Barlow’s Nocturne for Solo Clarinet, Marimba and Strings scored in Sibelius

Clarinettist Emma Johnson

British conductor and composer Stephen Barlow recently completed a major new work for clarinettist Emma Johnson, entitled Nocturne for Solo Clarinet, Marimba and Strings. First performed by the Ulster Orchestra in January of this year, it will receive its London premiere in a few weeks in a concert given by the South Bank Symphonia as part of their Rush Hour Concert series.

I caught up with Matthew Morley, Assistant Director of Music at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, who did the preparation of the full score and all of the parts for the world premiere, to find out how Sibelius helped him get the job done on time and to a professional standard.

When Matthew took on the task of turning Stephen Barlow’s manuscript into a finished score, he hadn’t done anything on quite the same scale in Sibelius before. “At St Bride’s, we do a large number of in-house arrangements for the many memorial services held there,” he told me, “and before this project I used Sibelius mainly to produce these arrangements for the choir. I’d also just completed a project – again, for Stephen – to reduce down the quadruple wood-wind and brass in Verdi’s Otello for Birmingham Opera, which was my first real taster using the new Sibelius 6.”

Tackling a 15-minute work for clarinet, marimba and strings, however, presented some new challenges, not least of which was the deadline. “Stephen produced a very good, detailed manuscript,” said Matthew, “but he had promised me the score by the end of September; needless to say he got a bit bogged down with it, and it didn’t arrive until late November with the Ulster Orchestra breathing down our necks for the parts before their Christmas break.”

Once Matthew was able to get his teeth into the score, he found the manuscript very detailed. “The piece was complex, despite being only about 15 minutes in length,” he said, “with huge amounts of dynamic and articulation detail on sextuplets, quintuplets and so on, and much of the string writing was in three very independent staves per part.”

Fortunately, Matthew found that, with Sibelius 6 as his tool, he was more than a match for the challenge. “What impressed me about Sibelius 6 was the ease with which I could include every bit of detail that Stephen wanted,” he enthused. “The new Magnetic Layout took a bit of getting used to, but it saved so much time, the confidence that changes made were reflected in the parts, the ease in which I was able to experiment between A4 and B4 formats for the parts, the ability to be able to produce a range of parts for the soloist and the marimba player – Clarinet with a small Marimba stave, Marimba with the Solo Clarinet stave, and so on – being able to arrange the page-turns in a way that enabled the players not to have to turn at the most complex point of a section. I could go on!”

With the score and parts prepared in time for the first rehearsals, Stephen was able to take the orchestra through the piece for the first time. Matthew said, “Stephen was given a very short time to rehearse with orchestra, and he said that not a murmur of complaint was to be heard in regard of the new parts – which I took as a compliment to me and Sibelius.”

The London premiere of Nocturne for Solo Clarinet, Marimba and Strings will be given by the South Bank Symphonia in St. John’s Waterloo, SE1 8TY at 6pm in a concert in the Symphonia’s Rush Hour Concert series. Entry is free, so you should check it out.

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