The score to Judith Weir's Sundew

As her talk focused fundamentally on the ideas of notation in music, I was particularly interested in the variety of ideas which she put forth. She painted the picture that a piece of music shares similarities with a piece of artwork, and using her own example of ‘Sundew’, which is a violin/cello duet, she showed us how by removing the note-heads and providing a general shape of each phrase with lines or arrows, a similar piece was produced by the performers. I found this idea very interesting, as I realised how simple a notation system could be, and I think this may be an idea to develop in the future for a piece of my own. I specifically liked that by abstracting some of the details about the music if you have given a clear idea about the inspiration/emotions in your composition it is possible to gain a clear performance, whilst also allowing for the performers to add some of their personality.

I also really enjoyed the discussion she had on how repetitions can be used effectively, drawing upon examples of minimalism such as Steve Reich’s ‘Piano Phase’, and how a large amount of material can be devised from a small amount of notation. This again attached to the idea of maintaining a clarity of compositional thought. I learned here that sometimes it is better to spend more time thinking and less time notating to gain what you are looking for. Personally, in the event, I would have wished for a few more performances of pieces, as I wished to learn a bit more about how Judith Weir composes herself, and a couple more of her pieces would have helped a lot. I also thought that a few more examples of less-conventionally notated piece should be shown, such as with graphic scores.

However, the main learning point was that conveying a musical idea should not just be restricted to the most common notational forms. Judith Weir’s talk has inspired me to look beyond what I’d consider to be conventional, and I would recommend the talk/performance to anyone considering writing their own music, as I think its invaluable learning about the variety of ways in which notation can be interpreted. It also provided inspiration for these extended notation styles. Specifically, I was encouraged to look at more minimalism, such as Philip Glass’ ‘Concerto for Saxophone Quartet’, and how a simple performance direction can lead to many minutes of music such as in Steve Reich’s ‘Violin Phase’.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Hi Tom, thanks for sharing your thoughts on Judith Weir’s visit. Do you think you would be interested in listening to more of Judith’s compositions after hearing ‘Sundew’? What did you think of the music and the performance itself?

    Jenny (Arts Award)


    • Hi Jenny,
      I think the concept of ‘Sundew’ (One instrument ‘ingesting’ the music of the other) was very interesting, so I think I would like to listen to a few other of her pieces to see where her interests lead her and how they manifest themselves in a musical setting. I did like the music as I thought it represented her intentions very well, and the performance was amazing!



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2018, Arts Award, Evening Sessions