(born 1976 in Wales)

Coruscation and Reflection (1998)

Coruscation and Reflection by Huw Watkins demonstrate moods that are polar opposites. However, as with Yin and Yang, the two works are also complementary in enhancing both the excitement and tranquility in the atmosphere. After the premiere of Coruscation in 1998, performed by violinist Daniel Bell (of the Petersen Quartet), the composer decided that it needed a companion work, hence the birth of Reflection. Each can be performed separately, but they are usually presented as a pair, which is also the composer's preference. Both works are characterized by the use of the pentatonic scale (five pitches per octave).

In Coruscation, the two opening notes on the violin are D and B, Daniel Bell's initials. The general mood of the movement is jubilant; a sprinkling of hemiolas adds spice. While the forward motion conveys suspense, it has a sense of humor, rather than mystery. The continuous series of escalating patterns, mostly in the violin part, imparts the sensation of non-stop climbing. The piano often serves to put a break in the ascending violin line by being a festive drum-like presence. The drum-beat sounds are alternately humorous, powerful, and adamant in varying degrees, depending on their position in the movement, ultimately ending Coruscation with strength and finality.

Reflection, whose title could signify both its mood and style, is largely in reference to the mood. Elements of compositional technique and ideas are clearly taken from Coruscation, but the central characteristic of this movement is a feeling of contemplation. The violin part is almost a monologue and definitely rhetorical. Recurring many times is a rhythmic figure of quick quintuplets of which only the first two notes are expressed. (It sounds like ta-ta-a-a-a.) The arpeggiated chords in the piano part sound like an exotic lyre; most of these come across as open-ended sentiments, perhaps contributing to the feeling of slow motion which permeates the majority of the movement. In the climax, the feeling is that of maximized expansion and emotional intensity, with the violin playing in extremely high register. At the end of the work, the semi-long notes on both instruments (violin plays pizzicato) are reminiscent of the sound of quiet droplets of water falling and then disappearing.

In Coruscation and Reflection, both parts are challenging for the players. Nonetheless, they are idiomatic to the instruments and, with due practice, are effective and fun to play. The sound textures are rather disparate, lending to the complementary nature of the two instruments.

I first came to know of Huw Watkins' works at the suggestion of Alexander Goehr, one of Watkins' teachers, whose work, Suite, I was preparing for the first installment of my New Music Recital Series. Mr. Goehr spoke highly of his protégé, and after listening to Watkins' music, I knew I wanted to include one of his works in a recital program. Trained as a pianist, Huw Watkins keeps a regular performance schedule, mainly in the U.K., and has given premieres of new music written by his colleagues. For such a young composer, he already has a prolific output and a rigorous schedule of commissioned works. His music speaks to and reflects the world we live in, and it has always been my philosophy that music should be heard in the time in which it was written.

Notes © 2008 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co. Ltd.

(born 1961in Brisbane, Australia)
Berlin Music (2010)
I. Einleitung
II. Berceuse
III. The Last Practice Room on the Left
(Perpetuum mobile – with apologies to M.R.)
IV. The beyond of mirrors
“…into my body at the bottom of the water
I attract the beyond of mirrors…”
From Water Lilies by Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. A. Poulin)
V. Hauptsatz

The years that I spent living in Berlin from the mid 80’s till 2000 signified a momentously formative time for me in many ways and Berlin Music, written in July and August of 2010 during my first extended period back in the city in more than ten years, pays homage to the role Berlin’s rich musical life played in my own development as musician and composer. A further inspiration for the piece came through the awareness that I was writing this work for one of the great violin virtuosi of our age.

Written in five movements, the first four, relatively short movements form a suite of character pieces that are followed by a lengthier final movement. In fact, it was with this final Hauptsatz, or “main movement”, that work on the piece began, and it serves therefore as both wellspring and summary of the ideas and harmonies found in all of the preceding movements.

