines at their original pitch and so all the bass lines were put through a pitch shifter which took the original pitch down an octave and in the last movement provide much of the rhythmic drive of the piece. I also thought it was important to keep some of the lines plucked (perhaps as a throwback to the original) and in the final movement the plucked lines of the bass guitars and the strummed chords become somewhat of a feature, Steve Reich himself commenting in an email to me that “the ‘strums’, which are usually the focus only until they’re all “built up”, in your version remain the focus. Never heard that before and it’s really a worthwhile variation from all the other mixes of the piece”. A few months prior to the Covid pandemic I was lucky enough to be able to play my new version to Steve Reich in a live performance. It was a somewhat nerve-wracking experience but thankfully he seemed to really love my performance and even more importantly, my transcription!

Thomas Tallis (1505-1585)
Spem in Alium (transcribed by Nic Pendlebury)

Spem in alium nunquam habui (Hope in any other have I none) is one of Thomas Tallis’ most beautiful and infamous works. Originally written in 1570 for eight choirs of five voices (S.A.T. B1. B2.) it is considered by many to be one of the greatest examples of early English polyphonic writing. The nine-minute work is a stunning example of imitative contrapuntal writing, juxtaposed with sumptuous homophonic textures allowing individual voices to weave within an elaborate and elegant harmonic framework of shifting tone colours. In this new transcription I have rescored the original 40 vocal lines for 40 electric violas placing this renaissance work in a contemporary context.
My adaptation was originally presented as an installation at the 2018 Sounds Festival in the Anatomy Rooms of Aberdeen University and featured a specially created sound design by John-Marc Gowans, each individual line played through a circle of 40 separate speakers grouped into 8 choirs of five which surrounded the audience, maximising the spatial experience. The work was played continually over a period of two days allowing the audience to experience multiple performances from a variety of listening points. From the centre, the listener experienced the complete surround sound of the motet. Walking around the circumference in front of the speakers however created a different, more intimate experience, with the audience able to listen to each individual line as they passed by. In this way the listener could “remix” the work choosing to stand in a variety of listening points giving each audience member and each listening a unique aural perspective of the work.
In this version, a song without words, the listener is perhaps even more aware of the sheer beauty of the contrapuntal writing, and it is perhaps this which gives the work its extraordinary spirituality.

John Ashton Thomas (1961-2021)
Variations on the Fourth Tune

John was a colleague in the Composition Department at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance where I am Head of the String Department. He was an amazing composer, arranger, orchestrator and teacher and an incredibly humble and giving man despite all his accolades and notable achievements in the film industry, which amongst many included contributing to the Oscar winning Black Panther score. His musical talents crossed many genres, and he was equally at home in a variety of settings, whether conducting a new Hollywood score in a recording session in London or Los Angeles, performing in jazz settings such as Ronnie Scott’s or the 606 club, or on the concert platform at the Royal Albert Hall or the Southbank Centre.
Back in 2011 I commissioned John to write a new work to compliment Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis which I had programmed for a concert I was conducting with Trinity Laban’s String Ensemble. The resulting work, Variations on the Fourth Tune was an absolute triumph, and the orchestra got a huge buzz from playing it, despite its very technical demands.
During the planning of material for this album I spoke to John about the idea of arranging the original work for electric violas and he was really excited about the idea. What I hadn’t banked on was the pandemic which resulted in me having to play, record and produce the whole work completely by myself, something I had never done before. It was a daunting task, a steep learning curve, but great fun and a great education!
Very sadly John passed away unexpectedly towards the end of 2021 but thankfully I had just finished his piece and managed to send the completed recording to him a couple of weeks before he died. I remember speaking to him on the phone and how pleased and excited he was about the new version and how much he was looking forward to it being released.
The fourth tune of the title refers to the tunes collected in Bishop Parker’s Psalter of which, nine were contributed by Thomas Tallis.

Ell Kendall (b.1993)

I have always enjoyed working with emerging artists and am fascinated with the plethora of genre and styles that influence them. Ell’s slow moving rich ambient sound worlds envelop the listener in a meditative aural wash. His influences range from avant-garde composers and performance artists to early religious music, and ritual. Of Bloom Ell writes:
“The material for Bloom, composed in 2018, came to me while contemplating sunlight in the late winter and is a prayer to the forthcoming Spring.”
Ell studied at Trinity Laban and although not a direct student of John Ashton Thomas remembers him with great fondness:
“Without John, being the warm and generous man that he was, I may never have met Nic, or had the opportunity to compose this score. Although my meetings with John were few, the mark he has made on my life is quite astounding. In my heart, I will always owe him a great debt.”

