Jenny Jackson

I am a composer (yikes)

Leave a comment

[S]pan & Lament: variations on a theme?

You can probably guess by the lack of blogs lately that I have been writing music, not words. The focus of my efforts – a new piece for the (inaugural) Classical Sheffield Festival of Music: [S]pan for flexible ensemble. It was performed by Platform 4 on 23rd October in Sheffield’s fabulous Winter Gardens before a more formal concert in Sheffield Cathedral in which my Lament for solo cello with off stage viola, double bass and vocal ensemble, was given its second performance with Charlie Hardwick playing the solo.

“A highlight was Jenny Jackson’s ‘Lament’, a mournful aural mirage that played with our perceptions of listening whilst simultaneously being very listenable. Notes continued elsewhere when the lone cellist onstage had stopped playing them. The music was coming from behind us too. A wonderful use of the Cathedral space, it also highlighted the importance of attending live music events. In another venue or on record, this would have been a completely different experience.”

Nat Loftus, Now Then magazine 09/11/15

I have been preoccupied with hiding players and altering stage placings for a while now and, as Nat Loftus has recognised in her review, I rely on live performance for my pieces to be wholly understood. In Parabola (2012) – written as part of a collaborative installation piece with the sculptor Gillian Brent and Platform 4 (shown at the Hepworth, Wakefield) – two horn players performed from numerous positions during the performance, inside and outside the galleries, automatically becoming integral to the visual aspect along with the sculptures. These were also moved into different positions throughout the performance and so the audience experienced variations in the visual ‘theatre’ at the same time experiencing changing aural effects as the players moved closer together or further apart.

In [S]urge (2012) I developed the idea of altering the audience’s ‘reading’ of the performance by permanently hiding the two horn players with one placed Stage Left and the other Stage Right. A group of string players took centre stage providing both aural and visual interest (although the simple fact that horns are timbrally very different to strings meant that they forced themselves into the aural foreground much of the time). Being out of view meant that their unexpected surging/emerging was even more effective and unsettling, as things unseen but heard often are.

In Tableaux (2012) I produced a light-hearted sequence of five ‘sounding’ tableaux where the visual was more-or-less static and the sound was produced off stage on inappropriate instruments where the music was at odds with the visual. This resulted in a theatrical (and comedic) outcome. In Sanctum (2013) the humour was more subtle and the musical outcome far more important. Players were positioned, unnoticed, around the performance space encircling the audience, leaving a solo piano player centre stage to mime throughout the performance (the internationally renowned pianist, Philip Thomas! – a bit of an ‘in-joke’, in other words…). He therefore, provided a visual spectacle but added nothing to the aural effect other than to confuse the listener by sheer coincidence of a perceived conflation of the ensemble’s sound and the pianist’s physical movements.

My new piece [S]pan also employs the idea of the ‘unseen’ performer but, rather than heightening the theatrical aspect of the performance as in Sanctum or Tableaux, the stage placing merely enables the desired panning effect to work. Once I knew that the performance was to take place in Sheffield’s Winter Gardens I decided I wanted to occupy the space, rather than just perform in it. The islands of plants with walk-ways provided ideal places for displaced performers, and the live acoustic was an invitation to fill the space with sound. The general public were free to walk around and could potentially experience the resulting sound in many ways, depending on where they were standing.


The spatial positioning produced a very practical problem in co-ordination. As the Wind and Brass players would not necessarily be able to see each other the only way to do this was by using timers, with certain events set to start and end at specific points. I divided the Wind and Brass players into two Groups, with one Group positioned on the left of the main performing area and the other, on the right. This meant that I could give both the same material to perform but control the timings of their entries. The opening gesture presents the germ of the piece as two, pre-selected, solo players pan the same pitch across the entire span of the space. As in [S]urge, I chose to position the string group in the centre of the performing area to provide a visual focus but, in this piece, they also become a central point of reference for the panning material to cross. I have posted the score here for your perusal…:

[S]pan score

I’ve posted the recording here (the sound of chatter and footsteps reveals it’s ‘liveness’!) – of course, you won’t experience the panning effect and, therefore, you will only be getting ‘some’ of my piece…


Is it time to find a new trick?… Answers on a postcard.



