Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery is the inspiration

Pallant House Gallery will be both venue and inspiration as composer and pianist Benjamin Wolf returns to the Festival of Chichester with cellist Alison Holford.

Their Pallant Festival Concert at the Gallery on Saturday, June 28 at 12 noon will see them offer Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata and Janacek’s Pohadka.

Completing the trio of pieces will be Benjamin’s own Pictures From Pallant, written especially for the occasion.

Benjamin was at the inaugural Festival of Chichester last year: “It was a good audience, and they seemed to enjoy it.”

It was a night that sowed the seed for his return: “The Gallery is really the inspiration,” he says, quick to point out that he was writing the piece still, speaking in late May.

“I am looking at the process of working out how to construct a coherent piece of music from the paintings.

“The classic example is Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. That tells the story of the paintings in a way, but it is rather harder when you are working with non-figurative paintings, obviously. At the moment, for me, it is about trying to think of motifs and musical structures that can be heard as shapes.

“Part of the problem is that musical structures can be quite difficult to perceive. It is about trying to come up with musical structures that will make people think ‘Oh, that reminds me of a circle!’ or ‘Oh, that reminds me of a square!’

“The idea is very much based around shapes.

“It won’t be a very long piece, but it will have, I think, three sections, and it will also be trying to reference how pictures are hung in the gallery. I am trying to reflect the juxtapositions.

“I went down to the gallery, and I took lots and lots of photos. I was trying to think about the idea of associating shape with music when I was there.

“I also quite wanted to write a piece that reflected the pieces in the room in which it is performed. I don’t know how often those pieces change.

“It’s the room where they put lots of pictures where they can’t think where else to put them. It is quite an eclectic collection in there.

“The music will be just piano and cello. I have known Alison for years, I did a conducting course at Trinity College of Music, and she was one of the cello students at Trinity. I set up an orchestra there.

“We have done other recitals together elsewhere, and I guess I have worked with Alison for 13 years. It helps to know that the musician will be able to play the piece, and in this particular case, because for various reasons, the time pressures are greater than they were last year, it is good to know the person. It helps to have someone that can learn new pieces very quickly. Alison does a lot of contemporary pieces which obviously makes a big difference for when we are working together.”

As for the future of the piece, Benjamin admits he doesn’t know. It’s one of those instances when only time will tell.

“It’s interesting because part of the aim of the piece is to make sure that the audience can see the paintings while they hear the piece. That will help them make sense. They can put up PowerPoint slides or maybe they can move some of the paintings into the performance space.

“But whether this is a one-off piece for that particular location, whether it will just have a one-off existence, I really don’t know, but I will be speaking to other people to see what might be possible afterwards.”

Benjamin’s performing credits include BBC TV/radio, Westminster Abbey and Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Following the award of a PhD in 2010, he worked as a visiting lecturer at Royal Holloway and senior associate teacher at Bristol University. In 2011 he was appointed as lecturer in music at Regent’s University, London.

Alison is the cellist for St Paul’s Sinfonia and the Arcadian String Quartet.