moths and … contemporary music

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In a former life I spent ten years as a professional musician (trombonist and composer), specialising in the further outreaches of contemporary classical music. The kind of stuff that gets dismissed as “squeeky-gate”. It’s what I’ve enjoyed listening to since I was a teenager.

My ‘favourite composer’ all this time has been Harrison Birtwistle, who writes music that is joyously, gratuitously dissonant and beautiful. As well as performing his music whenever I got the chance, I was a full-on fan, collecting his printed music and getting him to sign it for me.

There is definitely an elemental feel to his music, some of which is explicitly based around the idea of landscapes (Silbury Air being a prime example), and it has always felt in keeping with my love for the natural world. But I didn’t realise until I read it in last Saturday’s Guardian that I share another interest with Birtwistle, namely a fascination with moths. Apparently, Birtwistle has collected moths since he was 13:

Moths are magical – you can never see them until you trap them. I have an idea to write a requiem for all the species of moth that are extinct, using their Latin names.

From almost anyone else that would sound an unpromising idea for a piece of music, but I bet Birtwistle could make something of it. Can’t wait to find out what.

[Photograph of Silbury Hill by Greg O’Beirne]
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