Where is Howard Beach?

Richard Durrant

Coming up soon on 19 October, Richard Durrant is staging a really special one off concert in Brighton with special guest, pianist and harpsichordist Howard Beach. We discover more about this rather special musician…

An ancient picture of Howard Beach and Richard Durrant

An ancient picture of Howard Beach and Richard Durrant

If you put Howard Beach into Wikipedia it brings up is an upper middle class neighbourhood in the New York borough of Queens!

Ramblersville

Ramblersville

Howard Beach

Howard Beach

However this Howard Beach is a rather special harpsichord player, previously a member of baroque group Red Priest and frequently broadcasting on radio. He has also been consultant and performer for programmes on Channel 4.

Howard has performed and recorded extensively on both harpsichord and piano. He has performed with artists including Les Arts Florissants, the Apollo Chamber Orchestra and the London Mozart Players at concert halls throughout Europe, Canada, and the Far East as well as many UK venues. He is now the keyboard player in The Richard Durrant Orchestra.

Guitarist Richard Durrant and keyboard maestro Howard Beach having been playing together for over 25 years. One of the highlights of the concert will be Howard joining Richard Durrant in their unique version of Vivaldi’s A minor guitar concerto.

And here is lovely video example of them working together with a performance of Rodrigo’s magnificent Concierto de Aranjuez:

In 2014 they brought out an album to celebrate their musical collaboration featuring their own arrangements of Vivaldi and Bach works, with Julian Bream’s arrangement of Boccherini’s Fandango thrown in for good measure.

Guitar and Harpsichord Richard Durrant & Howard Beach

The album ‘Richard Durrant & Howard Beach – Guitar & Harpsichord’ is a virtuosic, fiery, classical offering.
The Westmoreland Gazette

Richard Durrant with special guest Howard Beach

St Paul’s Church, Brighton
Thursday 19 October, 7pm

Meet the makers

Richard Durrant and Ian Chisholm

Some of the instruments Richard Durrant is taking with him on his current tour are made by two of the best Luthier’s currently working the UK. We find out more about their amazing instruments and their extraordinary work…

British musician-guitarist and luthier Gary Southwell is based in Hough-on-the-Hill in Lincolnshire. The the early part of Gary’s career focused on historical guitars, especially those of the early 19th century, a formative period for the modern day guitar. He researched instruments, worked in many collections throughout Europe, Russia and America, did restoration work and made many copies of significant historical guitars.

Gary Southwell

Gary Southwell

Gary Southwell started Southwell Guitars in 1983 and has since gone on to make guitars for an impressive list of distinguished musicians including Julian Bream, Sting and Paul Simon.

Richard Durrant plays a guitar created using Fenland black oak (also known as bog oak).  5,000 years ago a rise in sea level flooded the East Anglian Fenland basin which was then densely forested by gigantic oak trees. These spectacular trees eventually fell into the salty silt of what was once the forest floor where they have been preserved  until today. The dried timber is the rarest and most valuable of hardwoods with many unique and beautiful qualities. Not only does it look sensational, it has a density similar to rosewood and, most importantly to us, makes wonderful sounding guitars.

Richard Durrant plays a guitar created using Fenland black oak

Richard Durrant plays a guitar created using Fenland black oak

“The challenge, to myself, is to make instruments that are able to respond to the players every need. But more than that, to be a muse, an inspiration, to suggest new ideas and unlooked for possibilities to the musician. To be a true partner in the creation of wonderful music.”
Gary Southwell

Sussex Maker, Ian Chisholm has been making guitars for over 40 years. He started learning about lutherie – the art of stringed instrument making – in the 1970s when he took classes at the old College of Furniture taught by Tony Smith. He built a lute at a Morley College class and when he moved to Ditchling in Sussex he built his first classical guitar and soon built an archtop mandolin. As he says: ‘learning never stops’. Ian has just completed his first ukulele which Richard will be playing at the Premiere of Six Groves For The Ukulele on 10 September at Ropetackle Arts Centre.

Richard Durrant also plays two of Ian’s instruments; a celtic bouzouki – which he refers to as a long neck mandola, and the now almost legendary tenor guitar featuring a beautiful silver inlay of the ancient horse carved into the chalk at Uffington.

The work of Ian Chisholm

The work of Ian Chisholm

“My four string guitar has a magical, silvery sound that brings a new, almost folky dimension to each concert. Exploring Bach on metal strings played with a plectrum is a fascinating experience!”
Ian Chisholm

Hear these amazing instruments played by Richard Durrant in a concert near you.

