By the Vaar (1987)
By the Vaar was written as an extended adagio for the jazz bass player Charlie Haden accompanied by strings, bass clarinet and percussion. It was commissioned by the Camden Festival and first performed there in April 1987 along with a number of other works of mine having a close connection with jazz. The solo bass part, which begins with fully written material and gradually leads to an extended improvisation, was written with Charlie Haden's sound in mind. I have known Charlie's playing since the time when, as a schoolboy in Yorkshire, I heard broadcasts of the extraordinary first recordings of the Ornette Coleman quartet, of which Charlie was a key member and, curiously enough, the other composer featured in that Camden concert was Ornette himself. When I became a professional bassist working chiefly in jazz and improvised music I knew the individual sounds of most improvising bass-players and Charlie's sound is a special one that I have heard and loved in many musical contexts. The title of the piece comes from my opera Doctor Ox's Experiment: the "Vaar" being a river in Flanders, not far from Bruges, which flows through the town in which the action of the opera takes place. During the opera there is a quiet and almost uneventful interlude where two lovers, Frantz and Suzel, pass the afternoon by the river, the one fishing, the other working on her tapestry. By the Vaar started out as a preliminary sketch for this scene, like a backdrop for the singers, and aspects of the music appear in the final opera. In this concert work, the solo bass plays chiefly in the low and middle registers, exploiting the unique qualities of Charlie's own bass, with its gut strings and resonant pizzicato notes.