Panufnik Legacies III: Matthew Sergeant

Following the recent release of the third album in the Panufnik Legacies series, which features brand new music from alumni of the LSO Panufnik Composers Scheme, we asked the composers themselves to tell us a little more about their experience writing for and recording with the Orchestra.

MatthewSergeant 350x350'I originally wrote my short orchestral piece but today we collect ads as part of the 2008 iteration of the LSO Panufnik Composers Scheme. I was twenty-three and less than two years out of music college. I distinctly remember writing the piece during the summer of that year. The idea of working with a professional orchestra – the London Symphony Orchestra no less – was utterly overwhelming and totally terrifying. At the time I was living in a necessarily cheap basement flat in South Manchester – low ceilings and little natural light. My bedroom-come-studio was always untidily strewn with manuscript paper and its only small window looked out on a carpark. Even then, the low perspective it offered meant I could only really see the tyres of the wheels. 

It was just over ten years later that an email arrived from the Orchestra, asking if I was interested in having the piece recorded for an forthcoming CD – now released as Panufnik Legacies III

A lot had happened in the intervening time. The naive freshness of a twentysomething had inevitably evolved into a slightly more world-hardened man in his early thirties. After many other projects, and many other pieces, I was now in the beginnings of my first full-time academic position down here in the South West. The grotty Mancunian flat has been replaced with a light Georgian home overlooking the city of Bath. The bedroom and studio are now separate rooms, although the latter is still strewn with manuscript paper. And the prospect of working with the LSO was as utterly overwhelming and totally terrifying as it had been the first time around, only at least, I suppose, this time with the experience that only ten years of work can bring. 

'[The piece] is about things that seem somehow related through their being
brought together, but without details or interest in the conjoining journey or transition.'

I remember the 2008 workshop well. I remember the Orchestra struggling with all their commitment and might to bring the music out of a piece full of the fussiness and fiddly-ness that is so often a trademark of a less-experienced younger composer (at least in my case). In reviving the piece in 2019, there were certainly some important things to address and revise. And I’ve written more about that in another blog post, which is available on my website

These two discrete yet connected scenes from my working life are, strangely, what the original piece itself was always about – things that seem somehow related through their being brought together, but without details or interest in the conjoining journey or transition.

Alison and Peter Smithson et al. Parallel of Life and Art installation at the Institute of Contemporary Arts London 1952 2011 Tate London
Alison and Peter Smithson et al., 'Parallel of Life and Art', installation at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1952)

In 1953, the artists and architects Peter and Alison Smithson held an exhibition at the ICA in London. Entitled The Parallel of Art and Life, it consisted of a seemingly random collection of found drawings and photographs, artefacts and objects, all scattered haphazardly throughout the gallery space – the viewers were left alone to make connections between the myriad of items for themselves. The collection (as far as I know) was presented without formal catalogue, the only programmatic introduction for attendees coming in the form of a short manifesto-like statement from the artists:


My piece, the title of which is taken from the closing line of the above, set out to work in a similar way. It is cast in seven (sometimes tiny) movements, although perhaps ‘episodes’ is a better term. With a couple of exceptions, each episode does two things. Firstly, something from a previous episode (a melodic fragment, a textural idea, a gesture) is re-interpreted and re-invented, almost as if misheard in an eavesdropped conversation. Secondly, each episode sends its material on a deliberately strange new narrative path, as if taken to a place it wasn’t supposed to go. I suppose I was setting up a series of obfuscated connections across the piece, connections that take place without obvious transitions. It is as if the development – the transformational change that usually leads us from some place to another – was itself ‘edited out’ somehow. Instead we are left with a set of questions: 'How did we get here?' and 'What has this got to do with that?'.

'I think that it’s interesting that, in many ways, the life of this
little piece has itself has come to reflect its own concerns.'

This elaborated form of ‘the telephone game’ (often played at children’s parties) continues across the piece to greater or lesser extents. The role of last movement highlights these kinds of concerns on a larger scale. It is the only movement to bear a subtitle – Fanfare for Howard Skempton (who mentored me hugely during the time of writing). Against the dissonant chromatic language of the previous six movements, it opens in a kind of Db major – and has little if anything to do with anything that comes before. One might end up asking why on earth it is there at all – but maybe that’s kind of the point.

I think that it’s interesting that, in many ways, the life of this little piece has itself has come to reflect its own concerns. On the one hand, my returning to the piece involved turning my ear back to that which interested me artistically in my twenties – and almost certainly mishearing them. Likewise, my two wonderful, yet separate, opportunities to work with the Orchestra have also served as individual isolated windows on my practice at dislocated times. As little vignettes, almost. Just as some friendships are continuous presences, whilst others are discrete encounters.

Working with this piece again made me revisit and reconsider some older compositional concerns that I had for some reason almost wholly forgotten about – an experience that I have recently come to consider as hugely important in itself. My hugest thanks to this wonderful orchestra, the Panufnik scheme, and the wider LSO Discovery team for the opportunity to revisit some of my older work once more. It has been a fascinating and hugely rewarding experience – I am absolutely humbled and massively grateful to all involved.'

Listen to Matthew Sergeant's but today we collect ads on Apple Music now

Panufnik Legacies III Album CoverPanufnik Legacies III

Each year the LSO's Panufnik Composers Scheme gives six composers the chance to write for a world-class symphony orchestra, under the guidance of our Principal Guest Conductor Francois-Xavier Roth and composers Colin Matthews and Christian Mason. Launched in 2005, the scheme was devised in association with Lady Camilla Panufnik to celebrate the musical legacy left behind by her husband, Sir Andrzej Panufnik, and to give new generations of composers new opportunities to develop their skills. Since then, over 80 composers have participated and the Orchestra has released several albums showcasing the work of these incredible new talents.

The third album in our Panufnik Legacies series features new music from Ayanna Witter-Johnson, Ewan Campbell, Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian, Donghoon Shin, Alex Roth, Matthew Sergeant, Patrick Giguère, Sasha Siem, Bethan Morgan-Williams, Michael Taplin, Benjamin Ashby & Joanna Lee.

This recording has been generously supported by The Boltini Trust. The LSO Panufnik Composers Scheme is generously supported by Lady Hamlyn and The Helen Hamlyn Trust.

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