Premiere of Loop Concerto for Improvising Pianist and Orchestra

Ben Oliver (Lecturer in Composition) tells us about the first performance of his new Piano Concerto:

One of the highlights of my summer was conducting the Kent County Youth Orchestra and jazz pianist Ivo Neame in the September premiere of my new piano concerto, Loop Concerto. The manager of the orchestra, Geoff Dixon, approached me in 2012 to write a piece for the orchestra’s 50th Anniversary concert. My immediate response was “Yes definitely, and can I write a concerto for Ivo?” I am really grateful that Geoff and the Kent Music team were incredibly supportive and helped make my idea happen.

To provide some context I played flute and piccolo in KCYO from 1998 until 2004 and Ivo Neame is also an alumnus of the orchestra. He has gone on to great things, performing all over with his own projects and bands such as Phronesis and the Kairos 4Tet. We have kept in touch a little but not worked together before so the commission from KCYO provided a perfect chance to make this happen!

The Performance in Maidstone: Photo Martin Hines, Kent Music/KCYO
Photo Martin Hines, Kent Music/KCYO

The music in Loop Concerto is formed of a variety of different musical loops, which are a range of different lengths between five and sixty seconds. These loops are combined and layered in a variety of ways, providing a musical environment for the soloist to inhabit. The pianist is required to improvise for the majority of the piece, engaging with written instructions, jazz chords and more traditional notation. My aim in writing the piece was to try and find a musical space that is somewhere between jazz and contemporary-classical musical languages. I am generally happy with Loop Concerto but I would now like to do a revision of the piece in which there is more space for the piano. I think the notation needs to allow more flexibility and opportunities for the music to be more tangential.

Putting my issues about my composing aside (composer’s prerogative!) I was delighted with how KCYO and Ivo played Loop Concerto. The orchestra has so much energy, which is one of my favourite things about youth orchestras in general. It was fantastic to spend time with the KCYO players and staff and to fulfill my long held dream, cultivated while sitting in the flute section!

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