Peter Wiegold has long been an innovator on the British music scene with a history of looking radically at all aspects of the process of music making. In particular, he has been a pioneer of, and leading exponent of, bringing together composition and improvisation, and he often works directly with musicians in the creation of new work and as ‘creative director’, he brings together his skills as composer, conductor and player.
A major element of this focus has been engaging with musicians from outside the classical music sphere, such as his recent collaboration with the English Acoustic Collective, Japanese musicians ‘Tozai’ and the projects with Uzbek musicians. In 2003 Peter was invited by the London Sinfonietta to go to Uzbekistan and work with ‘Abbos’, who consisted of 3 ‘karnay’, 1 ‘surnay’, and two drummers. ‘Karnay’ are the 6 ft long ancient ‘trumpets’ often played at weddings and other ceremonies. The resulting collaboration produced two pieces, a ‘concert’ piece The Great Wheel Part 1 and a theatrical piece The Great Wheel Parts 2 and 3 staged with all the musicians moving as well as playing.
Uzbek musicians also featured in his largest work to date, the 2007 Proms commission ‘He is armoured without’, which also included the Coldstream Guards, BBC Philharmonic and 100 other brass players, all creatively involved, at some point, in the realisation of the piece. Sometimes his player-collaborations have been with his own pieces (‘Damn Braces’ – notes inégales), but he also often works with other composers’ material, as in his “one-page” score project. This idea (borrowed from American jazz bands) involves asking composers to provide just one-page of material, which is then realised with the musicians. Sometimes this is fixed in rehearsal, sometimes left for improvisation in performance, but it produces a very dynamic mix of written, realised and improvised music.
Composers who have written “one-page” scores for Peter include James Macmillan, Simon Holt, John Croft, Phillip Cashian, Mike Gibbs, Tansy Davies, Morgan Hayes, Sam Haydn, Martin Butler, Fraser Trainer, Claudia Molitor, Jamie Telford, Liz Johnson, Gerald Barry and Julian Anderson. He has worked with many ensembles in this way, and this approach is central to his new ensemble notes inégales.
Notably, he led the long term ‘Creative Exchange’ programme with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (bcmg), training the musicians in improvisation and realisation skills and performing in several different venues. One of the major results was the ‘Invisible Cities’ performance (September 2004, CBSO Centre, Birmingham) based on Italo Calvino’s evocative book about Venice. Four composers (Simon Holt, John Woolrich, James Macmillan and John Croft) were asked to take inspiration from the novel, from Venice and from Venice’s greatest composer, Monteverdi, to create ‘one-page’ scores for the occasion.