The plainsong chant "Veni Creator Spiritus" that is such an important element in the Advent Carol Succession occupied much space in my creative imagination which I needed to work out with a fresh composition. I chose to compose a set of variations for solo clarinet, especially for Walter Brewster who so often and so generously plays my music in various ensembles. This piece is for him, and he has performed it twice in St Mary's Church, each time from just in front of the altar. Walter's ability to hold an audience's attention with the sheer expressive power of his playing is awesome, and despite all of the other music performed on both the occasions that Walter performed the Variations, people were coming up to me in the street to describe the impact that his playing had on them.
I subsequently wrote a large-scale version of this piece for ensemble, and from that made this piano transcription.
In July 2013 my friend, the pianist Duncan Honeybourne, came with me to Eastbourne for a couple of days, to record some piano music in the fabulous Birley Centre. This state-of-the-art performing & recording studio facility was built by Eastbourne College, with many very generous donations, and opened by my father Michael Birley in October 2011. The centre is named after him. He had been the inspirational Headmaster who transformed the College into the successful liberal establishment it has been since the 1960s, and vastly improved the physical nature of the place, funded by a centenary appeal. I can remember when this appeal reached the £1m level in the days when this was a vast sum of money. I spent my happiest time as a child growing up here. I am immensely proud of my father, and so pleased that, despite his failing health and state of mind, he was able to perform the opening ceremony. He died in January 2012.
Duncan had been working on the Plainsong Variations (as well as three of my Preludes), and this is his first interpretation. I am, as always, greatly indebted to him for his playing of my music. I am also very grateful to the College, and Simon Davies (the Headmaster) for allowing me to record in the Centre, and particularly to Hal Robinson, the recording engineer, who worked so hard and so expertly to create this recording:
The first live performance, by Duncan Honeybourne, recorded in the Birley Centre (Eastbourne College) in July 2013. Hal Robinson was the recording engineer: