The Island Chapel (1997)

The Island Chapel was written specifically for performance in St. Nicholas Chapel, St. Ives.

St. Nicholas Chapel

The piece involves a response to a number of different stimuli. In the first place there is the chapel itself, a simple, tiny building perched in isolation and overlooking the sea on three sides. The "Island" itself is strictly a peninsula (something James Joyce defined as "a disappointed island") and on the fourth side it looks back towards the town.


A second stimulus is the relationship between the chapel and the Tate Gallery across the bay, and this piece is written in relation to the paintings of James Hugonin which are in the exhibition there (The Quality of Light) with two much smaller pictures being located in the chapel itself.

painting by James Hugonin

On the Northumbrian coast, there is a similar physical and spiritual connection between the location of James Hugonin's studio and the island of Lindisfarne. I have written music before in response to James's work and to the context of his exhibitions. For this piece I visited St. Ives specifically to spend some time privately in the chapel when the two small pictures from James's Lindisfarne series were being installed.

The music, for contralto voice, cello and electric keyboard, is designed for performance to a small invited audience in this intimate, semi-private space and to be recorded for replay in the gallery itself.

The text uses two self-contained poems Crossing no.3 and Crossing no.4 from an extended poem The Manifestations of the Voyage by the Lebanese poet Etel Adnan whose poetry I have set on a number of occasions. I wished to avoid any direct reference to the chapel or to the paintings, but rather to find through metaphor and allusion a poetic equivalent.

Just as James' work demonstrates through abstraction an affinity with real spaces, both physical and spiritual so the music has an intimate relationship with the chapel's poignant solitude, the imagery of the Adnan poems and the musical sensibilities of the performers - Melanie Pappenheim (voice), Sophie Harris (cello), Gavin Bryars (keyboard).

Gavin Bryars