CREATIVE: Kim Ashton on devising The Winter’s Tale

Compared with ‘normal’ composition, where one sits lonely at one’s desk for weeks or months at a time, devising a piece with other people is rather different: it is quite a bit quicker, quite a bit more unpredictable, and (if one is honest) quite a bit more fun. Luckily our visions were not too dissimilar: Nina Brazier (the director), The Hermes Experiment, the actors and I are all interested in layering text, music and movement together in a variety of ways, such that each strand is dominant or subordinate at different moments, sharing equally in the unfolding of the narrative. Sometimes we hope to excite or overwhelm; sometimes we hope that simplicity will move you. My position as ‘composer’ of the piece is precarious: while my name appears at the top of the score (a compilation of instructions, including only sparse musical notes), the music is as much by The Hermes Experiment as it is by me, since most of what you will hear is being improvised live, according to musical shapes and behaviours agreed in advance. The ‘folk song’ appearing in the second half is a case in point – particularly since it is the first tonal piece I have ‘composed’ in about 15 years! When someone suggested that a folk song would suit one scene well, the soprano Héloïse sketched out its opening melody; I then fleshed this out into a rough whole; finally Héloïse, Anne (who plays it later on the Harp) and I all tweaked it here and there until I no longer remember who was originally responsible for which note.

The Winter’s Tale will be performed at London’s Cockpit Theatre on 13th December 2016.

With many thanks to Arts Council England, RVW Trust, Hinrichsen Foundation, Britten-Pears Foundation and Aldeburgh Music for their generous support in the project’s development.