Clarinet Concerto2019
solo clarinet and chamber orchestra (2222.2200.T.str)25 minutes
Premiered by Mandy Burvill and Kensington Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Tom Seligman, Saturday 11 May 2019, St Peter’s, Notting Hill, London.

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programme note

Ian Stephens: Clarinet Concerto 1. MCMXCVIII: freely – quick – measured – quick – cadenza – quick – expansive
2. MM: monumental
3. MMIII/MMV: sprightly

The Clarinet Concerto is dedicated to my wife, Mandy Burvill. Over the years I’ve listened to her performing concertos by Mozart, Weber, Debussy, Nielsen, Finzi, Copland and Magnus Lindberg, each performance an exercise in commitment and vitality, but with a surpassing sense of serenity and beauty in the slow movements. I’ve long wanted to write a concerto for her, but until now the opportunity hasn’t arisen. In 2018 the stars became aligned: Tom Seligman, principal conductor of Kensington Chamber Orchestra and a great friend, suggested bringing the idea to life. Funding was put in place – for which huge thanks to all those involved – and I wrote the piece intensively between November 2018 and February 2019.

The concerto contains strong elements of autobiography, explored through three chronologically-themed movements.

The first, MCMXCVIII, focusses on our meeting in 1998. I’ve used Mandy’s date of birth in coded form as the basis of the main theme, which first appears in the free solo clarinet introduction. This theme sparks a series of twelve chords that fan out from a three-note closely spaced chord (D-F-G) to a widely spaced rapturous eight-note chord. This series recurs throughout the movement, but is first heard in the section near the opening that hints at big band. Then the solo takes the lead in a jazz-inflected section – further exploring the main theme – before a far more lyrical and expansive central section. Towards the close, after reworking and combining earlier material, a short cadenza builds towards the movement’s climax, which is crowned by a coded form of the year 1998, sung out by trumpets and horns.

The second movement, MM, is inspired by our wedding in 2000. Most of the material is derived from a short choral piece, ‘A Declaration’, that I wrote for the occasion, and which has languished in a box in the loft ever since – here it is resurrected, recast in instrumental form and presented mosaic-style over the course of the movement, intertwined with fragments of a little song I wrote for us to sing in our early years together.

The third movement, MMIII/MMV, is about the arrival of our daughters Maisie in 2003 and Lily in 2005. Their years of birth, in coded form, are the basis of the jaunty main theme; this functions as a loose rondo theme, alternating with contrasting material. At the movement’s two climactic moments, our daughters’ initials in coded form are sung by espressivo high strings in unison. There are also allusions to a song I made up and used to sing to them when they were tiny. Punctuating the movement are pairs of miniature brass chorales – these derive from the harmonies of the first movement, but this time allied to our daughters’ theme. Each time the chorales appear they are more richly and outlandishly harmonised. The concerto ends with an orchestral crescendo culminating in a garish glissando on the solo clarinet.

The Clarinet Concerto, aptly, was finished on Valentine’s Day, 2019.

It was commissioned by Kensington Chamber Orchestra with funding from the Nicholas Berwin Charitable Trust and Damian Edwards.
What’s For Starters?2010
orchestra (3222.4331.T.3P.str)6 minutes


Premiered by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra at a Family Concert on 18 April 2010, conducted by James Clark.

programme note

 Ian Stephens: What’s For Starters?
I was commissioned to write What’s For Starters by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for a food-themed Family Concert on 18 April 2010, conducted by James Clark, and presented by Dave Benson-Phillips. It’s a whistlestop tour through ten tunes about food or drink, ranging from nursery rhymes to popular songs. Works well as a quiz!

