Writing an opera and making it happen can be the most exhilarating experience. It can also be a life-shortening undertaking which leaves you frazzled with a wispy memory of it all once the pandemonium has faded around you. It is not duck soup, that’s for sure! Whereas some composers vow never to go near another of these operose ventures, others have sparks of ideas for new adventures the minute the lights go out on the last night. Yet, one should be cautious not to jump the gun and climb another gargantuan mountain before all the sweat has dried. So, since the start of the year I have enjoyed a bout of so-called gardening leave. It has allowed me to take a step back so that unhurried seedlings of new thoughts can find some refreshed grounds. En passant, I learnt a thing or two about root vegetables and discovered the pleasure of tending to all kinds of smaller potatoes.
Who would have thought that there exists thousands of varieties of potatoes outside the Maris Peers and Pipers that we know so well?
The “Snowflake” – a white-skinned potato, excellent for dumplings, potato bread and stuffings
Like constructing a haiku, one syllable a day, it took us 17 days of intense rehearsals to stage Neige with its technical complexities, scenic wizardries and musical intricacies. Audiences young and old arrived from all corners of Europe to fill every last seat in Luxembourg’s Grand Théâtre and, with press coverage snowballing in the days leading up to the performances, the excitement was mounting and everyone present was all eyes and ears. For me, it was the end of a three-year expedition into the lands of snow and an emotional and wondrous reward for all the work done. The show ran seamlessly and the reviews were full of praise all round, labelling the opera a Schneemalerei (Snowpainting) and Gesamtkunstwerk. It was lovely to witness the public’s reaction on the night with a lot of audience members being genuinely touched by the experience. For those who couldn’t be there, photos and reviews can be found on the Neige blog. After the success of these initial performances the Neige team are now concentrating their efforts on finding more theatres, festivals and opera houses where we can stage this wintery fable.
The “Snowbird” – a medium early round white variety, large in size with a low incidence of internal defects which can be available year-round. 
This Thursday, 27th February, the harp ensemble from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester will perform one of my massed harp pieces, Flyways, at The Holden Gallery (Manchester School of Art) in a lunchtime concert starting at 13.15. Flyways was originally commissioned by the ensemble’s director Eira Lynn Jones and Chethams School of Music for the ‘Harp Days’ festival and was also performed at the Natural History Museum in London in 2010. For the Mancunians amongst you, it will be a lovely opportunity to hear my exploration of harp sounds set in the world of bird migration, sporting a giant map as a score. More information here.
The “Danshaku” the most commonly used potato in Japan, first introduced in 1910 by Baron (Danshaku) Kawata from Great Britain/Ireland – works well for croquettes and salads 
My new piece Kartenspiel for solo violin, commissioned by violinist Tomoko Kiba of Ensemble LUCILIN, will be premiered in Tokyo, Japan at a concert at the Luxembourg Embassy on 28th March. It is one of my quieter and more experimental pieces and I am looking forward to hearing Tomoko perform it at some point over here in Europe too!
The “Picasso” – with its yellow- and red-eyed tubers, this variety gets top marks for disease and drought resistance, although it may be prone to slugs. Tastes beautiful baked or mashed.  
While revelling in my unaccustomed role as a temporary couch-potato, I was nominated for ‘best artistic contribution’ for the music I wrote for Yann Tonnar’s documentary film Atelier Luxembourg. The Lëtzebuerger Filmpraïs, which is awarded by the Luxembourg Film Academy, will be presented on 7th March. The film follows four artists in their working process and looks at what contemporary art is nowadays.
The “French Fingerling” – a sleek and slender heirloom pomme de terre which offers a robust, earthy and buttery flavour when cooked. The entire potato is edible and the average size in length is 2 to 3 inches.
In December, the eight month long series of French For Cartridge events and happenings surrounding the We Humans album release finally came to an end with a last digital release of the Hot Air Ballooon EP. The EP includes a brand new track, some remixes by Collectress, The Chap and Chik Budo and the scintillating Hot Air Balloon song. To celebrate, we sent one of our FFC choir dolls off to the British School of Ballooning where she has spent a couple of months in training and is waiting for some brighter skies to take to the air. Every song off the album now also comes with a video on YouTube and, for those who haven’t had a chance to grab a copy yet, the album, the 7″ vinyl and digital EP plus all related merchandise are still available in shops and online as well as directly from our own store. We Humans did make it on to a few ‘End of Year’-lists but as far as we know, no new potato has been named after us yet. For more news please refer to our website.
Finally, if you have ever been baffled by the choice of potatoes on sale, here is my little guide to shop this South American garden vegetable: “King Edward” makes a great roast potato but the “Duke of York” and “Lady Balfour” taste better boiled. “Chopin”, “Mozart” and “Vivaldi” produce harmonious potato wedges as opposed to “Melody” which should only be consumed mashed in a dish well-executed. If you want to be a trend-setter, then swapping your “Charlottes” for a handful of “Bananas” and your “Daisy Golds” for some “Crotte d’ours” while throwing in a few “Albatros(s)es” will make for some interesting table-talk. In the long run, my advice would be to forget about the theatricals of peppery “Caesars” and luscious “Cleopatras” and rather add a dribble of honey and a soupçon of lavender to some well-fried “Abeilles” for the ultimate sting in palatable novelties. Now, what’s for dinner tonight?
’til next time,