For nearly 10 years now I have given classes in music appreciation at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Open Learning. From Vivaldi to Stockhausen, Bach to Bernstein, I have talked about symphonies, concertos, chamber music, opera. It hardly feels like work — I get to talk about composers, play excerpts from their work and be enthusiastic for a couple of hours, sharing my love of music. A real joy!
This August I will give a couple of one-day courses: ‘Concertos for All’, from Vivaldi to Shostakovich and ‘The Basics of Music – All you’ve ever wanted to know . . .’ Go to the website of Edinburgh University, Centre for Open Learning, for details. I hope to see you there!
Recently I have started to give short talks at some of the concerts given by the Edinburgh Quartet. An informal, non-technical introduction to the piece and the composer. I’m glad to say that they seem to go down well! I also write the programme notes for their concerts. I enjoy this immensely as I read up about composers then get to write about them!
At the Hidden Door Festival 2016, I performed my poem ‘The Electric City of Heck’ with the Tinderbox Orchestra (a truly wonderful youth orchestra – the musicians ranging from early teens to mid-twenties). Electric piano, electric guitar, synthesiser, violins, cellos, double basses, bass guitar, saxophones, clarinets, tympani etc… I clung on to my microphone and gave it my all.. The 500-strong audience was really enthusiastic, and I very much hope I shall work with the orchestra again.
Good Angel, Bad Angel
The Perfect Woman
The Money Man
THE PERFECT WOMAN (Cresswell and Butlin)
Scottish Opera – Five :15
Oran Mor in Glasgow – 29 Feb, 1,2 Mar 2008
The Hub in Edinburgh – 8. 9 March 2008
Only The Perfect Woman, composed by Lyell Cresswell to a text by Ron Butlin, presented music as the absolute, joyous justification of opera. This witty exposé of scientific hubris, staged by Frederic Wake-Walker, opened the second half with a bang. Hardly any surtitles, but one could easily follow the three singers (Paul Keohone, Lise Christensen and Van Hulle) and a febrile score of such instant mastery – Cresswell, an established figure, has his own mature idiom – that one never thought about the music at all. One was the music, while it lasted. This suggested itself as the age-old answer to McCarthy’s question: “What is opera in the 21st century?”
Paul Driver, The Sunday Times, 09.03.08
There will be die-hard opera buffs (and opera critics) who found the whole experience too much for their conservative tastebuds. Yet curiously, it was the most traditional approach of the evening that produced the most consistent and powerful work. It came from the creative Edinburgh partnership of novelist Ron Butlin and composer Lyell Cresswell. In The Perfect Woman, they borrowed the horror film staple of the mad scientist who here, by surgically removing a birthmark from his wife’s face, believes he will create a being of absolute perfection. He doesn’t reckon on her brutal personality change. Butlin’s sharp libretto draws from Cresswell a score that is punchy, and utterly in tune with the electrifying pace of the drama. Both in its solo and vocal ensemble writing, it maintained a thread of unstoppable momentum, with strong characterisation by soprano Lise Christensen and bass Paul Keohone. Moreover it offered a fresh perspective on Cresswell’s own music, which appears to have taken flight of late.
Kenneth Walton, The Scotsman, 07.03.08
Three of these pieces were as inconsequential as candyfloss; one charming, but only one a quality product. That was The Perfect Woman, Ron Butlin’s savagely sardonic satire on the notion of scientists playing God with our genes, set to a scarily frenetic score by Lyell Cresswell.
Richard Morrison, The Times, 03.03.08
Strongest by far was Lyell Cresswell and Ron Butlin’s Weimaresque The Perfect Woman, which had bite, pungency, theatrical pace, a beginning, middle and end, and distinctive orchestration.
Anna Picard, The Independent on Sunday. 09.03.08
The Perfect Woman (Cresswell/Butlin) was the most electrifying little drama of the night – Cresswell is absolutely flying since he liberated his music and speeded it up.
Michael Tumelty, The Herald, 03.03.08
For Ron Butlin’s absurdist comedy The Perfect Woman, Lyell Cresswell provided the most obviously “modern” score, as descriptive as it was engaging.
Andrew Clark, Financial Times, 04.03.08
Scottish Opera’s experimental commissioning of five writers and musicians to create 15-minute chamber operas paid off wonderfully, I thought. That’s not to say that all of the works were a success. To my mind Bernard MacLaverty’s lyrical The Kings Conjecture and Ron Butlin’s theatrical The Perfect Woman stood out.
Fiona Leith, Scotland on Sunday, 09.03.08
The most successful, for me, was The Perfect Woman, composer Lyell Cresswell’s collaboration with librettist Ron Butlin on a sci-fi satire about a mad scientist intent on perfecting womankind – in the shape of his wife, whom he looses in the process. The score was evocative, the text economical and precise
Anthony Holden, The Observer, 09.03.08
But the evening’s hit is The Perfect Woman, a funny and disturbing piece by librettist Ron Butlin and Lyell Cresswell, written with Skill and imagination.
George Hall, The Stage, 03.03.08
Highlight of the evening was ‘The Perfect Woman’ – an intense science-fiction story dealing with the unintended consequences of cosmetic surgery and laced with a dark humour. Lyell Cresswell’s wonderful energetic score is dangerously eccentric, unpredictable and disconcerting, and greatly increased the tension of the short story while perfectly characterising the protagonists (a manipulative scientist and his apprehensive wife).
Lewis Forbes, Student, 11.03.08
GOOD ANGEL, BAD ANGEL
(Hebrides Ensemble – Traverse in Edinburgh, Tramway in Glasgow and other venues in Scotland)
With Good Angel Bad Angel, the Hebrides Ensemble have delivered a compelling argument to raise the profile of chamber opera and the pairing of composer Lyell Cresswell with writer Ron Butlin was truly inspired. Butlin’s sparse libretto was finely judged and almost poetic in places, blending seamlessly with Cresswell’s equally taut score. The music, particularly David Adams’ violin solos, brought to life the inner psychological torment of the main character, Markheim, a jewel thief turned murderer, impeccably sung by baritone Richard Burkhard. He was well-supported by bass Martin Robson and rising star mezzo-soprano Allison Cook, along with Adams, violist Catherine Marwood and cellist/music director William Conway. Unlike conventional opera, the musicians play an integral part in the drama and are on stage for the whole performance. Loosely inspired by Markheim, a story by Robert Louis Stevenson, Good Angel Bad Angel built up an impressive dramatic tension to rival that of a Hitchcock film and has the potential to become a regular Christmas favourite. All the elements of this production worked together perfectly.
SUSAN NICKALLS in The Scotsman 26 May 2005*****
The ingredients of this chamber opera are all of the highest quality. Librettist Ron Butlin has taken Robert Louis Stevenson’s spooky Christmas parable, Markheim, and fashioned a pellucid brisk narrative in sparkling modern language. Composer Lyell Cresswell’s music works in a complementary contrary direction, a contemporary score that borrows from the sound world of the early days of cinema and harks back further with its regular quotations from the Medieval Coventry Carol. Structurally, his deployment of the “family” of the string trio in opposition to the interjections of Yann Ghiro’s clarinets also mirrors the dramatis personae of Stevenson’s story . . . Opportunities to see quality Chamber Opera are rare, premieres of exciting new work rarer still, so an early revival of this piece should be a high priority. Its seasonal setting and message of redemption and renewal would make it ideal for the programme of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay.
Keith Bruce in The Herald, May 23 2005