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt2009
narrator, actor and orchestra (2222.2111.T.3P.piano.str)22 minutes

text: Dave Benson Phillips and Emma Mills Premiered by the narrator Dave Benson-Phillips, actor Emma Mills and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Alasdair Malloy, at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on 18 October 2009.
Music hire
Music hire is directly through the composer – use the contact form on this website
When hiring, please note that Michael Rosen must not be mentioned with regard to this work in marketing or other contexts. This work is a musical treatment of a public-domain folk tale. This requirement (to not mention Michael Rosen) must be passed on to the marketing and communications department of your organisation. Rates for performances from 1 July 2019:
professional orchestra: one performance £350, subsequent performances £175 each
amateur orchestra: one performance £220, subsequent performances £110 each
programme note
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt was commissioned by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for a Family Concert on 18 October 2009, with narrator Dave Benson-Phillips, actor Emma Mills and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Alasdair Malloy, at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.
Dave worked with Emma Mills on the script – it's a version of the well-known tale with a few added twists and turns (e.g. a diversion through a samba band), plenty of audience participation, and a lot of comic touches. Once the script was pretty much complete, Dave and Emma made a video for me showing the pace and mood of each section, and I used this as the framework for the music. The music for the repeating section (We're going on a bear hunt / We're going to catch a big one / I'm not scared / what a beautiful day! etc.) is the same each time it appears. For each of the obstacles (grass, mud, river, snowstorm, samba band) I've written different music, though each of these is loosely based on a theme which appears in the repeating section.
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt has been performed quite a few times since its first performance: at six Key Stage 1 Schools Concerts in Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in spring 2010, again with Dave presenting and Alasdair conducting; at Pigotts Music Camp near High Wycombe in summer 2010, with Grace Dives presenting and Sam Laughton conducting; with the Kensington Chamber Orchestra in St Peter’s Church, Kensington, on 12 March 2011, with Kathy Clugston presenting and Tom Seligman conducting; with the RLPO in Liverpool in 26 June 2011; with the Northern Sinfonia at the Sage, Gateshead in four shows on 23 & 24 December 2011, with Alan Fearon conducting and Clare Tustin presenting; with the Cambridge Philharmonic at West Road Concert Hall on 21 January 2012, with Chris Jarvis (CBeebies) presenting and Timothy Redmond conducting; and again with the RLPO on 14 April 2013.
On 1 September 2013 at 4pm We’re Going on a Bear Hunt formed the framework for the entirety of Prom 66 at the Royal Albert Hall, a Family Matinee concert titled The Big Proms Bear Hunt. The narrator was Michael Rosen, who popularised the story in his hugely popular children’s book. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Matthew Coorey, and they were joined by the Liverpool Philharmonic Training Choir and Melody Makers. Also playing was the West Everton Children’s Orchestra, the performing ensemble of the In Harmony project in Liverpool. Tony Ross, whose illustrations are known to countless children through Horrid Henry and The Little Princess, created live illustrations, projected onto a big screen, throughout the concert.
“I feel that Ian’s setting of the much-loved story We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is the Holy Grail of narrated pieces for family concerts! It is engaging and interactive for the audience and stimulating and fulfilling for the orchestra and is immediately appealing on every level with its highly descriptive contemporary musical style including references to rock and world music. As a specialist programme deviser for these kind of events, I also think that it is just the right length to allow the rest of the programme to include complementary pieces with Bear Hunt providing the perfect theatrical focal point.”
Alasdair Malloy (conductor, percussionist and deviser of children’s concerts)
“It's fantastic!!! The rhythms and textures are perfect ... plus it's so funny. The audience are truly enjoying themselves from start to finish and interacting the whole time. Anything that gets kids (and adults for that matter) listening and appreciating the orchestra gets my vote.”
Chris Jarvis (CBeebies presenter)
“Your piece was a huge hit with audience and orchestra alike.”
Tim Redmond (conductor, Cambridge Philharmonic Orchestra) "The response to the piece was overwhelmingly positive – our audience for these concerts tends to be KS1 kids and so the level of participation went down incredibly well. Eavesdropping post-concert people were incredibly enthusiastic about the performance.”
Hannah Reynolds (Planning Manager, The Sage Gateshead)
“The children in our audience found We’re Going on a Bear Hunt really appealing and listened spellbound to this cleverly devised musical story. The work succeeds by setting the story’s repetitions to correspondingly attractive and repetitive musical interludes and giving the narrator and audience chances to join in with the story’s repetitions with theatrical devices and actions. By the end of the work, we have all been on a bear hunt, felt the anticipation and pretended we’re not scared, been under it, over it, through it and round it, seen the bear, and ... we can all sing the music! The piece kept the RLPO audience riveted with Dave Benson Phillips’ wonderfully over-the-top narration, movements and actions. Ian Stephens’ music is brilliantly conceived, keeps the orchestral players busy and interested, and sustains the storyline and presenter’s antics with good tunes. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this work to other orchestras – it’s a gift for younger children and a great fun addition to children’s concerts which will hold even the most fidgety audience spellbound! It should receive tonnes of performances and I’m personally looking forward to doing it again soon.”
Nicholas Cox (ex-principal clarinet, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra)
“We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is brilliantly conceived: Stephens has thought about every aspect of the story and brought it to life with his instinctive feel for orchestration. With its catchy tunes and intricate scoring, Bear Hunt is as fun to play as it is to listen to, and has proven a huge success with audiences.”
Josephine Frieze (percussion, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra)
“This summer I was lucky enough to take part in a performance of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Ian Stephens. This is a magical piece, full of delights for nursery and primary age children, with the music perfectly capturing the upbeat mood of the book.”
Miranda Dodd (Key Stage 1 Learning Leader and Year 2 Teacher, St Andrew’s C of E Primary School‎, Fontmell Magna, Dorset; amateur violinist)
“The children loved listening to We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and we followed with the book. All the children were really engaged with the story and it was a brilliant way of introducing repeated phrases in stories and drama-supporting learning. They have learnt skills we can adapt for other stories (e.g. showing emotion in facial expressions) which they will be using throughout this year and KS1.”
Lucy James (Reception Teacher, St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, Rotherhithe)
“We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is absolutely superb! Both children and adults within schools will love this interactive and musical storytelling device. The children are engaged and enthused by the music and ask to listen to it over and over again. Every foundation stage and KS1 teacher will want this. Even my Year Fives were completely engrossed.”
Richard Preston (Year 5 Teacher, St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, Rotherhithe)
“It was brilliant because I liked it when the bear chased after us. I like bears!”

