Composer Gavin Higgins is enjoying being in the musical spotlight at the moment, especially with the high profile premiere of his new opera 'The Monstrous Child' on the immediate horizon at the Royal Opera House in London.
However, before that event this Thursday (21st February), he has also been able to enjoy the critical acclaim that has come his way following the first performance of his new 'Trombone Concerto' performed by Helen Vollam and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alexander Vedernikov.
"It's been a very busy time," he said between coughs as he recovers from a recent bout of the flu. "I couldn't have asked for a better get-well remedy though than Helen's brilliant performance at the Barbican. She was amazing."
Vollam gave a scintillating performance of 'Book of Miracles' — a work inspired by the pages of an illuminated 16th century manuscript packed full of incredible mythical monsters, comets, eclipses and mock suns called parhelia.
The critics were certainly impressed, with Roy Westbrook writing for the influential Backtrack.com saying; "For all the portentousness that (the title) suggests, Higgins never forgets that the concerto form has a playful element, at least some of the time in a fascinating work which has plenty of variety within its sense of unity."
Meanwhile, 'Classical Source' called it "extremely impressive", and a "perfect vehicle for Helen Vollam (BBCSO principal), her trombone ideally suiting the declamatory role."
Writing in The Times newspaper, Neil Fisher described it as: "a well-crafted soundscape and a welcome showcase for the bronzed tone and even phrasing of BBC Symphony Orchestra's principal trombonist, Helen Vollam."
'Classical Source' called it "extremely impressive", and "a perfect vehicle for Helen Vollam (BBCSO principal), her trombone ideally suiting the declamatory role."4BR
'Book of Miracles' depicts in vivid detail, miraculous signs, natural catastrophes and Christian myths — including stories from the Book of Revelation, drawn into four movements — from the opening 'Comet' and following 'Parhelia' to an extended cadenza section entitled 'Eclipse' and the formidable finale 'Revelation'.
Gaving told 4BR: "The BBC approached me to write a new work and I felt a substantial trombone concerto was perfect — especially with Helen Vollam in mind. It took me about six months to write and working closely with Helen meant that I could create a work that has an emphasis on the instrument's lyrical, cantabile qualities.
The four movements vary greatly in style, but the ethos is one of expression, warmth, wit and momentum. It's about the feeling people would have had about seeing the imagery in the book for the first time. It's nearly 500 years old but it could have been written and illustrated yesterday."
Performance to cherish
He added: "The response to Helen's performance was great — especially from what seemed to by a fan-club of fellow professional players who were in the audience. It really was a performance to cherish."
You can hear the performance at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/music/tracks/n5c4mf