Leave a comment

Classical Sheffield Festival of Music: October 23rd – 25th

Sheffield’s music scene is all of a buzz lately with the launch of the Classical Sheffield Festival of Music website.

I am currently working on a spatialised, site-specific piece for one of the Platform 4 ‘Pop Up’ performances in the Winter Gardens on Saturday 24th.

There will be another chance to hear my ‘Lament’ performed by Charlie Hardwick in the Platform 4 concert in the Cathedral, also on 24th.

Platform 4 are joining up with Manchester Ensemble, Sounds of the Engine House, to perform a selection of Minimalist masterworks as part of the University of Sheffield concert series on Sunday 25th in Firth Hall.

Tickets are available now. See website for details…

Leave a comment

A new piece. At last.

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to have finally completed a new piece. And this recording of the first performance last Friday isn’t bad! What you miss by not being at the concert is the visual aspect of only seeing the cello soloist and hearing the other parts off stage but it still works, I think. The fantastic cello playing is Charlie Hardwick in action: the piece was written very much for her to play.

Leave a comment

Lament, dance, compose and exhibit.

Well; it’s been a while but here’s some news:

I have written a short piece for the next Platform 4 concert on Friday 3rd July, in Dronfield (see poster below). The piece is called ‘Lament’ and is scored for Cello Solo (but you should never believe everything in print)… Although it’s a short piece, it feels like a massive achievement for me as, for a significant part of the last year, I have felt completely disconnected with composing and music in general. I had convinced myself that I would never write anything again! Sounds melodramatic, but it didn’t feel like it. So, perhaps the title and the character of the piece reflects how I was feeling but it has also given me a vehicle to express emotions surrounding some difficult events that have touched me over recent months. I decided to stop trying to be clever and just write what came easily, and this is the result.

Platform 4 concert poster July 2015

Another development is that Platform 4 have begun a collaboration with dancer Hannah Wadsworth Hannah’s Linkedin page We are at the early stages but hope to have some new work to present early next year.

My course proposal ‘Composing for Beginners’ has been accepted by Benslow and will run next year from Fri 17th – Sun 19th June Benslow Course Brochure I am really excited to be teaching at Benslow, which is a fantastic venue and a brilliant organisation, and look forward to encouraging adult beginners to explore and create new works.

Finally; a heads up that Platform 4 will be performing as part of the Classical Sheffield Festival October 23rd – 25th later this year. Plans include performing a number of short, ‘pop-up’-style pieces around the city centre…

My (fairly old) piece ‘Fluxus Boxes’ for clarinet trio & flexible wind band is being performed by Platform 4 on Friday 3rd October in Sheffield. It was first performed by SUWO (the University of Sheffield’s Wind Orchestra) in 2007 following a competition, and I’m really interested to see how well it’s ‘aged’. Following in the ethos of the Fluxus art movement in the 1970s, it is a little bizarre and could edge towards music theatre… I am currently working on my new piece, ‘Kraal’ for cello solo & flexible string ensemble for the Platform 4 string concert in the new year: I wonder whether hearing ‘Fluxus Boxes’ again will inform on it at all…

October 3rd 2014 POSTER

You can hear the first performance on my soundcloud but, really, it needs to be seen!

Leave a comment

Vent: a blast of rapid response writing…

How about that, then!?: after spending almost a couple of years writing ‘Moot’, I have just completed, scored and recorded ‘Vent’ for strings & piano in a matter of days, ready for broadcast on Resonance 104.4fm tomorrow (Wednesday 6th August)! This is the result of a collaboration between Platform 4 and artist Lisa O’Brien. For more info follow this link:

‘Vent’ is my interpretation of Lisa’s painting called ‘Windstorm Geno’, which she produced some years after experiencing the extreme weather conditions in Scotland, where she currently lives. I often work from my own visual sketches during the writing process and I was excited to see how it felt working from someone else’s artwork. Of the four paintings she provided the four members of Platform 4, ‘Windstorm Geno’ was the most expressive, and the least like a score. I maintained the overall structure, reading from left to right, but interpreted the drama of the gestural mark-making rather than specifically attempting to relate an instrument to a particular line or colour.

You can hear ‘Vent’ here: Vent – audio recording It has been a really interesting project and the results/ approaches are – not surprisingly – very individual!

You can also see my score here: Vent – performance score