Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

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Obituary. Peter Reynolds 1958 – 2016.

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peter-reynolds-composerIt only seems right that I record the passing of my namesake and compatriot, a man who made a huge impact on the world of music, not only in Wales but much further afield.

Just four months younger than me, he was born in Cardiff in January 1958, 10 miles from where I was born in Newport, the previous September.  We share the same three names: Peter John Reynolds. Clearly something of an eccentric but well respected, he is best known as the composer of the world’s shortest opera, ‘The Sands of Time’ (1993). It depicts a row that takes place during the boiling of an egg.

I can confirm that it is the only opera that I have listened to in full. Enjoy!

His obituary as published in The Times, 2nd November 2016

Peter Reynolds earned a place in Guinness World Records for The Sands of Time(1993), the world’s shortest opera. It lasts for three minutes, 34 seconds (no interval), about half the length of Darius Milhaud’s Deliverance of Theseus, which had held the record since 1928.

The piece is set in a suburban kitchen of the 1990s, as an egg is boiling (the length of the opera). Stan and Flo, husband and wife, are having an argument at breakfast when a knock at the door tells them that they have won the pools. Peace is restored as the egg is lifted out of the pan.

“It certainly has the influence of 19th-century Italian opera,” argued Reynolds, pointing out that his work included eight separate numbers. “Stan’s aria, ‘Down with the splash of cologne and deodorant spray’, was very much me doing early Verdi, the heroic tenor aria as in Il Trovatore. The patter song with its resonances of Gilbert and Sullivan is very quick.”

The Sands of Time, which has a libretto by Simon Rees, was conducted at its premiere at an outdoor shopping centre in Cardiff by Carlo Rizzi, the music director of Welsh National Opera. Reynolds later admitted that the work had been written in a hurry. “It took me an evening to write,” he said, adding: “I’m very proud to have used deodorant for the first time [in an opera]. It isn’t product placement. It’s simply facing reality in its harshest form.”

Later he would be embarrassed by the state of the work’s only copy. “I didn’t produce the neatest score in the world,” he said. “Twenty years on it’s still getting performances every year and each time I feel a bit more embarrassed about the old score.”

Peter John Reynolds was born in Cardiff in 1958. Almost as soon as he could walk he taught himself to play LPs and 78s on his parents’ 1954 radiogram. “I was enthusiastic, but none too careful and was often told off for playing 78s using an LP stylus,” he recalled.

He went to St Teilo’s school, studied music at University College, Cardiff, and was awarded a series of bursaries in the 1980s to attend composition classes at Dartington Summer School, with Morton Feldman, Peter Maxwell Davies and Gordon Crosse. In 1986 he was awarded the Michael Tippett award for composition, and the following year wrote his first large-scale commission, a work for chamber orchestra, that was performed at Dartington.

Over the following years Reynolds was an integral part of the vibrant Welsh music scene. He founded the PM Ensemble, major players in contemporary music at the end of the century; was artistic director of the Lower Machen Festival; wrote programme notes for more than 2,000 pieces of music; programmed concerts for St David’s Hall; set up a series of foyer concerts at Wales Millennium Centre; and, in 2009, published a history of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

In 1994 he joined the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, where he was friend, mentor and confidant to a wide range of students. He would caution them against wasting energy on large-scale composing, while encouraging vigorous discussion in the bar.

Reynolds’s music was characterised by stillness, simplicity, an occasional playfulness and a tendency to set unusual and quixotic texts. For example, Adieu to all Alluring Toys, a set of songs, took its title from the epitaph on an 18th-century child’s grave at a tiny country church in Breconshire. He was recently the recipient of a Creative Wales award, enabling him to explore the relationship between music, architecture and landscape.

He tended to compose in longhand rather than use computer software. “It slows me down and makes me consider more carefully what I write,” he said. “I remember that Morton Feldman used to say that copying out his music in different drafts brought him closer to the material.”

Friends recalled that he was often seen at his local farmers market, cooked a delicious tagine and enjoyed exploring cycle tracks around Cardiff on his bike. At the time of his death Reynolds, who never married, was working on a car-horn fanfare for the Vale of Glamorgan Festival, to be performed by vintage cars.
Peter Reynolds, composer, was born on January 12, 1958. He died suddenly on October 11, 2016, aged 58

 

Written by Peter Reynolds

November 27, 2016 at 8:56 am

‘This House Would Get High’. Debate, Trinity College, Dublin. 21st September 2016.

