1995

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Duration: 15'
Dedication: "to the cellists in my life"
Instrumentation: cello and piano
First performance: Sophie Harris, cello; Kathryn Page, piano
Michael Tippett Centre, Bath March 1995

Note : The South Downs (1995 revised 2003)

The South Downs (1995 revised 2003)

Of all musical instruments the lower strings are probably my favourites. Indeed they are in my family: I am a bass player, my two daughters are cellists and hearing my mother's cello practice is the earliest sound I recall as a child. In my own ensemble the strings are predominantly low - viola, cello and bass. This piece is the fourth in a series for solo instrument and accompaniment (piano and/or orchestra) in which each one has a title with a personal geographical connotation. The first, The Green Ray, for soprano saxophone, relates to western coasts (Scotland, North America); the second, The North Shore, for viola, refers to facing north from St. Hilda's Abbey at Whitby;  the third, for bass oboe, called The East Coast, alludes both to the east coast of Yorkshire and to the Bay of Fundy in Canada.

Those pieces, facing in opposite directions as it were, are in effect mirror images of each other, though coloured by the character of their implied location. Thus the bass oboe concerto is a cooler and more bleak version of The Green Ray, both being for reed instruments. With the two string pieces The North Shore's implied austerity is balanced by the cello piece's warmth. The area of the South Downs in question is, in fact, that around Birling Gap in Sussex, a location that means a great deal to me. The original verison of this piece was for cello and piano but this new version was specially written for my ensemble and is for solo cello, bass clarinet, electric guitar and double bass.



Music for Dance performance, choreographer Edouard Lock
Instrumentation: 2 amplified harpsichords
First Performance: Theatre de la Ville, Paris April 29th 1995



+ version for string orchestra
Duration: 10'
Dedication: Fretwork
Instrumentation: viol consort (2 trebles, two tenors, two basses)
First Performance: Fretwork, Purcell Room, London May 1995

Note : In Nomine (After Purcell)

In Nomine (After Purcell)

There were several factors which attracted me to write a piece for Fretwork based on Purcell's In Nomine. One was my interest in writing for strings and particularly for families of string instruments. I have written a number of string quartets, of course, but an early piece of mine was for the eight-part "new violin family", and I pay particular attention to the composition of strings within an orchestral context - the opera Medea uses only violas, cellos and basses. The homogeneous blend of the 6-part consort, with its three pairs of viols, is a sound that I have enjoyed for some time.

A second factor relates to an interest in music which refers to other music or to other musical values. In the recent past, for example, I have written pieces for other 'early music specialists' such as the Hilliard Ensemble where I incorporated vocal and ensemble techniques from their repertoire, which goes back to the 12th century. The Purcell 6-part Fantasia itself comes towards the end of almost two centuries in which many English composers wrote pieces based on Taverner's mass Gloria tibi Trinitas and I focus on this origin as well as on the Purcell Fantasia itself.

There are many, to me, curious aspects of the viol consort as an ensemble, for example the tuning of the instruments which make natural harmonics a useful device given the fact that there is a string of every named note except B. In addition, the restraint found within the consort's dynamic range attracted me especially (ff is not really a viol dynamic) making it a natural vehicle for understatement.

 

 

 



Text: Etel Adnan
Duration 9'
Dedication: Jane Quinn and Martin Duignan
Instrumentation: Soprano voice, bass clarinet, electric guitar, 2 violas, cello, bass
First Performance: Sarah Leonard and Gavin Bryars Ensemble, BBC Recording May 20th 1995 (broadcast June 4th 1995)



Medea Act 1 scene A (new opening scene)
First performance (new revised version); Tramway, Glasgow, November 3rd 1995
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conductor Martyn Brabbins



Duration: 11'
Dedication: Maggie Cole
Instrumentation: harpsichord solo
First performance: Maggie Cole, Pebble Mill, Birmingham October 4th 1995 (live broadcast BBC Radio 3)

Note : After Handel's "Vesper" (1995)