“I liked it in the mud because it was squelching.”

“It was great. I was scared because they left the door open. I thought the bear was going to catch up with them!”

Reception students (St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, Rotherhithe)
“We came as a family to the Teddy Bear’s Picnic concert at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall last year and had a fabulous time. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt itself was really atmospheric and involving for the children, who were caught up in the drama of it all. It was a great way to introduce children to live performance and classical music.”
Nina Bueno del Carpio (parent of children aged 4 & 6)
dai-hu, guzheng and orchestra (3333.4331.T.3P.H.guzheng.str)10 minutes


Premiered by dai-hu soloist Yu LeFu, guzheng soloist Zi Lan Liao and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Vasily Petrenko, at Liverpool Philhamonic Hall on 2 October 2010. This is a version of Oxbow for dai-hu and ensemble.

programme note

Ian Stephens: Oxbow for dai-hu, guzheng and orchestra

It’s not often that a composer is asked to write for a new and largely untested instrument. Oxbow is the result of just such an approach. In summer 2007 I was asked by Andrew Cornall, then Executive Director of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, to compose a rather unusual piece as part of Liverpool’s celebrations as European Capital of Culture 2008.

The new piece was part of ‘Celebrating the Year of the Ox’, a concert given by Ensemble 10/10, the contemporary music group of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, on Saturday 24 January 2009 in The Cornerstone at Liverpool Hope University’s campus in Everton, Liverpool. Yu LeFu was the dai-hu soloist, Clark Rundell the conductor.

I rewrote Oxbow for the much larger forces of dai-hu, guzheng and symphony orchestra for two concerts given by Yu LeFu, Zi Lan Liao (a virtuoso on the guzheng, a Chinese harp-like instrument) and the RLPO, first at Liverpool Philhamonic Hall on 2 October 2010, and then in China at the Liverpool Gala Day at the Shanghai Expo on 16 October 2010.

