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Arts interview: composer David Pepper

27 Jun 2024 4 minute read
Composer David Pepper

Jon Gower

This week will see the premiere of a new song cycle by the young Pembrokeshire composer David Pepper.
It will be performed at an evening celebrating and connecting the cultures of Wales, Ireland and Cameroon in the village hall at St Nicholas, where the poet and storyteller Eric Ngalle Charles will also be performing his one-man show, The Rituals of the Molikilikili.

The evening will also feature nature-related songs by the likes of Benjamin Britten, Puccini and Schumann to be performed by the soprano Georgina Stalbow.

Originally from Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire, Georgina graduated from the Birmingham Conservatoire with a First Class Honours degree in Vocal and Operatic Studies in 2011.

Georgina Stalbow

Sea life
The evening, Curlews and other Creatures is part of an adventurous programme of events connecting Wales and Ireland organised by Simffoni Mara, a music commissioning-led project that responds to life on the edge of the Irish Sea, life on sea and life under it. It has the ultimate aim of creating a performance circuit from St. Davids Head to Holyhead and from Dun Laoghaire to Cork, with performances in venues from community halls to major concert venues.

A Curlew. Photo by dpexcel from Pixabay

The song cycle Cri’r Gylfinir/The Curlew’s Cry is an evocation of a bird that sadly no longer nests on the Pembrokeshire mainland, with only a few pairs remaining on the offshore islands.

David Pepper spoke to Nation.Cymru about the new work and its genesis.

“I started off with the words earlier this year inspired by W B Yeats and written by Jon Gower, finding a way of creating a melody that works with the words and feelings, locations, elements and textures these created.”
Did you by any chance listen to Peter Warlock’s song cycle on the same subject?
“I did listen to Peter Warlock’s music for inspiration but moved away from this sound world and tried to find my own voice also inspired by folk songs and music of the Celtic isles.”

I understand you thought about composing for a folk singer to begin with. What made you settle on a classically trained voice?
“The music is very open for interpretation but I wanted to notate the music and found working with the soprano singer Georgina Stalbow really brilliant as I could bring music to her and work with the text and voice and develop the music. Such guidance from a singer meant that I knew I was heading in the right direction with the combination of words, melody and phrases.”
Are there are musical references to the curlew’s call in the piece? Where do you see the birds when you go running along the coastal path?
“Well I often see curlews on Goodwick Moor and the Parrog at low tide, and occasionally also at Lowertown in Fishguard. So the music does have a feeling of the coast about it and a sense of journeys and migration. The text was very important to allow space for the words and create imagery and drama through this.”
Could you tell me about the other pieces being performed on the evening?
“We will also be performing some music by Britten, Puccini and Schumann that all have a reference to nature, in particular the land, sea and birds. In connection with the Ireland and Welsh links we will also be performing 2 songs from Y Ddwy Chwaer Folk Suite written by Paul Mealor with words by the poet Grahame Davies. I will also perform some of my solo piano works with accompanied film of the area of Pencaer Peninsula by filmmaker Conner Malone.”
How has writing this song cycle affected your progress as a composer? Has it pushed you a bit? Taken you in a new direction?
“This my first time properly writing with voice and words and I have found it challenging but very enjoyable and look forward to the first performance and hopefully many more to come later this year and in 2025 around Wales and Ireland.”
Curlews and other Creatures will be performed in the village hall at St Nicholas on the Pencaer peninsula in Pembrokeshire at 19.30 on Friday 28th June. Tickets are available from Simffoni Mara.

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