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Trinity College Dublin

Trinity College Dublin

Brid 'Bridie' Smith TD

Brid ‘Bridie’ Smith TD

I was honoured to be invited to speak at Trinity College this week in a debate chaired by the Irish TD Brid Smith.  In July, Ms Smith introduced legislation in the Dáil to allow the use of cannabis and cannabis-related products for medicinal purposes.  However, the debate itself was much broader than medicinal cannabis. As I said in my own speech, it was a pleasure to get away from the earnest discussion of science and evidence for a while.

This was my speech.

I get high every day.

This morning, as is my daily routine, I walked to the top of the hill behind my house.  Looking south-east, about 15 miles away, I can see the Isle of Portland.  Then Chesil Beach sweeps towards me into Lyme Bay.  As it curves round in front of me I’m about two miles back from the Jurassic Coast and then it runs off to the west past Bridport, Lyme Regis and, on a clear day you can see right over towards Torquay.

So you can tell I’m pretty high, just because of the amazing view I have.  And the view itself makes me high.  It inspires me, however many times I see it.

But I’m also pretty high because it’s a steep hill, I’m out of breath by the time I get to the top and my body is pumping out endorphins, endocannabinoids and there’s a surge in dopamine, serotonin and other neurotransmitters, hormones, all of which give me a buzz.  They make me high!

Being high is a natural state of mind.  It’s something we all aspire to and achieve, every day.  So my argument to you is certainly that this house would get high but also that it does get high and must get high, regularly, for good health.

I got even higher this afternoon when I drove to Bristol Airport and then Aer Lingus flew me to Dublin at 16,000 feet.  I’m also planning on getting a little high after this debate is finished, as I’m reliably informed there will be a “lavish, themed reception” in the Conversation Room, presumably including a drink or two.

So now we come to the nub of the issue.  We all get high, through many routes. Even young children, as soon as they can crawl, start to experiment with altering their consciousness.  Soon they are hanging upside down off swings, deliberately making themselves dizzy on roundabouts.  As they grow up they graduate to their first sips of alcohol.  I hope, as I did, they miss out the dreadful experiment with sniffing glue – and so we arrive at the joint, the dried flowers of the cannabis plant, smoked with the single-minded intention of getting high.

What are these arbitrary distinctions our society makes between acceptable forms of getting high and others that are so condemned that we are threatened with incarceration, in some countries, even worse?

this-house-would-get-highAre these moral issues, so that in 1920s America, alcohol was socially unacceptable but in 2016 it’s OK? Or are they issues of ethics, more fundamental principles that transcend fashion and time?

What difference does it make how we get high, if being high is a natural state of mind? 

We can smoke a little weed, drop an ‘E’, sniff a few lines of coke, down a few large Jamiesons.  Or we can just listen to some amazing music, walk to the top of my hill, go to the gym – or, any combination of these paths to getting high.

Our governments seek to determine how we may get high.  Their pretext is that they are protecting us, either from individual health harms or from wider, social harms, such as those caused by street dealing, criminality caused by addiction.

But even a cursory examination of this shows that it is false, it is mythology.  Our means of getting high are controlled not by any concern for harm but by the imposition of someone else’s moral standards.  This is usually a government minister and his or her personal opinion, often heavily influenced, either by the media, where editors also seek to impose their moral standards or, more sinister, by a vested interest, ‘Big Booze’, that wishes to preserve its one way street, no stopping, no U- turns on its path to getting high.

There’s also the legitimisation of sugary drinks, snacks, sweets, cakes and goodies. I wanted nothing more as a child than to get high off sugar. “And a cake please Grandad?” was my childhood refrain that I am still teased with today.   But sugar causes tremendous harm and apart from pious, preachy health warnings, it’s all OK because our government says so.

It’s also OK to get high as a medical therapy.  When it’s an SSRI anti-depressant, it’s objective is to make you feel better, to alter your brain chemistry to get you high, in fact by flooding your synapses with serotonin.

More of these happy pills are prescribed than any other form of medication.  In fact, we don’t really understand how they work, how in some people they have the opposite effect and make them suicidal.  But it’s all OK because this is government-sanctioned happiness – or unhappiness – but it’s OK because some privileged middle aged person, who couldn’t tell a synapse from a hockey stick says so , and she or he knows best.

But any suggestion that cannabis might be medicine has to be forcefully caveated with denials that it’s about getting high.  Did you know, Sativex, the one legal form of medicinal cannabis, both here and in the UK, gets you high?

