Explaining the inspirations behind a number of works programmed at the Welsh Festival this year
I'm looking forward to coming to the Vale of Glamorgan Festival, with its various wonderful performance venues and interesting programmes, all of which will unfold amidst the backdrop of the lovely countryside and coastline of Southern Wales. What composer wouldn't like to have his or her piece played in a setting like Fonmon Castle? I feel honoured that the festival has decided to programme such a wide array of works that I've written, spanning several decades. The earliest piece performed at the festival, Quartetset, was premiered in New York in 1994, the most recent, Quanta, was just premiered a few months ago in Beijing. There will be chamber music, a piece for unaccompanied violin, two orchestra pieces and a multimedia work, Next Atlantis, for sting quartet, electronics and video.
The first piece to be performed is a chamber piece called Static. Its six movements – ‘remote’, ‘ethereal’, ‘bipolar’, ‘resonant’, ‘charged’, and ‘floating’ – explore what I think of as the two, almost antithetical meanings of the word static: something unchanging and prolonged, or, as in radio static, some form of interference, that is typically random and disruptive. In the last movement these two meet, in an ethereal sound world of quiet trills and sustained tones, material from previous movements floating by in succession.
On the programme at Fonmon Castle will be two of my quartets, – one quite early, the other from 2005. It's fitting that they should be played together, as I wrote the second, Quiet Time, as a response of sorts to the first, Quartetset, and they comprise a CD performed by the Cassatt Quartet. In Quartetset, I imagined a dialogue between the past and present. In Quiet Time, this dialogue became one between the natural and artificial. Around the time I wrote the piece, I was starting to write more electro-acoustic music. In Quiet Time, though it's just for quartet, I imagine manipulating the full-bodied natural sound of the quartet in ways that resemble electronic digital signal processing.
I'm also pleased to have a piece for solo violin on the programme, Links, that will be having its first performance. Some years ago, the violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter spearheaded an effort to resurrect the Carl Flesch violin competition, which had been discontinued for some years. She asked me to write a piece for the competitors to play, which I did, but unfortunately the project was never realised. I wrote a set of variations in which the player would determine the ordering, so there are actually almost 40 million possible versions of the piece!
That weekend Next Atlantis will also be performed. It is a piece about New Orleans and water, or, more generally, about human culture and nature. New Orleans is the vibrant unique place it is in large part because of its location on the Gulf of Mexico, which enabled its maritime commerce. But its location is also what threatens to destroy it. Next Atlantis, with video by Pawel Wojtasik, combines string quartet with electronically processed water sounds, to explore our precarious interdependency with the natural world.
The concluding pieces will be two works for orchestra, Microsymph, written in 1995, and Quanta, in 2012. For Microsymph, I imagine a large-scale symphony squeezed into only 10 minutes. It's in five movements, following the basic contours of a symphony, but unfolding at a compressed, beak-neck speed. Quanta grew out of a commission from the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing. It consists of short contrasting fragments, each two measures long, with one measure rest separating them. I likened it to the musical translation of the graphic appearance of Chinese characters, from an outsider's point of view.