LSO Soundhub's Ryan Latimer: The inspirations behind Down at Black Delph

Experience never-before-heard music from composers of the here and now on Saturday 10 April. Pre-recorded in February and premiered on our YouTube channel, LSO musicians and friends perform four new pieces, the product of 15 months of development, change and discovery for their creators. Composer Ryan Latimer tells us more about his music ahead of the concert …

'My initial motivation for writing Down at Black Delph came simply from a desire to try something new. Much of the music I have written, certainly in recent years, is broadly characterised by a lively rhythmic drive, bright instrumental colours and harmonies, and an overall sense of play. However, with the time, space and support offered through the LSO Soundhub scheme, I decided to take this opportunity to explore and develop a much darker, sonorous and lyrical musical language. It was with this particular quality in mind that I decided to write for an ensemble consisting of clarinet, accordion, cello and double bass.

Watch on YouTube on Saturday 10 April 7pm: LSO Soundhub Showcase

Musicians playing accordion and clarinet

I was especially excited about the prospect of writing for accordion in this context, not only because I find it such a richly versatile instrument perfect for the intimate scale of this type of ensemble, but it also meant I was able to work again with Bartosz Głowacki, who had previously recorded a piece of mine from 2014 with the London Sinfonietta. Bartosz’s expertise and depth of insight was crucial in helping me to better understand not just the complex mechanics involved in playing the instrument itself, but also the huge variety of colours and subtle expressive qualities available. Though the accordion never really features at the forefront of the piece, per se, I very much see it as the ‘gut’ of the ensemble, quietly adapting to and digesting the sounds around it.

'Working closely with performers and the collaborative effort involved in the shaping of a piece is, for me, what often makes the compositional process so worthwhile.'

Being afforded a number of workshop opportunities throughout the year was tremendously helpful. Given the unusual instrumental combination and the delicate nature of the music , it was vitally important for me to be able to hear in the flesh how these various colours worked together. Chris (clarinet), Amanda (cello), Joe (double bass) and Bartosz (accordion) were all extremely generous in their feedback, suggesting subtle ways of balancing, re-voicing and reconfiguring textures in order to help achieve the particular qualities I was aiming for. Working closely with performers in this way and the collaborative effort involved in the shaping of a piece is, for me, what often makes the compositional process so worthwhile and I am enormously grateful for having had so much time with each of these extraordinary musicians.

A composer stands in front of musicians, holding score

The piece itself draws inspiration from traditional folk ballads, particularly murder ballads set around the West Midlands, where I live. I was especially taken by those written from the viewpoint of the spirit of the victims (most often women or children), which unlike more graphic, gruesome or violent types of murder ballads tend to take on a hazier otherworldliness, imbued with complex feelings of sadness, abandonment, longing, revenge and peace. Though not specifically programmatic, my piece nevertheless hopes to evoke a sense of ‘story-telling’ through the gradual unfolding and out-crying of distinct lyrical voices that flow through various musical scenes.

The title, Down at Black Delph, refers to a stretch of canal connecting Dudley and Stourbridge (pictured below). It is also the setting for the poem The Black Delph Bride, similarly inspired by traditional murder ballads and written by Liz Berry, who was the Canal and River Trust ‘Poet Laureate’ in 2013. My piece also hopes to capture something of the still and quiet redolence of the canals and their surroundings (somewhere I have personally found much welcome solace over the last year), whilst allowing more sorrowed voices to surface and gently drift along.'

Black and white photo of the Black Delph

Ryan LatimerRyan Latimer

Ryan Latimer is a composer based in Birmingham. His music has been performed internationally by ensembles including the London Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, China National Symphony Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Warsaw Chamber Opera and St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra.

LSO Soundhub Showcase
Saturday 10 April 7pm GMT,

Hear Ryan Latimer's Down at Black Delph in our online concert on Saturday 10 April, alongside music by other early-career composers. Watch for free on our YouTube channel, and join in with the live chat from 7pm GMT, where you can ask our four composers about their pieces and experiences on the LSO Soundhub scheme.

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