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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