Michael Blake's FRENCH SUITE is 21 Years Old
26 November marks twenty-one years to the day that Michael Blake’s French Suite was premiered by its dedicatee Sally Rose, at St Luke’s in Brighton on the Sussex coast in England. Since then it has been performed around the world – at festivals in England, Scotland, Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Slovakia, Argentina, and South Africa, as well as in concerts in Canada, the USA, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Namibia and most recently Peru. It is next heard in Treviso (Italy) on 4 December.
It has been championed by Jill Richards who played it on a tour of England, Christopher Duigan who played it on a UK tour, John Tilbury who introduced it to Austria, Ancuza Aprodu who introduced it to France and Belgium, Yukiko Fujieda who gave the German premiere, Silvia Belfiore who has taken it to Italy, Peru, East and West Africa, and the composer himself who played it in South Africa for the first time on a tour in 1997, as well as in Argentina and Slovakia.
As well as giving the first performance, the late Sally Rose gave the London premiere and recorded it for SuperChannel TV back in 1996. Her performance of the work has recently been used as part of the soundtrack for David Fox’s film Finney’s Ghost.
Jill Richards’ CD recording of the work was released in 2008 as part of Michael Blake’s Complete Piano Music 1994-2004 on the MBED label, available through the composer’s website www.michaelblake.co.za or as a digital download from Naxos of America www.classicsonline.com. It has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3. The score is published by Bardic Edition (BDE 776), and distributed internationally by Schott Musik. www.schott-music.com/shop/persons/az/michael-blake-2/products
Several transcriptions have been made: Sextet for Winds (flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon and bass clarinet); French Suite No 2 for cello and marimba; and the First Dance only as Kora for harp.
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“…the French Suite for piano solo, for instance, traces elusively skeletal references to the formal patterns produced by the kora and the mbira in the unfamiliar (and defamiliaring) context of asymmetrically shifting rhythmic groupings. Blake’s understated translations of African music into western idioms deftly negotiate the borderline between quotation and abstraction, and, in the process, interrogate the opposition between the two.”
Martin Scherzinger: Cambridge History of 20th Century Music
“Important in this work is the exploration of piano sonority per se (a concern with the perceptual presence of sound rather than sound as medium for structure), 17th- and 18th-century French Baroque music, French impressionist music and the music of North Africa.”
Stephanus Muller: ‘Miniature blueprints, spider stratagems’, The Musical Times, Winter 2011