In 2009 Neil was commissioned by the National Piping Centre and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama to write a large scale orchestral work based around the piping compositions of his father, Duncan Johnstone. The resulting work, scored for bagpipes, small pipes, whistle, flute & string orchestra, was entitled Suite for Alan.
Neil used Duncan's piobaireachd Lament for Alan, my son as the starting point for the work with a full performance played by Roddy MacLeod, who was a pupil of Duncan's. The suite, which incorporates a motif using the first four notes of the piobaireachd throughout, is made up of some of Duncan's finest marches, hornpipes, slow airs & jigs .
Of the work, Neil says "Suite for Alan is my own personal tribute to my father and Alan (who died from Leukaemia at the age of 20) , and the overall feeling I wanted to get across when composing the suite was to celebrate my fathers’ life through his music whilst trying to balance this with the sadness of losing a brother. It was for these two reasons, I decided to fuse together the piobaireachd with other compositions both written by my father and tunes closely associated with him, resulting in a homage to both of them."
The work was premiered at the National Piping Centre in Glasgow on 20th March 2010 following on from the annual Duncan Johnstone Memorial Competition. It recieved a repeat performance later that year at Piping Live! The soloists on that occasion were Roddy MacLeod, Allan MacDonald, Iain MacDonald, Mike Katz & Finlay MacDonald alongside an ensemble comprising some of Scotland's finest string players conducted by Neil.
Following those two successful performances Neil decided he would like to record the suite and from this the Pipes & Strings project was born.
In April 2011 we travelled to Watercolour Music Studios to record Suite for Alan alongside other shorter pieces as well as another large work commissioned by ourselves called A Welcome Shore by Stephen Adam, written for solo cello and strings. The music from this recording & subsequent CD then formed the basis for a concert tour of the Western Isles & Skye in July 2011, culminating in a performance at the Hebridean Celtic Festival in Stornoway.
Soloists on the tour were Neil Johnstone (cello), Allan MacDonald (small pipes) , Iain MacDonald (Flute & whistles), Roddy MacLeod (Bagpipes) & James Ross (piano) accompanied by a 13 piece string ensemble led by Tony Moffat.
A selection of photos from the tour and an excerpt from A Welcome Shore can be found below.
The CD can be purchased here.