 

The origins of Stringhenge

I arrived back home with a brand new Gary Southwell “bog oak” guitar in July 2016, but I didn’t play it properly until late August. Of course I’d played it already, it was my concert guitar of choice, but during those first weeks I couldn’t bring myself to pick it up. I kept walking up to the closed, guitar case, circling it and walking away again.

The problem was the tree that the back and sides of this incredible instrument were made from – an English oak tree that grew over 5,000 years ago. It had fallen to the ground when the flatlands of East Anglia were flooded by sea water and had been preserved in anaerobic mud. For me that tree represented something so ancient and spiritual, and gave such a direct link to the past that I didn’t know how to connect with the guitar it had become part of. Any concert artist’s relationship with an instrument is about as deep as it gets but with this guitar I didn’t know where to start, what to play on it or how to begin our relationship.

Southwell

So there I was unable to touch the most beautiful guitar I had ever seen, unable to get the damned thing out of its box and with no artistic reference nor reason to play it. What I did have were vague thoughts about shapes in the landscape providing archeological clues and inspiration – but even the ancient burial mounds I’d walked past on the south downs weren’t old enough to provide a link. Then I began to think about those strange figures on the chalk downlands, the mystical hill carvings of southern England, and I began to see a way forward.

As a kid I was fascinated by the Long Man of Wilmington, a giant human figure carved onto the side of the downs near Eastbourne. There he stood holding two white sticks and looking as if he was about to walk away. We sometimes saw the giant from my Dad’s car on Sunday drives, we even climbed up Windover Hill to see him.

“At times I felt that I was using Bach to unlock the landscape, hill barrows and all, and to connect myself to my very roots.”

Then, from 1992 to 1995, I found myself living in Wilmington Priory, an 11th century tumbledown building lying at the feet of the Long Man himself. During those few years spent in such close proximity I began to think of him differently. Although the giant’s credentials were somewhat shaky (he was most likely just an 18th century folly) I felt a growing connection and began to see that the he wasn’t holding two sticks, instead he was holding open a doorway. He appeared, to me, to be beckoning, inviting me to step through to the other side. I enjoyed this moment of realisation and played with the idea each time I climbed Windover Hill alongside the Long Man. As I have always believed that music also holds open a door to the other side, so I adopted the LongMan as the name and logo of my fledgling, acoustic, record label and began to follow the giant’s gesture of invitation as part of my daily work playing concerts.

That was many years ago and LongMan records has since been and gone. I now live on Shoreham Beach, still in sight of the Sussex Downs, and have raised my family next to the sea – but fast forward to the dilemma of the bog oak guitar to witness another moment of realisation courtesy of the Wilmington giant.

One day whilst plucking up courage to play the bog oak guitar I began thinking about the Long Man’s invitation to step through and decided to accept. I opened the case, picked up the guitar, stepped through and began to play. I played Bach and I didn’t stop. In fact I played nothing but Bach on that guitar for a solid month whilst thinking about the ancient tree, the British landscape, the shapes up on the downs and the ancient hill carvings. I focussed particularly on the white horse at Uffington, the most mysterious of all British works of art, at least 2,000 years old and impossible to see properly except from the air or whilst playing Bach. At times I felt that I was using Bach to unlock the landscape, hill barrows and all, and to connect myself to my very roots.

After some weeks I began to augment the solo Bach with British folk melodies. To my ears this was a natural progression and I felt I’d hit upon a sonically profound juxtaposition. I then began to organise these sounds into an imaginary concert and Stringhenge began to take shape. I had also commissioned a tenor guitar, from the wonderful Sussex luthier Ian Chisholm, with a silver carving of the Uffington white horse. This second guitar (christened the Uffington Tenor and tuned like a member of the violin family), would allow me to play Bach’s solo suites without changing a single note. Likewise the British Isles folk melodies would lye more naturally under the fingers on an instrument tuned in fifths.

Uffington

With the Southwell concert guitar and the Uffington Tenor I was now free to complete my Stringhenge show and I began gathering artwork and ideas to create the right feel for building my onstage henge. I would write additional pieces for both guitars, starting with Metanoia my tribute to the late John Renbourn (and an adventure in English Folk Baroque), and also gather tunes, both traditional and by other British composers.

