Alone at the Frontier - 1992

Concerto for improviser and full orchestra. Duration, 40 minutes.

2222/4/3/2/bass tbn./tuba/2 perc./1 tmp/strings

When Nigel Kennedy asked me to write this piece, I decided that instead of trying to restrict him or notate some of his electronic/acoustic effects I would write a piece with no solo part at all and challenge him by the use of the orchestra into being as extreme as he could. Basically, although two or three cues are notated, the soloist can play anything at any point, as long as it sounds good. Nigel's only request was that the piece should be "right on the edge of my musical imagination".

So here it is a "street" concerto. It uses industrial percussion, a"rap" choir, (imitating electronic drum effects) as well as stereo imaging in the orchestra, live delay in the winds and some electronic effects on the violin (most notably quadrophonic figure of eight configurations). The orchestral parts are fully notated.

Alone at the Frontier was first performed by Nigel Kennedy in 1993 with the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra.

Published by Chester Music.

Not recorded.

The Four Elements - 1993

For Strings and percussion. Duration, approximately 40 minutes.

The original idea behind this work was to create a companion piece for Vivaldi's The Four Seasons which would place it in a twentieth century context and complement the original work. After some consideration this idea developed and grew to become The Four Elements - Earth, Air, Water and Fire, using the strings of the BT Scottish Ensemble with a massive battery of percussion played by the Scottish virtuoso percussionist, Kirk Richardson.

Earth suggested the beginnings of time so it starts with a huge storm out of which comes a chord representing life. This disintegrates into a heart-like beat and subsequently into a solo violin section in 12/8 African triplet rhythm. These ideas fuse and interact, only interrupted by the "weird" theme - a haunting, slow chord sequence which does not resolve. Earth comes to a thundering climax and then fades out.

This element is represented by the Celtic Air. Celtic Air is dedicated to my fellow flautist, Catharine Russell, a close friend of mine and my family, Angela, Sean and Liam. She died of leukemia in 1993.

The story behind the piece is that Cathy had seen my son, Sean, playing with a toy crocodile at a concert and sang the Crocodile Song from Peter Pan to him - but she couldn't remember the end of it. Two months later, just two days before Cathy died, Angela went to see her. Speaking in a very quiet voice, as she had almost no strength left, she whispered - "tell Sean I remembered the Crocodile Song" and she sang the rest of the song, virtually inaudibly. After she died, the Crocodile Song kept haunting me and the opening cello solo is a slow, minor-key, and radically altered variation of this song. The windpipes at the end of the piece represent Cathy being taken off to the spirit world.

Celtic Air was premiered at Cathy's memorial service in Southwark Cathedral by the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Adrian Leaper.

I decided to open this piece with the sound of running water and spent some time experimenting with how to get running water sound. I finally discovered that if you place a pair of tracksuit bottoms in a bowl of water and slowly lift them out you get an incredible effect! It starts like a rush and gradually becomes less and less. As each drip becomes more audible there are some incredible rhythms happening. The water theme grows out of the running water and I have used the shape of waves to form running phrases. In some of these phrases I have emulated digital delay lines, a technique that I have developed in earlier pieces. The movement ends with "the Shangri-La" section - solo violin, beautiful string chords and running water.


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Fire follows on from Water without a break. It begins with a storm and then a "fire-engine" motif section, the flattening and sharpening sounds emulating distance and speed. This gives way to an African/Funk conga rhythm which was especially written for Kirk Richardson. Over this rhythm, the strings play elements of the whole piece as it comes to a rowdy and exciting conclusion. Fire ends with the "weird" theme reintroduced, this time finally resolving into a circular violin motif signifying the ongoing nature of the four elements.

Published by D.C. Heath Music.

Recorded on Linn Records' The Celtic by BT Scottish Ensemble featuring Kirk Richardson. LINN CKD 073

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