CBC Records SMCD 5223
Following the concert at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival on June 30th, Gavin recorded a new album for CBC Records. This was released late October 2002 in Canada, and will be released in the New Year elsewhere. The US distributor is Naxos, the UK distributor is Kingdom. The album title is from the new song which opens the album, written for Holly Cole and setting a text by Marilyn Bowering from her novel To All Appearances a Lady. Gavin makes a rare appearance as an improvising soloist in his double-bass concerto By The Vaar.
I have heard it said that a spirit enters (2002)
for low female voice and chamber orchestra
text by Marilyn Bowering
Marilyn Bowerng, photo by Michael Elcock
This song, to a text from Marilyn Bowering’s novel “To all appearances a lady” was written for Holly Cole, and is dedicated to her, and was designed specially for the concert at the Vancouver Jazz Festival and for subsequent recording by CBC Records. It is designed to be the first of a group of three songs, of which the other two are Planet Earth and The Apple. There is a progressive reduction in orchestration with the three songs, especially in the strings. In I have heard it said… there is a full string section; whereas in Planet Earth the violins are removed, and in The Apple we are left with only 6 solo celli and 4 solo basses, and no wind instruments at all. This attention to orchestration comes from a careful observation of the special qualities of Holly Cole’s voice and of the appropriate vehicle for its accompaniment, especially after our having worked together in Winnipeg in 1999. In this song, one of the basses is a jazz bass, and Marilyn Bowering’s evocative text gives the possibility of a brief allusion to the song “I’ll be with you in apple blossom time” – linking it to the more abstract third song, The Apple.
Planet Earth (1998)
Planet Earth was commissioned by the CBC for the Canadian jazz singer Holly Cole to perform at the 1999 Winnipeg New Music Festival. I had begun working with the Canadian poet PK Page and chose to set one of a series of poems, from a collection entitled Hologram, in which each poem uses the poetic form of the “glosa”, an early Renaissance form first developed by poets of the Spanish court. This technique involves writing a four verse poem, preceded by a four line poem by another poet which is quoted at the beginning. Each 10 line verse ends (verse one, with line one, verse two with line two and so on) with one line from the quoted poem, the sixth and ninth lines rhyming with the borrowed line. I followed the artifice of this device, but avoided quoting the original poem but writing music which would eventually have words attached when the line duly arrived in the context of the poem itself. The music is scored for contralto voice with small chamber orchestra: bass clarinet, bassoon; 2 horns; percussion (bass drum, tam-tam, bells, glockenspiel. sizzle cymbal), timpani; piano; strings (without violas).
The Apple (1998)
Like Planet Earth, The Apple was written for the Canadian jazz singer Holly Cole to perform at the 1999 Winnipeg New Music Festival, thrown in as a bonus to the commission from the CBC, and also sets a poem by PK. Page.
Canadian poet P.K.Page
Holly’s voice is very low, and the highest note that she suggested I write for her, B in the middle of the treble clef, is a note which can be sung by a reasonable tenor voice. As a consequence I decided to emphasise this low and husky quality, which works beautifully when sung using a microphone, with a parallel and very dark orchestration. I wrote for 6 solo cellos, 4 solo basses, and untuned percussion (bass drum, tam-tam, suspended cymbal). The piece is very short, lasting only 4 minutes or so.
I have since made a version for my own ensemble to play. This gives an instrumentation of 2 violas, cello, bass, bass clarinet, electric guitar, percussion, plus low female voice.
Violin Concerto (“The Bulls of Bashan”)
Duration: c. 18 mins
The Violin Concerto, scored for solo violin and strings alone, was commissioned by the Primavera Chamber Orchestra for its leader Paul Manley and is the second piece that I have written for them. The first, The Porazzi Fragment, for 21 solo strings, came about because of my admiration for the approach that the orchestra takes to performance – playing without a conductor, in effect as chamber musicians. In the case of the concerto I did not want to write a virtuoso show-piece, but rather to draw on the orchestra’s alertness as an ensemble. The solo part is essentially lyrical and there is no cadenza as such. But I was also conscious of the fact that, as with a baroque concerto, the soloist may also direct the work – and does so here.