No? Yes I know all the doctors say it doesn’t and the nanny-state do-gooders tell you the bit that gets you high has been taken out.  But take a look at the statutory documentation and what does it say? Oh!  Something called “euphoric mood” is described as a “common” side effect

It’s actually a real pleasure to talk about getting high.  I spend all my time engaged in earnest discussions about science, evidence, therapeutic and side effects.  I forget that a lot of it is about getting high, however you choose to do it.

So, this house would get high.  Indeed this house is high and I predict most of you will be a little higher in the next half hour or so.

Getting high is nothing to be ashamed of.  Go for a run, climb a hill, eat a space cake ( but mind the sugar).

Getting high is a human right, a necessity and a great way to live.  Get high and stay high.

After an entertaining and fascinating debate with contributions from other guest speakers and students, Bridie summed up by reading an extract from Tom Paxton’s song ‘Talking Vietnam Pot Luck Blues”. I’d never heard it before but it carries a wonderful message about how getting high brings people together.

The moment came as it comes to all,
When I had to answer nature’s call.
I was stumbling around in a beautiful haze
When I met a little cat in black P.J.’s,
Rifle, ammo-belt, B.F. Goodrich sandals.
He looked up at me and said,
“Whatsa’ matta wit-choo, baby?”

He said, “We’re campin’ down the pass
And smelled you people blowin’ grass,
And since by the smell you’re smokin’ trash
I brought you a taste of a special stash
Straight from Uncle Ho’s victory garden.
We call it Hanoi gold.”

So his squad and my squad settled down
And passed some lovely stuff around.
All too soon it was time to go.
The captain got on the radio. . .
“Hello, headquarters. We have met the enemy
And they have been smashed!”

Written by Peter Reynolds

September 24, 2016 at 8:29 am

It’s Masterchef Finals Night.

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Jack, My Tip For 2016 Masterchef Champion.

Jack, My Tip For 2016 Masterchef Champion.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it againagain and again, Masterchef is my favourite TV entertainment programme.  Every year it just seems to get better.  The producers do an excellent job of adding little twists and new ideas to the format and it never fails to keep me entranced.  For the contestants, getting to the final is an almost guaranteed pass into a shot at a restaurant business.  That’s how influential it’s become.

I like it in all its varieties: the celebrity show, the professional show but the original, where amateur cooks elevate themselves to a professional standard, remains the  best and the most inspiring.

I just love the music, often highlighted with the sound of chopping onions or a blast on a food processor. It’s somewhere between house and trance and I often find myself doing a clumsy boogie around the lounge as I’m watching.

This year has been poignant for me because my mother shared my love of the show and we would watch it together or chat about each episode on the phone.   I found myself talking to her about it last night as I watched the penultimate episode and there she was sitting with me on the sofa once again.

My tip for this year’s champion?  It’ll be Jack, a very talented young man.

Written by Peter Reynolds

May 6, 2016 at 5:26 pm

Posted in Biography, Music, television, The Media

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The All Time Classic, Coolest Track Ever. Now An Aftershave Commercial.

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Written by Peter Reynolds

December 14, 2015 at 10:13 am

Step Inside Love. I Want You To Stay.

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I confess I shed a few tears at Cilla’s funeral today, given extraordinary coverage on BBC News.

She was part of the the soundtrack of my life.  I grew up with her.  One of my earliest memories, probably aged about six, was in the kitchen of our house in St Bernards Road, Solihull. My mum was there, at the sink, and Cilla’s voice singing ‘Downtown’ was blaring out of the transistor radio on top of the fridge.  (Yes, it was Cilla, not Petula Clark. Cilla did a version as well.)

Later, before she went over to tacky ITV, she was the BBC Saturday night star.  ‘Blind Date’ was amusing, the first time you saw it but the Cilla show was an institution and ‘Step Inside Love’ was perhaps the first time that romance entered my young mind.

Someone to be thankful for and a little sentimental about.

Written by Peter Reynolds

August 20, 2015 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Biography, Music, television, The Media

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This Is Not Porn, It’s Beauty.

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Written by Peter Reynolds

February 21, 2015 at 7:56 am

Posted in Health, Music

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Bono On Cannabis

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If I said I’d been skydiving you’d think I was cool.  Cannabis is much, much safer and it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done.

Bono, Glastonbury 2011

Written by Peter Reynolds

June 24, 2011 at 10:26 pm