I am, I am
2019 | 17’
Text an extract from Tentsmuir VII by Rachael Boast
for soprano and string quartet
commissioned by hcmf//
Written for Juliet Fraser and the Sonar Quartett. Premiered at hcmf// 2019.
Won the 2020 Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Chamber-Scale Composition.
Embedded and woven into the fabric of the string quartet, the soprano is ‘disappeared’, hiding in plain sight. At least at first. Using two lines from Rachael Boast’s poem Tentsmuir VII -
I am, I am,
is all that remains –
© Rachael Boast / Sidereal / PanMacmillan / 2011
Reproduced with permission of the Licensor through PLSclear
the music moves achingly slowly from this receded state to one in which the voice emerges, and emancipates itself from the instruments. The glacial evolutions speak of a fragility, both internal and external. When the self is seemingly lost to us, what is left?
Juliet Fraser and Sonar Quartett hcmf// 2019
New Music Dublin 2020
and yet there was (love)
2014 | 3’
Text by Naomi Pinnock
With a text (the title) taken from something I wrote in my diary, this short piece was written in close collaboration with the Irish mezzo-soprano Michelle O’Rourke
Michelle O’Rourke, Dublin 2015
Léa Trommenschlager (lovemusic), Strasbourg, Edinburgh, Manchester etc. 2019
The writings of Jakob Br.
2013 | 8’
Text by Jakob Br. from the Prinzhorn Sammlung, Heidelberg
Commissioned by SCHOLA HEIDELBERG
for vocal ensemble (SSATB)
In the very first folder I opened in the archives of the Prinzhorn Sammlung in Heidelberg, I found pages and pages of Jakob Br’s notebooks and was immediately impressed by them. Jakob Br’s work can basically be divided into two categories – the page-long repetitions of similar-looking but indecipherable words and pages filled with patterns, often following a grid-like formation, with stripes and crosses but also sometimes with more organic shapes. I was especially drawn to these pages of indecipherable could-be-words (which I would later call writings) and decided that I was going to attempt to decode them.
Two of the words I discovered were ‘lucere’ and ‘lumen’, both Latin and related to each other in their etymology. Lumen means light, opening and in physics is used to mean a unit of light. Lucere means to shine.
In the piece itself I use these two words, both in their original forms and expanded (adding vowels) and contracted (using only fragments), as well as employing a range of vowel sounds, using various possible variations of e, u and w, that have no meaning in themselves. The writings of Jakob Br. plays with an almost visual interpretation of the handwriting and the copious number of lines and layers of words as well as embracing the reflective atmosphere of light, lucere.
There is a book/cd published by Wunderhorn Verlag about the project - ungesehen und unerhört 2
Performances: SCHOLA HEIDELBERG, Walter Nussbaum (cond.), Heidelberg 2013
EXAUDI, James Weeks (cond.), London 2016
2011 | 12’
Text by Naomi Pinnock
Commissioned by the London Sinfonietta
for baritone and ensemble
(2cl (= b.cl), 1perc, accordion, cimbalom, harp and strings: 126.96.36.199.1.)
why solve a night without why without silence without why nothing why again nothing why
© 2010 Naomi Pinnock
II solve a night
III again nothing why
“An art of passage, about reality that has already passed by… and which leaves a spread or spray of traces… Art that shadows reality, delicately following in its half-blurred tracks, sketching it from afar.”
Susan Sontag – from Diario per immagini, Marilu Eustachio
Words takes it’s title from the poem by Sylvia Plath. In my Words, the text is declamatory or broken up and stretched-out almost beyond recognition. A sudden recollection appearing amidst a shifting, shadowy landscape, of what is forgotten or already passed.
Words was written as part of the Blue Touch Paper project by the London Sinfonietta, mentored by Beat Furrer.