The dai-hu has been developed by Liverpool resident Mr K.H. Li, leader of the Pagoda Chinese Youth Orchestra, the first and largest Chinese youth orchestra in Europe, which he established in 1980. It belongs to the huqin family of Chinese stringed instruments, of which the best-known member is the erhu. The erhu has two strings, tuned to the D above middle C, and the A above that. The dai-hu also has two strings, but is pitched over two octaves lower, with the strings tuned to the C two octaves below middle C and the G above that, like the bottom two strings of the cello.

An important consideration behind Mr Li’s development of the dai-hu is his desire to fill a gap in ensembles of Chinese instruments. Though the higher string parts are normally taken by the erhu and other members of the huqin family, lower parts tend to be played on the Western cello. The dai-hu extends the characteristic colour and technique of the erhu down to the bottom of the cello’s range, and blends much more readily with the tone of the Chinese ensemble. It is with this piece that Mr Li is displaying the capabilities of his new instrument.

I met Mr Li a number of times in 2007 and 2008, recording him improvising on the dai-hu both at the Pagoda Cultural Club and in The Cornerstone. The title draws together three aspects of the piece – firstly, the piece celebrates the Year of the Ox; secondly, the dai-hu is played with a bow (it passes between the two strings); and thirdly, the piece is roughly in the form of an arch, following the shape of an oxbow lake (a U-shaped lake formed when a wide meander of a river is cut off).

Two musical ideas provide much of the material used in Oxbow. The first is a complex chord derived from the pentatonic (five-note) scale that is central to much of Chinese music. The notes of pentatonic scales linked to five pitches which are the interval of a fifth apart – C, G, D, A and E – are piled up on top of each other to create a 25-note chord which is rich in harmony but dissonant between its high and low extremities.

The second idea is my response to the frequent inclusion of traditional melodies in Chinese music. Though I live near Liverpool, I was born and brought up in Devon in the south-west of England, and I have chosen a particularly beautiful folk song from Devon to form the heart and soul of the piece. Titled ‘The Forsaken Maiden’, the song was taken down from a hedger names James Parsons in 1888 by Sabine Baring-Gould, and published in his collection ‘Songs of the West’. It’s thought to date back to the 16th century. The first and last verses are as follows:

A maiden sat a-weeping
Down by the sea shore,
What ails my pretty Sally,
What ails my pretty Sally,
And makes her heart sore?

I’ll spread my sail of silver,
I’ll sail towards the sun,
And thou, false love, will weep for me,
And thou, false love, will weep for me,
For me when I’m gone.

Fragments and transformations of phrases from the song are present from the opening bars and throughout the piece, though it is not until the central section that the whole melody is revealed by the dai-hu.

I was further inspired by the idea of an oxbow lake to cast the piece in the form of a river’s journey. The first section takes us from the source high in the mountains, flowing onwards through narrow rapids and wider reaches, through rural and urban landscapes, until the floodplain is reached. This descent is marked by a very gradually descending pentatonic scale, outlining the notes of the 25-note chord. A cadenza for the dai-hu creates a sense of timelessness, representing the oxbow lake itself, cut off long ago from the flow of the river, obsolete and stagnant. The folksong gradually appears and is then further transformed and developed. A second dai-hu cadenza begins rhapsodically but then regains its urgency, leading to a return to the steadily flowing river. In the final section the river enters the estuarine landscape where fresh and salt water merge and blend, with violent tidal eddies and currents giving way eventually to the understated power of the ocean.

The World In One City2004
symphony orchestra, optional organ (3333.4331.T.3P.H.org.str)2 minutes


Premiered by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall on 7 October 2004, conducted by Owain Arwel Hughes. Also available in short version for brass septet – see under Small Ensemble.

programme note

Ian Stephens: The World In One City

Early in the morning of 4 June 2003, I heard the news that Liverpool had been selected as European Capital of Culture 2008. I was so struck by this that I contacted the Phil and asked Principal Conductor Gerard Schwarz if I could write a celebratory fanfare to be played at that evening’s concert. He agreed, stipulating that it should be 30 seconds long and for brass alone. It was performed that evening. At the suggestion of my wife Mandy, I based it on a rhythm and melodic shape suggested by the motto of Liverpool's Capital of Culture bid, ‘The World In One City". For the RLPO’s Classic FM concert at the Royal Albert Hall in October 2004, I was asked to extend and rescore it for full orchestra and organ.