After Handel's "Vesper" (1995)

for harpsichord solo

I have written a number of works for Early Music performers such as the Hilliard Ensemble, with whom I have had a close relationship for some years, and most recently for the viol consort Fretwork, so I responded with interest to the request for a solo harpsichord piece from Maggie Cole. My first encounter with the harpsichord in a contemporary context was in 1968 when I worked as an assistant to John Cage in Illinois on his HPSCHD. My recollection of that work, and its use of chance operations, led me to the short passage in Raymond Roussel's novel Impressions d'Afrique where there is the fictional account of the blind Handel composing an oratorio,Vesper, by a curious set of chance operations involving sprigs of holly and coloured ribbons. This story drew me away from Cage's method (there is no use of chance in my piece) to 17th and 18th century keyboard music and, with Maggie's help, I became acquainted with a wide range of keyboard music and types of instruments which helped inform the writing of this piece. I was attracted to the quasi-improvisational ethos of the music of Frescobaldi for the single manual Italian harpsichord and, at the other extreme, to music written for the larger two manual German instrument. In the spirit of this music I have offered many options with ornamentation, suggesting some, writing out others completely, but also encouraging the player to use her invention and instincts to add others where not specified and generally to adopt an open approach to the piece.

After Handel's "Vesper" is dedicated to Maggie Cole.

 

 

 



Duration:  35'
Dedication: Julian Lloyd Webber
Instrumentation: solo cello, 2(1).1 + cor anglais, 2(1), 2(1); 2.0.0.0.; harp; perc.(2 players) (bells, marimba, vibes, 2 suspended cymbals, Tam-Tam, Bass Drum, timps - 4 drums); strings
First performance: Julian Lloyd Webber, cello, English Chamber Orchestra, cond. James Judd, Barbican, London November 24th 1995

Note : Cello Concerto (1995)

Cello Concerto (1995)

(Farewell to Philosophy)

I have a great fondness for the lower string instruments: I am a bass- player; my mother was a cellist, as are both my daughters; my own ensemble includes two violas, a cello and a bass, and in a number of orchestral works, starting with my opera Medea I omit the entire violin section from the orchestra. As I have written a number of works for solo instrument or voice with orchestra, I welcomed the opportunity to write a concerto for cello and orchestra and especially one which focuses particularly on the instrument's lyrical qualities.  The cello is, arguably, the most 'vocal' of instruments with its range going from the lowest notes of the average bass voice, to the highest notes of the soprano. Although the piece is in one continuous movement, and the soloist is playing almost without a break, it nevertheless falls into distinct sections which are recognisable by a shift of tempo, a change of instrumental focus, as well as by a change in the music's character.

One of the early ideas the original soloist Julian Lloyd Webber and I discussed was that it might form a companion piece to one of the Haydn concertos. This immediately suggested a number of particular musical references. The subtitle to my cello concerto, for example, combines the subtitles of two idiosyncratic Haydn symphonies and I allude to them in different ways - chiefly through orchestration. For The Philosopher I include a section in the concerto where the accompanying orchestration resembles that of the symphony's first movement (alternating pairs of English and French horns, muted violins and unmuted lower strings) as well as the implacably strict tempo. For The Farewell, the allusion is effected by the progressive reduction in orchestration towards the end of the concerto. Indeed, apart from the orchestral tutti in the last few bars, the last pages of the score are virtually for string quartet. Haydn was also, after all, the "father" of the string quartet.

The piece is not a show-piece calling for great virtuosic display, although it is not an easy work, but rather one in which the soloist is called upon to play extended melodic phrases, and to shape the piece, almost like the leader of a chamber music ensemble. There is no cadenza, but the piece calls for great stamina and bow control - the soloist is given only four or five bars rest in the whole concerto.

The subtitle of the cello concerto also refers to my own background as a philosophy graduate who moved into a career in music....

The piece was commissioned by Philips Classics for Julian Lloyd Webber and is dedicated to him.