Performances: Omar Ebrahim (baritone), Beat Furrer (cond.) & London Sinfonietta, London 2011
Rainer Killius (baritone), Manuel Nawri (cond.) & Opera Lab Berlin (staged), Berlin 2014
2010 | 25’
Text: W.N. Herbert with short extracts taken from Der Zeuger (The Witness) by Jörg Burger (originally featured in Die Zeit Magazin 6.8.2009)
Commissioned by hcmf//
for six singers (SSATB), accordion and recorded text
Cycles of two superimposed texts give fragmented glimpses of two atrocities: one mythical (Erigone hanging herself from the tree under which she found the buried body of her father, Icarius) and one real (the massacre in Srebrenica in 1995, using extracts from an interview with a survivor).
The antiphony of the vocal ensemble and accordion is interrupted each time by the recorded voice, until the repetitions break and there are no words left.
Oscillare was written for the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart and the Norwegian accordionist Frode Haltli
Performances: hcmf// Huddersfield, UK 2010 and ECLAT Festival Stuttgart, Germany 2011
2008 | 10’
Text: W.G. Sebald from Die Ringe des Saturns (The Rings of Saturn)
Commissioned by Spitalfields Festival
for female choir and oboe
On reading The Rings of Saturn I was overwhelmingly impressed by this literary evocation of how our memory and mind can work, not least through its incredible labyrinthine structure.
The sentence that I use in Interference refers to the depths that some memories can reach and thus become irretrievable. This is one of the reasons I chose to use both the German original and the English translation simultaneously and on their own. To me it is like a heightened awareness whilst also remaining allusive and ungraspable. We can understand the sentences each in their own right, but put the two together and the meaning becomes distorted.
Too many buildings have fallen down, too much rubble has been heaped up, the moraines and deposits are insuperable.
Zu viele Bauwerke sind eingestürtzt, zuviel Schutt ist aufgehäuft, unüberwindlich sind die Ablagerungen und Moränen.
Die Ringe des Saturn by W.G. Sebald, translated by Michael Hulse
Copyright © Vito von Eichborn Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1995.
The title alludes to the disturbance of radio signals through interference from other sources. This in itself could be a metaphor for way our memory functions: the layers, the obsessive repetitions and the surprising glimpses that can appear almost from nowhere.
Performances: The Curate’s Egg & Melinda Maxwell (oboe), London 2008
2007 | 10’
Text: W.N. Herbert
Commissioned by the Vigani Cabinet, Queens’ College, Cambridge
for solo soprano, solo violin and ensemble*
*the ensemble is split into three groups: vocal, strings and percussion and was conceived to be played by amateurs
III from there to here
Nostos is the Greek word for “return”. Nostalgia combines nostos and algos (meaning pain).
This piece really began when I read Milan Kundera’s Ignorance : he has a way of taking a tour through the etymology of certain words (nostalgia being one of them) in many languages to create multiple perspectives on one concept.
After meeting with the poet Bill Herbert we began discussing how we could work together on this concept. We threw ideas back and forth but what became gradually important was the notion of a sense of place. Not just of what or where the place is, but also different perceptions of the same place.
Kundera offers the reader a depiction of a character who has persistent daydreams and nightmares of the same place she longs, but also dreads, to return to. Although these ‘returns’ are fictional and in a way seem rather trivial - they are not odysseys back to the homeland - they are real and powerful none the less. And somehow a sense of stasis is forged by the nostalgic pulls to the same place, but with contrary emotions. It’s this two sides of the same coin approach that appealed to me.
Initially my idea was to place the three ensemble groups in different rooms, cut off from the singer and violinist – to encourage an audible pull. As the music developed, it became clear that the sounds would be too quiet and too discreet to enable this to work successfully. The solution was to place the ensemble groups around the soloists, still with some spatial separation, but in the same performance space.
And the music itself? I wanted to create and set up a difference, and at the same time a unity, between unvoiced, toneless sounds and voiced sounds. A commentary that can’t quite express itself, and the voice that tries to.
Performances: Lesley-Jane Rogers (soprano), Farran Scott & the Vigani Cabinet Ensemble, Cambridge, UK 2007
Students of the Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe at ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany 2007