“flowers in the sidewalk cracks” by Sarah Rimkus
I sketched the initial ideas for this piece while living and working in Los Angeles, taking a “gap year” between my undergraduate and masters studies, during a period of intense writer’s block. I was struggling to make ends meet and the city seemed to be getting the better of me in every way. Sometimes it felt like I could only feel content when taking long walks through the central city, particularly through the affluent older neighbourhood that was adjacent to the busy streets of my lower-middle-class one in typical American urban fashion. I loved the blooming and decaying purple jacaranda blossoms that filled up the massive cracks in the old sidewalks, torn up from underneath by overgrown tree roots and triple-digit heat. With these images in mind I wrote the themes that would later become this piece. While true homesickness doesn’t often hit me here in Aberdeen, I do dream about California frequently. Some of the dreams are absolutely blissful dreams of gliding down freeways with friends or lying on a beach; some are anxiety-filled nightmares. Both are reflected in this whirlwind of a movement for piano trio. This piece is my homage to the beautiful but terrible sprawling metropolis that is Los Angeles, and both the bliss and the anxiety that it gave me during my time there.
Polaris by Simon Hellewell
Polaris is a sparse piece about a breakdown in communication between two opposing forces, represented by a cello and a glockenspiel, failing to find unity. These are two polar opposites sonically, being about as far from each other in timbre and range as can be. The piano is the mediator between the two.
For the majority of the piece, the opposing forces take turns to speak, each stating variations of the same line but assuming enmity. Eventually the two opposites start working to understand one another, culminating in the opposing forces swapping tools to gain further understanding. At the end of the piece the instruments return to their own tools and come closer in pitch, eventually stretching to extremes of their respective ranges in a compromise to settle on the same note, finding their common ground.
Pantomime-Masque by Joe Stollery
In this piece, I decided to compose something descriptive in an instrumental context. The result is basically a conflict set in music, with the two pairs of instruments (woodwind and strings) making up the two ‘sides’. The piano acts as a kind of mediator, keeping the sides together, and the percussionist plays like a referee. The differences between the two groups are not only reflected in their type, but also in their tonal realms. While all instruments use natural accidentals, the flute and clarinet lines also use sharps, but no flats, while the violin and cello have flats but no sharps. The piano uses both sharps and flats, and ‘communicates’ with the different groups with their appropriate accidentals. The timbres also differ, with the woodwind being light and mischievous and the strings being heavy and intense.
In a sense, the piece is programmatic, but I have tried to make the narrative of this piece as objective as possible. It is structured thus:
INTRODUCTION (bb. 1-60): The percussionist announces the start of the piece, followed by the piano. The other instruments then enter in their respective groups, first flute and clarinet with a spiky fugato, and then violin and cello in a more sustained character, and finally both groups together. The differences in character between the two build up tension, which continues on into the next section until the percussionist calls for order.
1st DIALOGUE (bb. 61-70): The piano ‘welcomes’ the full ensemble, then the two groups start debating with one another, the woodwinds chattering and taunting, and the strings moaning and sneering. The woodwinds introduce the following episode.
1st DANCE (WOODWIND) (bb. 71-95): The two dances use each group exclusively, accompanied by the piano. The first dance is a light, lyrical pastorale in A major for woodwinds, introduced and finished by crotales.
2nd DIALOGUE (bb. 96-105): The strings interrupt the final chord, causing uproar from the woodwinds. The following arguments show separate instruments against each other: flute & cello and clarinet & violin. The strings then introduce their episode with some vehemence.
2nd DANCE (STRINGS) (bb. 106-130): This dance is a fast, brutal jig in C minor, introduced and finished by suspended cymbals.
GENERAL CONFUSION (bb. 131-159): At the same tempo as the preceding dance, the woodwinds start up a chromatic theme, which is quashed by the strings. What follows is a large fugato episode which builds with ever-increasing hysteria. Throughout the episode, the percussionist attempts to calm them down using different instruments, including a railway whistle at the climax.
3rd DIALOGUE (bb. 160-167): On the last climactic chord, the piano hammers down dissonant chords for order, then goes into dialogue with both groups, demonstrating their characteristics and their accidentals.
FINALE (bb. 168-197): After the percussionist announces the same theme as at the very start, the piano then introduces a theme for the woodwinds to take up, followed by its inversion for the strings. Eventually, common ground settles in, and the music finishes diatonically.
Elements: Water by Scott Wilson
In the 3D sound environment of Water, there is a personification of the element, detailing some of the points in its journey: from the bare pizzicato of raindrops, into the steady tempo of the stream, and finally into a storm, where the side-to-side motion gives the effect of a rocking ship battling the ocean’s rough weather. The storm eventually clears, revealing reminiscent motives from an earlier time.
The suite will be performed in full on Wednesday 22nd April at MacRobert Lecture Theatre.
Cradle Song by Benjamin McMillan
The piece conveys the story of a distressed woman who leads herself to a tragic end. I chose Blake's 'Cradle Song’ for the juxtaposition it would produce. The poem, as much of Blake's poetry does, contains a religious double-meaning; 'Cradle Song' refers to Christ in the stable as a newborn. The poetry, to those who are familiar with its essence, should evoke soft connotations. However, this music is angular and dark, which leaves the listener with questions. Why is this woman leading herself to her demise? Does it concern a child? Has she lost her faith in Christianity?
The music of Cradle Song is a departure from my usual tonal writing. By writing in a style I am unaccustomed with, I’ve found the music is imbued with a heightened tension, and this correlates effectively with the disturbing subject matter.
There are three main ideas which hold the piece together. The figure Eb, E, G, F# is repeated to give a sense of melody, but also suggests the concept of circular movement. It shifts key, creating an unsteady tonal centre which in turn emulates the woman's anguish. The second idea is the use of minor seconds. This often happens in the woodwind or string pairs, and is implemented to signify the beginning of the tragic end for our protagonist. The final idea is the 'demise theme’. This simple thematic material begins in the left hand of the piano, then throughout the piece other forces are added to enhance its complexity and importance.
A Song for Someplace by Peter Davis
A Song for Someplace uses material originally composed as a movement of a piano quartet which focused on the development and simultaneous variation of a few melodic fragments - but then re-worked in new ways and incorporating an entirely new section based on my first experiment with spectral composition - prompted by discovering the music of Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail.
Spurred on by a sense of "how hard could it be?" I decided to try my hand at spectral composition, and obtained the spectra of a soprano voice, and various percussion instruments. I then proceeded to try and orchestrate them for the forces available - while also trying only to select partials of the spectra that would allow them to match the colours of the rest of the piece.
The result is a piece of music in three sections - The two outer sections that focus on the rhythmic interplay between the instruments and the interactions between the different melodic fragments, and then the middle section where the music seems to open itself up into a series of resonances, and explores the interactions between singular notes and timbres as the spectra are allowed to develop in the surrounding acoustic.