Tom Armstrong

Tom Armstrong introduces his work, To The Measures Fall, for baroque flute and guitar
What is your musical aesthetic?
In To The Measures Fall it is quite conventional, driven by notions such as unity, contrast, detail/complexity and, above all, the use of climax as a structuring device.

Who are your main influences?
In this case progressive rock emerges as a strong influence, very overtly so in the 19/8 movement! There are echoes of other popular styles - funk, jazz - as well as references to forms or genres that might be found in a baroque suite - the air, the passacaglia. A composer who exerted a significant influence on me in my early 20s was Franco Donatoni and think he is still traceable in the rhythmic energy and propulsion of the music and (I hope!) a sense of fun at times.

Can you tell us a little about the background of the piece?
The piece is very much 'about' the two instruments it was written for. The harmony often features typically guitaristic voicings and the baroque flute part is restricted mainly to diatonic notes in D major following advice from Martin Feinstein as to the efficacy of this key. This constraint means that it is often the guitar pushing against tonality of the flute until there is some reversal of this role in the last movement. The title of this movement, 'Ripatransone', is the name of the town in Italy where the
piece was supposed to receive its premiere in 2006. What actually happened was that, following a security alert at Heathrow, only the guitarist (Richard Hand) and the flautist's (Martin Feinstein's) partner made it out to Italy. Instead of cancelling the concert Richard cobbled together a programme by roping in Martin's partner (a violinist) and including various solo items. They rehearsed on the train to the venue and managed to make a violin and guitar arrangement of the last movement of To the Measures Fall which they premiered. So, tonight's version is a world premiere of the piece in its original instrumentation. Sadly Richard died suddenly in 2009; he was a wonderful musician, a generous collaborator and a good friend who I miss enormously.

How does this work relate to your other compositional output?
Pretty obliquely, at least to pieces I have written in the last 6-7 years! The score is fairly heavy on notational detail and the performers are instructed in many aspects of sound production. My recent pieces have tended to empty the notation of such details, devolving more responsibility to the performers. I have also become less interested in 'fixing' pieces in every respect so many of my recent works are mobile in form and/or indeterminate in the way players' parts are aligned. This has been
accompanied by a significant aesthetic shift away from climax towards more static, 'sculptural' forms and an embrace of silence.

Is classical music dead?
No, it isn't but some contemporary classical music is facing problems. In a conversation with the composer Howard Skempton and the cellist Joseph Spooner recently we agreed that, whilst performers seem to be getting younger, audiences for classical music appear to be trending in the opposite direction. This seems to be creating a climate in which it is difficult for artists to programme contemporary music when making their way around the music club/music society circuit in the UK and consequently harder for composers to get their music programmed and regularly performed. On the other hand, countering this is the appearance of the so-called 'DIY culture' of artistic production where composers a forming collectives and performing their own and others' works. This is a welcome development but may not suit all composers.

Tom's Website

rarescale premieres To the Measures Fall for baroque flute and guitar at The Forge on 6th September 2016. Book tickets here.