At the time of writing I have played several Stringhenge concerts and plan to continue the tour; the idea still fascinates me. This fascination is centred around my deep love for the British Isles, and with Stringhenge, I have found a context that makes it comfortable for me to express this. The context is crucial, and I have met and spoken with people at the performances who express similar views. I have no sense of patriotism in the normal sense of the word, I certainly have no interest in the royal family, no time for flag waving (beyond the occasional Morris dance) and I feel a deep sense of shame and loss as we separate ourselves from our European brothers and sisters. There is a lot not to like about being associated with Britain at this time in our history and it has been proved time and again that patriotism can be a very ugly word. Now, somehow, a 5,000 year old tree from East Anglia has played a part in granting me permission to express a love for my country that feels both easy and natural. I sincerely hope that my audiences can share in this as it would be an extremely positive outcome for Stringhenge and my two, very special guitars.

Stringhenge tour dates

Interview with the composer: Six Grooves for Ukulele

The Burning Deck

Richard Durrant’s new concerto ‘Six Grooves for Ukulele’, will be premiered on 10 September at the Ropetackle in Shoreham-by-Sea. We caught up with Richard to find out more about this exciting new work…

We don’t normally associate the Ukulele with the classical world of the concerto. Can you explain your fascination with this instrument?

Well – the ukulele has been lurking in the background since I produced the album The Secret of Life by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain back in 2004. At the time of the recordings I already had several ukes, but after working with the ukulele orchestra I began including the instrument in my recitals. The instrument’s purity (and brevity) of sound was a revelation – I even took a uke with me to South America and used it to play Bach during my solo concerts. Audiences seemed fascinated that this tiny, little wooden box had something to say on stage. The ukulele really does have an interesting voice with plenty of cultural baggage. Cultural baggage (by which I mean sounds that evoke something in our mass consciousness) makes the uke perfect for a large scale work like Six Grooves.

Tell us about The Burning Deck who are the backbone of the orchestra for your new piece. 

I have dreamed about having my own orchestra for over twenty years and the dream always followed the same format: a core band of great individuals plus a string section. For the concerts which include Six Grooves the core band is made up of two percussionists (Stephen Hiscock and Chris Brannick) who play a whole range of tuned and untuned instruments – Six Grooves relies heavily on vibraphone and kit, but there is also waterphone, berimbau and other sounds. Howard Beach on piano and Gareth Huw Davies on bass make up the quartet and then the strings are wrapped around the outside. My ukulele is added on top of this volatile concoction, a tiny, vulnerable wooden box with only four strings, a small tonal range and no sustain to speak of. My concerto seeks to answer many questions such as will the uke be heard at all and will the uke live to tell the tale? No spoilers here…

Richard Durrant Ukulele Workshops

And what about the audience ukulele players who are also involved in the performance? 

One of the distinctive sounds made by the uke is heard when it is played en masse and I use this sound in the concerto at various points. To do so I need help from a large group of players – they are the ukulele chorus providing antiphonal effects and beautiful background layers. This also connects the work with the general ethos of the instrument – one of inclusion. Every audience uke player at each of our concerts will have completed a short series of workshops and one big rehearsal, this prepares them to take part in the performance but it also earns them a Six Grooves passport entitling them to take part in any future performance of the work anywhere in the world.

Richard will prepare and rehearse a group of audience ukulele players to perform at the premiere on 10th September. Come along to the workshops and be part of the performance!

Finally, what about your future plans for the piece after the premiere? 

Six Grooves is written to tour widely (the Six Grooves passport is very much part of this) and I hope that the work gains interest and exposure as the gig rosta expands. I’m excited that people might hear the ukulele with fresh ears and may think of it differently after attending the concert. I also hope to raise the money to record the piece. If anybody would like to write a cheque please contact me!


Six Grooves For Ukulele Workshops
Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham-by-Sea

Sat 26 August 11am – Ukulele Circuit Training – 1 hour
Sat 2 September 11am – Six Grooves Prep – 45mins
Sat 9 September 11am – Six Grooves Prep – 45mins
Sun 10 September 5.30pm – Orchestral Rehearsal – 1 hour

Cost: £35 per player including your concert ticket + A Six Grooves passport allowing you to perform at other performances ( at other venues passport holders might need to buy a ticket)

Six Grooves For Ukulele World Premiere

Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham-by-Sea

Sunday 10 September 7pm

The Burning Deck directed by Richard Durrant features a full string section with:
Chris Brannick & Stephen Hiscock – Percussion
Howard beach – Piano and Keys
Gareth Hugh Davis – Bass
Also featuring Cycling Music and The Girl at The Airport by Richard Durrant

Arts Council England PRS

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New Album Release Online

Durrant Y Ledesma

 

Richard Durrant and Ismael Ledesma have launched their eagerly awaited album Durrant y Ledesma. This album of guitar and harp music is a stunning collection of originals for guitar and harp written by both musicians; full of Paraguayan passion and rhythms teamed with European melodies.

