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Patterson primed for the Swan; Paul Patterson talks to Terry grimley about his new commission from the Orchestra of the Swan.

Byline: Terry grimley

Composer Paul Patterson is 60 this year, and it must be a bit like having his whole life pass before his ears.

Last week he was composer in residence at the Sounds New festival in Canterbury, where he heard 11 of his own works drawn from across his 40-year composing career.

"I've gone through a number of styles in that time, and they were performing some early works which are very gritty pieces," he says. "It was slightly embarrassing because on one night three of my works were being played in different places, with the Sinfo-nia for Strings and the Cello Concerto as well as a piece at Sounds New."

The rush of performances continue this weekend in Cardiff, but meanwhile the West Midlands gets in on the act when the Stratford-based Orchestra of the Swan gives the premiere of Patterson's Allusions.

Written for two solo violins and strings, Patterson (above) says the piece was inspired by the particular strings sound of OTS, which has performed his Sinfonia and Violin Concerto in the past.

The "allusion" is to operatic characters in each of the three movements, with references to Verdi's Falstaff and Mozart's Don Giovanni and Marriage of Figaro.

"It's much more obvious in the last one, where people who are alerted to it are likely to spot it," he says. "The outer movements are a real showcase, very vibrant and rhythmic, with a focus on the soloists who have quite virtuosic parts, while the central movement is darker."

British composers are often thought of as having a particular affinity for the sound of the string orchestra, but Patterson's style was actually forged through his interest in the Polish school in his 20s - he says he was "obsessed" by Lutoslawski and Penderecki at the time.

"When I was a student you had to be in one of three camps if you wanted to have credibility - the Darmstadt school, the Polish school or the John Cage West Coast school. Now everything is watered down. I do quite a lot of teaching and there's no house style in colleges. In a concert you might have a Darmstadt piece, a minimalist piece and a tonal piece."

Patterson was a pupil of Richard Rodney Bennett, and through his recommendation found himself writing scores for several Hammer horror movies in his 20s and 30s. Actually, the leap from Penderecki's modernist string classic Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima to Hammer horror doesn't seem particularly great.

The alternation between modernism and more popular styles has continued to be a feature of Patterson's output.

"I always had this other side to me. Being a former brass player and having played in brass bands, I did have a fairly good sense of harmony and so on. So if you had heard those 11 pieces last week you could be forgiven if you thought they weren't by the same composer.

"A lot of people find that refreshing, but other people find it difficult because they like to pigeonhole composers. I personally find it challenging to always find something new."

One result is that while some of Patterson's more accessible works have become frequently-performed crowd-pleasers, his tougher ones have to wait longer between outings.

"Take my clarinet concerto, which was played the other day," he says wryly. "I think the last performance of that was probably for my 50th birthday."

He remembers Michael Viner, founder of contemporary music specialists the London Sinfoni-etta, asking: who is the real Paul Patterson?

"I would write in a near-Malcolm Arnold style in one work and then write a very gritty Polish school piece, and I know a lot of people find that awkward. But I tend not to go off at tangents within a particular piece - I don't think that's a good idea.

"Having a piece in a programme where people have come to hear classics and have to hear a contemporary piece, I'm very aware of the effect my music will have on people like that. I try to make it so that there's something for the non-specialist to latch on to."

The Orchestra of the Swan plays Paul's Allusions, with music by Bach, Barber and Copland, at the Townsend Hall, Shipston-on-Stour, tomorrow night (7.30pm; tickets from R Clarke's Electrical Services 01608 661394 and Wyntor's 01608 661238); The Grange, Southam (01926 813933), on Saturday, and Civic Hall, Stratford-upon-Avon (01789 207100), on Wednesday. All concerts start at 7.30pm.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 8, 2007
Words:739
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