River Journey

River Journey for symphony orchestra with or without primary school children.  Duration 20 minutes.

River Journey was commissioned by the LSO with generous support from John Stephens OBE. It was first performed in the Barbican by the LSO with pupils from Prior Weston Primary School, St. Luke’s Primary School and Moreland Primary School on the 28th June 2012. The children were led by Neil Valentine and the performance was conducted by Kristjan Järvi.  The lyrics of the song were suggested by the children.


  • Children (singing and playing percussion)
  • Piccolo
  • 2 Flutes
  • 2 Oboes
  • Cor Anglais
  • 2 Clarinets in Bb
  • 2 Bassoons
  • 4 Horns in F
  • 3 Trumpets in Bb
  • 3 Trombones Tuba
  • Timpani
  • Percussion (4 Players). Glockenspiel, Crotales, Xylophone, Tubular Bells, Triangle, Sleigh Bells, Shaker, Tambourine, Wood Block, Snare Drum, Tam-Tam, Suspended Cymbal, Clash Cymbals, Bass Drum
  • Harp
  • Piano
  • Strings


Programme note:

Rivers have always fascinated me.  The Severn, the Wye, the Thames, the Avon and the Dart (not to mention the Great Ouse which runs past the end of my street) all seem to have their own unique characteristics.  These great watery highways all started life somewhere as a trickle, maybe joining another such trickle before one could even call it a stream, let alone a river.  At their opposite end often lie tidal reaches so vast that it’s impossible to say for certain where the river ends and the sea begins.  In between lies an infinite variety of landscapes: gentle meanders, savage rapids, and remnants of industry and transport long gone.  No wonder that rivers have been such an inspiration to artists, poets and composers over the centuries.

I’d wanted to write a piece about rivers for a long time as their relentless (unstoppable, inevitable?) journey from source to sea always suggested a very clear musical shape to me.  I’d tried to use the idea in a piece for strings, but the material seemed to be crying out for something else; another element that only a full orchestra could deliver.  That string piece was eventually rewritten completely as The Sea and the Sky (commissioned by the LSO in 2011), while my river material languished in a drawer.  However, when the LSO commissioned a large piece for primary school children and orchestra, I jumped at the chance to revisit my river thoughts, deciding to start again from scratch.  (Even so, a couple of the old tunes did survive!)  

My initial image was that of the source; points of light sparkling on fast flowing water alternating with a kind of deep chorale representing the spirit of the river.  With this sound-image firmly in place, I wrote around it, preceding it with an orchestral sunrise and following it with a confident tune (sung by the children).  A reflective melody (first heard played by a solo clarinet) provides a moment of repose halfway through the piece before the energy builds up again in the great rush towards the sea.  

I’m deeply indebted to John Stephens, Richard McNicol and Neil Valentine for all their help and guidance in writing for the children in River Journey.  Neil’s work with the children in preparation for this performance has been an absolute joy to watch throughout.  Richard had the idea to turn the confident river tune into a song, and Neil did a fantastic job in creating exciting lyrics from all of the children’s suggestions.  

River Journey is dedicated to John Stephens in thanks for his encouragement, inspiration and friendship while writing the piece.