It was the sheer joy of playing and the success of their performances that led these two leading soloists to record their first duo album: Durrant y Ledesma

But don’t just take our word for it! CLICK HERE to listen to this amazing sample track: La Balada del Indio.

Richard met Ismael in London when he was performing at the Bolivar Hall for the Ambassador of Paraguay.  Their first concert tour together came some months later in October 2016.  This whistle-stop, six date UK adventure began just one day after they played together for the very first time.  The audience reaction was incredible and it quickly became clear that producing an album was a must!

Ismael Ledesma is a cultural ambassador for Paraguay although he has based himself in France for thirty years.  He was invited to France by his uncle Kike Lucena after he finished school. He then joined the Paris circle of Latin American musicians whilst studying at the Paris Music Conservatoire. Ismael is now a successful international soloist.

English guitarist and composer Richard Durrant is no stranger to South America. During his first visit to Paraguay he was honoured as an ‘Esteemed Visitor’ to the capitol city,  Asuncion. He has appeared twice as soloist with the national orchestra, released a successful trilogy of Paraguayan albums and published a book of stories and music ‘The Number 26 Bus to Paraguay’ which catalogues his adventures and introduces guitarists to the new music he has uncovered over recent years.

Richard and Ismael will be performing together in Asuncion, Paraguay this April to mark Ismael’s 35th Anniversary tour.  In June they’ll be undertaking a short UK tour featuring music from their new album.

Durrant y Ledesma is released through Proper music Distribution. Catalogue No: TBD 002CD

The recording is now available online as mp3 files as well as studio mastering quality 96-24 files in FLAC or ALAC album zip format – only available from  www.richarddurrant.com

 

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Stringhenge takes to the Road

Meet the Paraguayan harpist who hails from Paris

Ismael Ledesma

In the second part of our interviews into the background to Richard Durrant’s collaboration with the Paraguayan harpist Ismael Ledesma, Nicholas Keyworth caught up with Ismael who now lives in Paris.

Ismael explains the chance meeting with Richard which began their collaboration:

A friend of mine, Robert Munro, invited me to hear Richard in concert in London. From the very first notes I was spellbound by his music and his personality. I went to find him after the concert and I found him to be really friendly. Robert Munro invited Richard around to his house near Oxford. He played his guitar and I played him a bit of harp, and, voilà, the magic began!

I was fascinated to hear more about this unusual pairing of instruments and how it works in practice. Ismael explained:

The guitar and the harp go very well together and it’s quite a common combination in Paraguay. But the combination of me and Richard is particularly interesting because we are both soloists with freedom of spirit and in two completely different worlds. We are both totally in service to the music and we want to share this combination and show that two very different personalities from two very different parts of the globe can give happiness to the world!

Ismael went on to explain more about the musical points of connection between the duo:

Our point of connection is the the freedom of music and the desire to play together. Richard loves my music, and I love his, and we both have the freedom to come together and share the variety from our two cultures. 

Richard Durrant and Ismael Ledesma

Being authentic in musical performance is a big thing these days. I asked Ismael to what extent the music they play is true to its Paraguayan roots – or are they creating something new? 

We become authentic as soon as we become different from others. In my case, my Paraguayan roots are ever present but I think that I’m unusual because I’m a creator and I don’t copy others. I write my own music and I believe in it. I’ve chosen the most difficult path, and I’ve faced conservatism that wanted to wound me or criticise me. It has been hard, but not impossible. As well as being an interpreter, I consider myself as someone who respects the work of the composer. Richard is an interpreter as well as a creator who brings something different to the music!

Finally, I asked Ismael how collaborations like theirs can continue to thrive in a possible future political climate of change with Brexit and the danger of drifting apart. He gave me a typically pragmatic answer:

Music has no boundaries and and this is what gives Richard and I great pleasure because we embrace the freedom and the union of two totally different cultures. We always find a way to come together and play. This time, I’m crossing the Channel to meet up with him. The next time it will be he who comes to me, and we also have the freedom to go elsewhere. England and France will never be separated – we all need each other!

Hear Richard Durrant and Ismael Ledesma live in concert 11-14 October in London, Shoreham-by-Sea, Crawley, Edinburgh, Scopwick and Swindon.

