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Finding the right formula for score; Chris Morley talks to composer Adrian Sutton about his music for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

THE Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has already won numerous awards (including Whitbread Book of the Year) for its author Mark Haddon since its publication in 2003.

Now it can add a clutch of theatrical accolades to its trophy-cabinet, with Simon Stephens' dramatisation winning seven Laurence Olivier awards in 2013 for its National Theatre production, including Best Play and Best Sound Design.

That sound design featured the music of Adrian Sutton, composer of the score for NT's previous huge success, War Horse.

Adrian reveals how he prepared himself to create the score for Curious Incident.

"We talked about establishing what the language of the play was, and what was wanted for that was a sort of orchestral epic. So in the early workshops for that we tried out various bits of existing music - Mahler, Stravinsky, early to mid-20th century music, just to see what seemed right for it.

"And having established that, and chucked away the bits that didn't work, the question then was creating a new score using that musical language."

And that language involved incorporating mathematical elements.

"We realised that the important thing about Curious Incident was that it needed to be seen from Christopher's point of view," Adrian explains of the 15-year-old maths genius with autism.

"So what was going on in his head, how would he react to things going on around him? Adrian "One of the realisations that I came to quite early on was that he is a character that seeks solace and comfort in things that he knows he can control and understand, like maths and computers.

"So one of the first things I did was to think, ok, so he likes prime numbers very much, and I took the first few prime numbers - 2, 3, 5, 7, 11 - and used those as a springboard for generating all kinds of material, whether it was steps on a scale, or intervals in a chord, or rhythmic values."

A bit like Bach's methods, I observe. "That's right! You don't always necessarily perceive that and there's some debate as to whether Bach deliberately conceived that or that that's how it turned out.

"But as a composer, when you're faced with infinite possibilities it can be quite paralysing, so a very good first step in the composition process is to narrow down what your field of vision is and work with the restrictions. It's only by doing that that you'll provide yourself with a motivation and a clear goal."

All these things make me think of Schoenberg and his tortuous discovery of the liberating 12-tone method of composition after the harmonic indulgence of late-Romanticism was about to collapse under its own weight.

"Yes, he was taking the development of the late 19th century to its ultimate conclusion and serialising the chromatic scale, which was almost mathematical. So you've got to be even more radical in the late 20th century, like Boulez, who started serialising everything.

"And that was a particular musical cul-de-sac, and though it didn't become mainstream, and was certainly against my own musical tastes, it signposted a certain thing, I guess. It's fascinating to check out certain systems and see what happens.

"The other argument to that is, of course, John Cage, and in later years Brian Eno, whose approach to composition is 'let's not try to control the process, let's set up a generative algorhythm environment and see what happens'. It's really only since the advent of computing power that that's really taken off. It's a fascinating area.

"But never at the expense of expression and emotion. It can be quite tedious listening to these things!" is Adrian's honest conclusion.

On opening night, May 26, Adrian will be giving a free pre-show talk at Birmingham Hippodrome at 6.15pm. Places can be reserved by ringing 0844 338 5000. The play runs until June 6.

Another composer of music for the theatre, the veteran Guy Woolfenden, is celebrated in a concert by Birmingham Symphonic Winds on Sunday, May 24 (3pm) at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Sutton The magic number is 37 as Guy, during his 37-year tenure as head of music at the Royal Shakespeare Company, composed scores for all 37 plays in the Shakespeare canon. Extracts from some of these scores will be performed, along with other compositions by this much-loved musician.

"Guy wrote wonderfully original, galvanising and haunting melodies that audiences yearned to hear again," says Sir Trevor Nunn, former artistic director of the RSC.

"Music to be treasured, recorded and turned into suites and performed in concert halls."

This is part of a worldwide Woolfenden-Fest, with bands across the world being invited to read-through or rehearse, workshop or programme a Woolfenden work.

Funds from the concert will be donated to the Alzheimer's Society. Guy has recently been diagnosed as suffering from that disease but plans to be present at this joyful occasion.

Details on 0844 800 1110.


Adrian Sutton
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 21, 2015
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Next Article:Solving maths puzzle which had stumped playwrights; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was the unstageable play. Roz Laws reports.

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