Nautical Notes2004
symphonic wind, percussion (3333.4331.T.3P)4 minutes


Ian Stephens: Nautical Notes

After hearing the many short orchestral ‘play-ons’ that I’d composed for the Liverpool Phil, percussionist and presenter Alasdair Malloy asked me to write this piece for his pirate-themed family concerts, which he presents around the world. In it I’ve intertwined thirteen easily recognisable tunes to do with water and the sea, ranging from nursery rhymes to folk and popular songs and beyond. Nautical Notes has been performed many times by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and also by the London Mozart Players, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, RTÉ Concert Orchestra, Ulster Orchestra, Orchestra of Scottish Opera, Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra, Hallé Orchestra and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

Crosby Symphony Overture2003
symphony orchestra (2222.4331.T.str, and optional extra piccolo and contrabassoon parts)9 minutes


Premiered by the Crosby Symphony Orchestra in Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, conducted by Robert Sells, on 5 July 2003.

Ian Stephens: Crosby Symphony Overture
I was commissioned to write Crosby Symphony Overture by the Crosby Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its foundation, which took place in 2003. The overture was written between January and April 2003. Getting it completed was a little fraught as my wife Mandy was heavily pregnant with our eldest daughter at the time, and I was counting on the final week of her pregnancy to get it completed. However our daughter Maisie had other ideas and arrived ten days early – in a sleepless daze I managed to deliver the music to the conductor with only hours to spare when she was three days old. Many thanks to Robert Sells and the Orchestra for their faith in me and to the individuals and companies who have been so generous in their support.

Crosby Symphony Overture opens with a slow prelude. The central motif of the whole piece – a melody underpinned by a characteristic twist of harmony – makes its first appearance within this section. After a brief pause, the con moto (‘with movement’) dance sequence is introduced in the strings. The musicians of the CSO reliably inform me that they can hear touches of Eastern European folk music and Appalachian fiddle music in this section. The woodwinds take centre-stage as the music becomes increasingly agitated. After a brief climax and a hint of the central motif, a darkening of the mood heralds the lilting triple-time grazioso (‘gracefully’) section, which is announced by an oboe duet. Tension builds as the strings take over the theme, and after an abrupt halt, a pianissimo string passage leads into the heart of the overture, a jubilant and extended reiteration of the central motif. The con moto returns with renewed vigour, and the final bars are truly celebratory.

Crosby Symphony Overture was one of three works to be shortlisted for the Making Music category of the British Composer Awards 2004.


My experience of conducting the Crosby Symphony Overture confirmed my first impressions of the piece gained when we read it through at Music Camp. The strong rhythmic drive of the ‘con moto ‘ sections, the very effective use of syncopation, the frequent changes of mood from a lilting ‘grazioso’ through a dark threatening section in the middle, to the pure exuberance of the main theme, appealed to the young people of the orchestra.

When selecting repertoire for a youth orchestra, one is always conscious of the demands made on the strings. When I first looked at the score, it was immediately obvious that the composer was a string player; the string parts used a variety of textures, but were always idiomatic and rewarding to play, without being too demanding technically. Meanwhile the woodwind and brass parts had plenty for the players to get their teeth into, not least because they were rhythmically much more complex. The audience enjoyed the piece as much as the players, partly because there is a very obvious recapitulation, and a brilliant conclusion. I would strongly recommend the Crosby Symphony Overture to any youth orchestra conductors who are looking for modern music which is challenging, stimulating and fun to play.
Sir Richard Mynors, co-conductor of Herefordshire Youth Orchestra

Dance for Spring2002
string orchestra3 minutes

Premiered by the strings of Crosby Music Centre at Crosby Civic Hall, conducted by Melanie Hill on 26 June 2002. There are three solo parts: violin (about grade 5 standard), viola (about grade 3) and cello (about grade 3). The tutti strings are about grade 1-2 standard, and open string parts are also available.

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