March 1999

On frost, birth and death

Simon Speare's 'Frost at Midnight' is premièred by the London Concert Choir with the City of London Sinfonia at the QEH on Monday 15th March at 7.45pm.

The composer does a vocal warm-up with baby son Gorran, age three months


I wrote Frost at Midnight while my wife Marija was pregnant last year. A friend introduced me to the Coleridge poem in which the writer talks about his wishes for his new baby who is lying down asleep beside him, the warmth and security of the cottage protecting them from the icy night outside.

My piece is paired in the concert with Brahms' German Requiem, so there's a sense of completing the circle. Birth and death, and a celebration of nature. This was my first chance to write for such large forces, which was nice. I've added two percussion and feature the harp prominently, as does Brahms.

To me, the image of frost forming, crystals growing and spreading, was like conception, pregnancy and growth. The opening captures the miraculousness of it all. I had the feeling that some kind of miracle had occurred millions of miles out in space and it was something special to do with us. High harp, glockenspiel, string effects, wind chimes and belltrees created a magical effect.

My connection with CLS began when I entered a competition advertised in new notes for a five-minute concert overture to mark their 25th anniversary. Several entries were workshopped one afternoon and mine was chosen to be performed that same evening at the Barbican. That was the beginning of my liaison with conductor Mark Forkgen. He was really enthusiastic about my piece, and had an immediate understanding of what I intended in it.

As London Concert Choir's Composer in Association I've been able to workshop Frost at Midnight while in progress. Playing the opening section and main theme, and talking about the poem with the choir, gave me a feel for what they were like. Their initial response was pretty positive.

I feel that birth and death are events that people celebrate and contemplate as a community and this makes the use of large forces very appropriate. The thing I like about choirs is that they sing fairly unaffectedly. A choir singing lustily isn't that much different from a football crowd singing lustily, just a bit of training here and there. I'm not into silly wobbly voices where people don't understand the words. This choir sings straight from the heart. I wonder what Gorran will make of it all when I take him to the rehearsal next week.

Simon Speare was talking to Ingrid Perrin.

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Event listings for this month


Previous articles:

February 1999
Keeping busy...

January 1999
Now that's what I call contemporary!

December 1998
Forty years of madness?

November 1998
To plug in or not to plug in?

October 1998
No, honestly it is a cello

September 1998
Composing for film

July/August 1998
New music on old instruments

June 1998
Blue sheep of record companies

May 1998
spnm looks to the future

April 1998
New Music 98 in Manchester