5 things you didn’t know about Richard Durrant

Richard Durrant's cycling tour

Guitarist and raconteur Richard Durrant may be a regular performer at the Ropetackle Arts Centre in Shoreham-by-Sea but this Saturday offers a rare opportunity to witness something rather special… purely acoustic and in the round.

So here are five things you might not have known about this extraordinary musician…

1.    Richard Durrant is unplugged

Richard will perform this show completely acoustic and unplugged on a 6 string Concert Guitar by Gary Southwell and 4 string Tenor Guitar by Ian Chisholm.

2.    More than a guitarist…

In addition to all these guitars Richard also plays ukulele and a variety of other instruments including cello.

3.    A composer too!

Richard is also an accomplished composer and recently premiered his long lost Clarinet Sonata as well as ‘The Girl at the Airport’ for guitar and strings with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Girl At The Airport

4.    A Paraguayan music explorer

Richard has just completed a five year project  including visiting and exploring the colourful landscape, culture and music of Paraguay. 

5.    And a musical cyclist

For the last two years Richard cycled over 3,000 miles playing 50 Cycling Music concerts around England and Scotland.

Richard Durrant's cycling tour

Richard Durrant’s cycling tour

This Saturday, 24 September: Ropetackle at its most intimate. 

A unique musical collaboration for a Paraguayan adventure

Ismael Ledesma

Richard Durrant’s collaboration with a Paraguayan harpist living in Paris might seem unusual, but as Richard explains it is a perfect match and opens up so many opportunities:

“In Paraguay the harp is a deeply social instrument, it often accompanies dancing and, in many ways evokes the sound of Paraguay. It is quite usual for a guitarist to join the musical party, but only to underpin the rhythm and harmony, never to play the tune. I really look forward to letting my guitar stir this up a bit and I know Ismael’s harp will respond.”

How did you meet Ismael and what is your attraction to Paraguayan music?

“A recurring theme for me has been Paraguayan music.The country’s most famous son – guitarist composer Agustín Barrios – was my initial attraction but after three solo tours in Paraguay I had become more been immersed in the music of this beautiful part of south America. Ismael attended a concert I was giving at the Bolivar Hall in London as one of the launch events for my Paraguayan CD trilogy. Ismael and I chatted afterwards and it was apparent that we had more than age in common. The opportunity to collaborate with on of the greatest Paraguayan harpists was just too exciting and fascinating an opportunity to miss.”

Ismael Ledesma

Ismael Ledesma

So where are the points of connection with you each coming from very different musical and cultural backgrounds?

“Ismael and I have dedicated our working lives to music and to our instruments. With that lifetime of concentrating on tiny finger movements and incredible sonic detail there is much that is purely intuitive between us and the outcome is both fascinating and unexpected. Paraguay is a small, landlocked, heart shaped country in the very centre of the southern cone of South America and this is our point of connection – la música del corazón!”

Are you playing music which is authentic to its Paraguayan roots – or are you creating something new?

“Ismael plays a Paraguayan harp, but it’s a harp that is European in origin and the instrument appears throughout south America. So the strongest aspects of Ismael’s playing are Paraguayan, but some are pan south American and some are purely original. I speak some of the language of Paraguayan music and I can hear the layers of the colonial as well as the Paraguayan/Guarani so beloved by Barrios himself. This means that Paraguay will be at the centre of what we play, but my guitar playing has to feel free and unconstrained and for me therein lies true authenticity.”

Richard Durrant

Richard Durrant

“Geographically you are now both fairly close, but how will Brexit affect collaborations like yours in a political climate of change?

“I’ve watched politics for many years and have seen real cause for hope as 21st century technologies benefit from that exponential curve of computing power bringing hope for our environment and for ordinary people across the globe. So why has humanity’s almost divine brilliance so far been unable to create a compassionate, professional and trustworthy political system?  And just when the European project seemed to be steering towards such a thing – at least in ethos – how could so many ordinary people return to the xenophobic and the self interested to create something as negative as Brexit?

Musicians and artists  are accustomed to surviving against the odds, its what we have to do and its in our nature, so cross cultural collaborations will always exist. I worry more about the future for the rest of us when we have so deliberately stacked the odds against ourselves. If they vote for Trump in the US at least he’ll be controlled to some degree by the senate until he’s kicked out, but for Europe there is no way back.

However, I celebrate the positivity of music and feel blessed to be doing what I’m doing. My optimism and energy is fuelled by the sound of my strings and the strength and generosity of my audiences.”

Hear Richard Durrant and Ismael Ledesma live in concert 11-14 October in London, Shoreham-by-Sea, Crawley, Edinburgh, Scopwick and Swindon.