MUSIC / On Music

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Being commissioned to write a new piece for a fireworks concert is a little like being forced to compose with the shades of Handel and Tchaikovsky peering over your shoulder: it's hard not to see your music as being in direct competition with all those pyrotechnic performances of the 1812. No wonder the working title Howard Blake first gave his new work for this Saturday's Kenwood open-air concert was 'Playing with Fire'.

But once he started thinking seriously about the concert and its lakeside setting (right), he had second thoughts. 'I suddenly remembered those lines from La Belle Dame Sans Merci - 'The sedge is wither'd from the lake /And no birds sing . . .' -and realised how well Keats's poem would work as a musical structure.' So what he's come up with now is a tone-poem for large orchestra. 'The song of the siren gives me my opening; then there's this big romantic love scene for her and the knight, followed by this huge gallop. Then, of course, it all goes horribly wrong when she turns out to be this dreadful witch, and the procession of past kings and princes whom she's destroyed gives me my climax. And then at the end, of course, he suddenly wakes up and finds it's all been a dream.'

Best-known still for his catchy score to that ever-green Xmas standard, The Snowman, Blake is positively walking on air when it comes to the visual possibilities afforded by the latest technical advances in modern pyrotechnics. 'They're much more sophisticated than they were. These days you can achieve almost Scriabin-like effects with fire,' he enthuses.

Blake is even now looking forward to bathing the lake and woods in a palette of fiery colours to match the changing moods of his musical narrative. He's had one run-through at the piano with his pyrotechnician already, but, the cost of rockets being sky-high as it is, that's the only rehearsal he'll get before he lights the blue touchpaper on Saturday night and retires to the conductor's podium.

7.30pm Sat, Kenwood Lakeside, Hampstead Lane, NW3 (071-413 1443)

(Photograph omitted)

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