About The Music

Dip into our programme notes for pieces presented by Music in the Round. Covering music that is forthcoming and has been recently performed, learn more about the works and also listen to brief extracts. 

About The Music: W

WALLEN Errollyn, The Negro Speaks of Rivers

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” sets the text of Langston Hughes. The poem was first published in June of 1921 in Crisis, the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP.

Read more at SongofAmerica.net

WATKINS Huw, ‘Resurrection of the Soldiers’ from Four Spencer Pieces

This sequence for solo piano actually comprises six pieces, since the four titled movements inspired by paintings of Sir Stanley Spencer are enclosed between a Prelude and Postlude in which serenely descending harmonies settle on repeated notes, tolling like a distant bell. And repeated notes prove a recurrent feature of the Spencer Pieces proper.
The distant, tolling bell of the Prelude returns at the still opening of the longest movement ‘The Resurrection of Soldiers’, with convergent high and low sonorities suggesting a passing echo of ‘Le gibet’ from Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. In due course the music passes over into a convolved fugue, but so subtly that it is difficult tell exactly where the transition occurs – or where it passes back again into the preludial music.
Not least striking about the Four Spencer Pieces, is how Watkins, even at his most aggressively chromatic, contrives to keep his textures clean of the dispiriting greyness of so much ‘advanced’ piano writing. The Maidenhead Music Society commissioned the work in 2001 and Watkins gave the premiere in the parish church at Cookham, the Thames-side village Spencer lived in for so long and transfigured in his paintings.
© Bayan Northcott, 2012

WEIR Judith, Airs from Another Planet

I once read of an idea to establish a human colony on Mars which was at once visionary and practical. In order to acclimatise themselves, potential settlers would at first live together, sealed off from the human race on a remote Scottish island.

This is the music of the Scottish colonisers, several generations later, marooned on a lonely and distant planet; the ancient forms of their national music almost completely lost in translation, with only the smallest vestiges of the national style remaining.

Three traditional melodies are quoted, but as if refracted through space time, far distances and strange atmospheric effects. These are ‘The Leys of Luncarty’ (heard on the horn in the opening Strathspey); ‘Ettrick Banks’ (played on the clarinet in the Traditional Air) and ‘Miss Margaret Graham of Gartmore’s Favourite’ (played by everyone in the Jig).

© Judith Weir

WEIR String Quartet (extract for family concert)

This string quartet was written by a composer who is making music today, the wonderful Judith Weir. A piece full of mysteries, inspired by a medieval Spanish tune. This quartet sounds like a strange landscape where it’s easy to get lost among these lopsided rhythms where nothing is quite as it seems…

WOLFE Julia, LAD for 9 bagpipes (arr. for electric guitar by Sean Shibe)

Julia Wolfe studied at Yale School of Music where she became associated with fellow composers Michael Gordon and David Lang, and in 1987 they formed the Bang on a Can collective. The trio soon attracted considerable attention for their Bang of a Can Marathon festivals of new music in Lower Manhattan, with single performances lasting almost a full day, where the audience was instructed to dress and act informally and to come and go as they pleased. Wolfe’s music is rooted in the American minimalist style of composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass, but laced with the aggressive drive and energy of rock music.

LAD, for 9 bagpipes, was composed for the 2007 Bang on a Can Festival and first performed by a bagpipe ensemble led by Matthew Welch. It was Welch who introduced Wolfe to a variety of techniques on the bagpipes, most notably the long crying glissandi which Wolfe describes as “a crazy siren-like sound”, and “animal sounds” that recall a heavily distorted electric guitar.

Welch later performed a version for eight pre-recorded bagpipes with himself playing the ninth part live, an arrangement recalling the series of Counterpoint works by Steve Reich. In 2018, Scottish guitarist Sean Shibe adapted LAD for live electric guitar accompanied by a backing track. In Shibe’s  words “there’s something really destructive and terrible about it [LAD], but it also has a redemptive element too.”

© Tom McKinney 2022

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