Terry Riley (b.1935)
Dorian Reeds (transcribed by Nic Pendlebury)

I first met Terry Riley when the Smith Quartet was invited to perform with him at the Barbican Centre in London alongside the rock group Pulp in a performance of his revolutionary classic In C.
Written in 1964 this seminal work provided a new concept in musical form which would become known as Minimalism and was based on interlocking repetitive often hypnotic musical patterns. Its impact was to change the course of 20th Century music and laid the compositional path for a new generation of composers such as Steve Reich, Philip Glass and John Adams, and was hugely influential for Rock Groups such as The Who, Soft Machine, Mike Oldfield, Tangerine Dream, Curved Air and of course the aforementioned Pulp.
This is my interpretation of Terry Riley’s 1965 work for Saxophone and digital delay Dorian Reeds. The piece explores the repetition of simple patterns which accumulate and dissipate, slowly taking on a rhythmic life of their own and eventually disappearing. The motifs are pre-designed and centred around the Dorian Mode (essentially a scale using only the white notes on a piano, starting on D). In this version I have contributed some of my own motifs and sonic ideas although much of each performance is left to improvisation, so no two performances are alike.
The sound design by John-Marc Gowans is based on the original Terry Riley recording – the tape delay settings chosen by Terry Riley have been used as the basis for a further evolution of the delay system, employing additional multiple delay lines and applying them not just to the notational audio input but also to interactive aspects of tone, balance and spatial movement. Each interactive element in the new sound design is given its own compositional mathematical relationship to the whole.

© Nic Pendlebury

Violist Nic Pendlebury presents a unique album of music transcribed for electric viola. Many of the transcriptions were made by Nic Pendlebury himself, and the album title Multiple reflects his choice of works with many different parts, articulated here in entirely fresh ways by using loops and multitracking to create layers of sound.

As a founder member of the Smith Quartet, Nic Pendlebury has been at the forefront of contemporary music for over 30 years, commissioning works and collaborating with many of the world’s most celebrated composers. This love of new and recent music is reflected on this album, which features arrangements of Steve Reich’s mesmerising Electric Counterpoint and Terry Riley’s hypnotic Dorian Reeds, as well as Variations on the Fourth Tune by the versatile John Ashton Thomas and Bloom by emerging composer Elliott Kendall. The album’s tour de force dates from a much earlier epoch: Thomas Tallis’s 40-part choral work Spem in Alium is transformed into 40 electric viola lines, revealing fascinating details of this musical masterpiece.

Nic Pendlebury

Nic has been at the forefront of the contemporary music scene for over thirty years and was the founder and violist of the Internationally acclaimed Smith Quartet. The group pioneered the development of the string quartet genre commissioning over 300 new works, collaborating with and commissioning from such composers as Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Michael Nyman, Gavin Bryars, Graham Fitkin, Steve Martland, Michael Daugherty, Steven Mackey, John Lord, Stephen Montague, Howard Skempton and Django Bates. They have performed in many of the world’s most prestigious festivals and recorded albums for BMG, Sony, Decca and Signum with whom they released bestselling albums of music by Steve Reich and Philip Glass, with the latter being described by Gramophone Magazine as “one of the ten most important CDs of contemporary music”. They were also featured in two BBC documentaries, Classic Quartets at the BBC and Holocaust; A Music Memorial Film from Auschwitz performing Steve Reich’s Different Trains which won a Grammy and a BAFTA.

In more recent years, Nic’s pioneering and creative spirit has seen him create a new repertoire for the electric viola, an instrument he believes has an exciting future in the ever-developing world of classical music. His stunning transcriptions of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint and Terry Riley’s Dorian Reeds featured on this album, have not only received critical acclaim from audiences around the world but from the composers themselves: “the idea that Electric Counterpoint would be bowed had never occurred to me. I want to thank Nic for a beautiful surprise. I was moved to tears.” – Steve Reich. “I listened to your recording, and it sounds so beautiful! It is a really satisfying version of the piece. Congratulations!” – Terry Riley.

Other transcriptions include Thomas Tallis’ 40-part motet Spem in Alium presented for performance as an interactive Installation of forty loud-speakers within which the audience travels. The installation was developed and realised in collaboration with sound designer John-Marc Gowans and was premiered at the 2018 Sounds Festival in Aberdeen receiving much critical acclaim. There are plans for a second album too which will feature new commissions including Colin Riley’s Fallen Angel, a dramatic work for e viola and electronics, Dominic Murcott’s haunting Black Earth and Hollie Harding’s interactive, immersive work Melting, Shifting Liquid World, which explores the theme of climate change and ocean pollution. Written for e viola, (audience worn) bone conduction headphones, electronics, and string orchestra, the work was premiered in 2019 at the National Maritime Museum in London.

Nic is also Head of Strings at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance where he leads one of the most dynamic faculties in Europe. As well as his administrative educational and managerial responsibilities he conducts several of the college orchestras including the Trinity Laban String Ensemble with whom he has toured throughout Europe collaborating with many international soloists including Dmitri Ashkenazy, Darko Brlek, Rivka Golani, William Howard, actor Edward Fox, jazz pianist Uri Caine and saxophonist Julian Argüelles, with whom he and the ensemble recorded the album As above so below. Nic has also commissioned new works for the group from composers such as Paval Novak, David Matthews, Graham Fitkin, Joseph Phibbs and Douglas Finch.
In recognition of his creative work in performance and education, Nic was awarded title of Professor in 2018.

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