Given the name of the orchestra and the fact that this is a violin concerto, there are a number of allusions to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. There is also an extensive use of mutes, including staggered transitions from muted to unmuted and vice versa, like a cross-fade in recording. This use of mutes brought about the subtitle, which comes from an aside by Cecil Forsythe in his book on orchestration in which he pours scorn on the noise which string players would make when attaching mutes to their instruments (he was writing in 1914). Here is the passage in full.
“Unhappily the mutes remain something of a problem on the mechanical side of concert-room organisation. When they are required the noise and fuss is most distressing, and, as these moments always occur when a pp is approaching, the musical attention of the audience is completely distracted. About fifty or sixty players all rattle their bows down on their desks in order to be free to search their waistcoat pockets. When the mutes have been dragged out they are fitted to the bridges with a studied and elaborate caution which may be necessary to preserve the bridges from injury, but which gives an impression that the players are taking part in a solemn cabalistic rite. And all this occurs in 1914 when inventors are as thick as bulls in Bashan.”
The concerto is dedicated to Paul Manley and the Primavera Chamber Orchestra.
The Porazzi Fragment (1999)
for 21 solo strings
Commissioned by the Primavera Orchestra, and designed for the orchestra’s string formation (11 violins, 4 violas, 4 celli and 2 basses), this piece for strings alone originates in an enigmatic, and unpublished, 13 bar musical theme by Wagner which appears to have been started during the period when he was composing the second act of Tristan und Isolde, but only finished shortly after the completion of Parsifal in Palermo. At this time Wagner was staying in the palace of Prince Gangi – in the Piazza dei Porazzi – in order to escape the noise outside his hotel the Grand Hotel des Palmes – the same hotel in which Raymond Roussel committed suicide in 1933.
The first 8 bars, of which the eighth was crossed out, date from 1858-9. Yet it was only on March 2nd 1882, in Palermo, that Cosima witnessed his completion of the melody. The crossing out of bar eight and the remaining bars are all written in the same violet ink which he used for the full score of Parsifal. It is also almost certain that this was the music that he was reported to have been playing on the piano the night before he died in February 1883 at the Palazzo Vendramin Calergi in Venice, now the municipal casino and which, as Cosima’s diary notes, represents his “last musical thoughts”.
The Porazzi Fragment is dedicated to my wife, Anya.
By the Vaar (1987)
By the Vaar was written as an extended adagio for the jazz bass player Charlie Haden accompanied by strings, bass clarinet and percussion. It was commissioned by the Camden Festival and first performed there in April 1987 along with a number of other works of mine having a close connection with jazz. The solo bass part, which begins with fully written material and gradually leads to an extended improvisation, was written with Charlie Haden’s sound in mind. I have known Charlie’s playing since the time when, as a schoolboy in Yorkshire, I heard broadcasts of the extraordinary first recordings of the Ornette Coleman quartet, of which Charlie was a key member and, curiously enough, the other composer featured in that Camden concert was Ornette himself. When I became a professional bassist working chiefly in jazz and improvised music I knew the individual sounds of most improvising bass-players and Charlie’s sound is a special one that I have heard and loved in many musical contexts. The title of the piece comes from my operaDoctor Ox’s Experiment: the “Vaar” being a river in Flanders, not far from Bruges, which flows through the town in which the action of the opera takes place. During the opera there is a quiet and almost uneventful interlude where two lovers, Frantz and Suzel, pass the afternoon by the river, the one fishing, the other working on her tapestry. By the Vaar started out as a preliminary sketch for this scene, like a backdrop for the singers, and aspects of the music appear in the final opera. In this concert work, the solo bass plays chiefly in the low and middle registers, exploiting the unique qualities of Charlie’s own bass, with its gut strings and resonant pizzicato notes.
Gwen Hoebig - violin
Gavin Bryars - double bass
CBC Radio orchestra, conductor Owen Underhill
1. I Have Heard It Said That A Spirit Enters / Holly Cole
2. Planet Earth / Holly Cole
3. The Apple / Holly Cole
4. Violin Concerto (The Bulls Of Bashan) / Gwen Hoebig
5. The Porazzi Fragment / Owen Underhill
6. By The Vaar / Gavin Bryars