the world’s turning lasts around 12 minutes and continues my fascination with, and exploration of, musical momentum, stasis and the use of mechanisms, patterns, line and repetition in music. The piece is also a vehicle for the virtuosity of the Esprit Orchestra. The title is borrowed from William Boyd’s novel Waiting for Sunrise in which the main character, Lysander Rief, feels for a moment that ‘time has stopped and the world’s turning also’.
forces: 126.96.36.199. 188.8.131.52. 3perc. timp. hp. solo pf. 184.108.40.206.8.
Over the past fifteen years or so I’ve got to know and admire Huw Watkins as a pianist through numerous chamber performances he’s given of mine and many other composers music and I started thinking about writing him a concerto several years ago. The Book of Ingenious Devices was written with his musical personality and formidable ability very much in mind and one of the starting points was thinking about the solo piano in a chamber music context and how it might interact with smaller ensembles from within the orchestra. The concerto lasts around 21 minutes and is heard in a single span that falls into five distinct movements. The first of these is a virtuosic moto perpetuo with the piano at the centre punctuated by different instrumental combinations within the orchestra. The second, shorter movement is much slower and sustained with more expansive material for the soloist which ends leaving the piano alone with a high two part florid figure that quickly descends into short fanfares for brass and a brief return to faster music that quickly winds down, running out of energy before silence and the midway point of the concerto. The fourth movement begins with repeated single notes on the piano which slowly open out into more lyrical material around icy, static chords in the strings and ticking woodwind. Solo harp and timpani gently echo the piano leading to low clusters and trilling drums. Momentum picks up in the three percussion and the fifth and final movement slowly gains pace, re-establishing the momentum of the first movement.
Tableaux is in three sections, or panels. Each is distinct but there is an over-riding concern throughout the entire work of keeping a strong sense of forward momentum. This is established from the outset with a jagged unison line for the upper strings which quickly spreads through the entire orchestra. The middle panel is more harmonic in character with Sibelius-like textures which gradually wind down into a slow pulse on the bass drum. Out of this the final section begins with running quaver figures shared between two low bass clarinets which slowly start to rise up through the orchestra. Tableaux was commissioned by the Northern Sinfonia for the 2003 BBC Promenade Concerts.
Before writing Strix I spent a weekend doing some creative work with the young members of the Britten Sinfonia Academy which took art on display in the twentieth century gallery of the the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge as a starting point. One piece I was particularly drawn to was Graham Sutherland’s bold and slightly terrifying La Petite Afrique III. The strong imagery in this painting led me to think of birds in mythology and I came across the following which became a starting point for the new piece; In folklore the Strix was considered a bird of ill omen that fed on human flesh and blood.The earliest recorded tale of the Strix is from the lost Ornithologia. This tells the story of Polyphonte and her two sons Agrios and Oreios who were punished for their cannibalism by being transformed into wild animals. Polyphonte became a Strix “that cries by night, without food or drink, with head below and tips of feet above, a harbinger of war and civil strife to men”
The concerto for cello and strings is in a single movement which lasts around 19 minutes and, like a lot of my pieces, is made up of a series of juxtaposed or related episodes as well as a lot of fast music. The concerto is written in the conventional sense that it’s a vehicle for the virtuosity of the soloist.