Elspeth Brooke likes to break new ground. She is composing an opera, The Commission, in collaboration with librettist Jack Underwood, which is due to be staged by the renowned Manchester-based Psappha Ensemble. “The approach we have taken to integrating video – combining, for example, a character on screen singing in synch with live singers on stage – is a new approach in opera that has not been explored by other composers in the UK.”
The piece is about a Florentine Renaissance artist who decides he must cut off the head of the man who murdered his brother. The visual and musical styles are strongly reminiscent of film noir and, strikingly, the whole set will be portable – meaning the show can be staged practically anywhere.
“With every piece I write”, says Brooke, “I try to challenge myself to write more idiomatically for the instruments, to take a fresh approach to form and to find a unique sound world for that piece.”
Her training at the Royal Academy of music and Cambridge University has helped her to develop a fluency in the techniques of composing and orchestrating. At the same time, Brooke believes it’s important to stay connected with the “intuitive and emotional side of music making”.
Right now she is exploring ideas around layering different tempi and juxtaposing different characters of material – for example, niave, lullaby-like melodies contrasted with rhythmically complex materials. She is also composing solo pieces specifically for players who enjoy working with composers and playing new music.