Composing for large and small forces


Joby Talbot is the composer of Worlds, Stars, Systems, Infinity, a companion piece for Holst's The Planets, recorded by the Philharmonia Orchestra for its immersive and RPS Award-winning 'Universe of Sound' digital installation - currently showing in Birmingham until June 16 and available on DVD and Blu-ray on Signum Classics. His ballet composition, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, recently enjoyed its second run at London's Royal Opera House and is now available on Signum Classics. He writes about both works below:

When I started composing Worlds, Stars, Systems, Infinity - my contribution to the Philharmonia Orchestra's wonderful 'Universe Of Sound' project - I'd just finished working on a two-hour narrative ballet, Alice's Adventures In Wonderland. The shift in scale between thinking in terms of a full-evening-length work, and something more compact and abstract was disconcerting, as was the leap from a (relatively) modestly sized orchestra for Alice (though still a squeeze for the Covent Garden's claustrophobic pit) to the vast resources of Holst's gargantuan band of cosmic travellers. What to do with so many French horns, a bass oboe, a euphonium, not to mention a whole choir of disembodied female voices?!
 
In the end I took my cue from 'Neptune''s choir invisible, and used the gentle rocking motion of Holst's repeating final two chords to propel the orchestra beyond the confines of our own solar system, and off into the outer reaches of space where who knows what might be waiting to be discovered. The imagined worlds, stars, and systems of my title came from a quote by Byron concerning the limitlessness of the human imagination, and certainly I had quite a job to try to conjure up something even remotely as imaginative as the riches to be found in Holst's masterwork. The recording sessions for the piece took place alarmingly soon after I'd penned the final notes, and it was beyond thrilling to hear my piece brought to life by Esa-Pekka Salonen and his fabulous musicians, as brilliantly talented as they were numerous.
 
As the resultant installation finds a second home in Birmingham after its extended first run at the Science Museum in London last summer, I find myself once again immersed in the world of dance with another full-length narrative piece for The Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada, this time based on Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. Fewer staves on my sheets of manuscript paper again, but, as with Alice, many many more pages.

Hear excerpts from Talbot's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Worlds, Stars, Systems, Infinity on the Gramophone Player below:

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