The genesis of every new work begins with a blank page of manuscript. As my starting point in this particular instance, I noted several violin chords and sonorities that came about by playing around on a fiddle with the G string tuned down a whole tone to F.

It is remarkable how significant a change such a seemingly small adjustment like this can make to the overall sound, colour and resonance of the instrument. Furthermore, hitherto impossible passagework then becomes quite playable, such as the extended passage of running major 6ths in the violin part early on in the final movement.

In addition, the violinist is required to play the third movement, (a moto perpetuo that doffs its hat to the finale of Ravel’s Violin Sonata), using a practice mute (designed to deaden the sound for practising in hotel rooms, for example), while the pianist changes instruments and plays this movement seated at an adjacently-positioned upright piano, similarly muted by a practice pedal. The nervous energy emitting from closed practice rooms, such as I remember so intensely from my student days at Berlin’s Hochschule building in Bundesallee, momentarily takes centre stage in this middle movement.

More importantly however, it is my intention that Berlin Music pays humble homage to the great duo combination of violin and piano.

Brett Dean, 2011

(born 1955 in Hiroshima, Japan)

Vertical Time Study III for Violin and Piano (1994)    
“Music is the place where notes and silence meet.” – Toshio Hosokawa

In his early twenties, Hosokawa studied in Berlin for several years with the exiled Korean composer Isang Yun, and the post-war European style remains a major influence of his music, alongside intrinsic Eastern aesthetic principles. Yun, along with Toru Takemitsu, encouraged the incorporation of Japanese traditions and challenged his protégée to further develop this cultural balance in his compositions.

The Vertical Time Study is a three-part series which challenges the conventions of the performers and the listeners by focusing not on the chronological sequence of sounds, but on examining all the tones and colors of each single note and the gaps between them.

In his own writings on Vertical Time Study III, Hosokawa describes this work in terms of calligraphy; the violin is the brush, while the piano is the canvas background upon which the ink is spread. A defining characteristic of Hosokawa’s music is the interplay between sound and silence, and both elements are weighted with equal importance. The silence, to Hosokawa, represents the boundless, infinite possibilities of humanity and the natural world.

Notes © 2009 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO, Ltd.

(born 1959 in Kilwinning, Scotland)

After the Tryst (1988)

James MacMillan's compositional output reflects his interest in his Scottish origins and its folk culture, as well as his traditional religious beliefs. Much of his oeuvre makes reference to these elements, and After the Tryst is no exception.

In 1984, inspired by The Tryst, William Soutar's account of an intensely passionate yet expiring love, MacMillan set the poem to music in the style of an old Scottish ballad. A few years later, the composer recreated the folk song's melody in two classical compositions: the violin/piano fragment After the Tryst in 1988 and, the following year, a larger orchestral work Tryst.

After the Tryst is almost rhapsodic in character, accentuated by arpeggiated chords on the piano. The alternations between dream state and near-reality are made clear by the use of sforzando: strong, sudden accents on notes played by the violin. Also notable is the juxtaposition of contrapuntal lines and homophonic chords. In the former, big leaps come in between the notes, often with strong articulation. This is contrasted by notes that are connected by glissandos, or slides, to increase the stretched feeling. Less than three minutes in length, the piece feels like an afterthought; at the conclusion, the music fades as it disappears into the distance.

James MacMillan is perhaps best known for his orchestral composition The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, which was premiered at the BBC Proms in 1990. Since then, he has garnered an international reputation for writing profound yet approachable music reflecting the influence of Scottish themes and culture as well as drawing inspiration from Catholicism and liturgical music. Also an active conductor, MacMillan was appointed Composer/Conductor by the BBC Philharmonic in 2000.

Notes © 2008 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co. Ltd.

(born 1947 in Massachusetts)

Road Movies (1995)

I. Relaxed Groove
II. Meditative
III. 40% Swing

Road Movies is quintessential John Adams, although chamber music does not occupy a large portion of his work. After decades of composing large-scaled operas and orchestral works, Adams discovered a gateway into more melodic writing in the early 1990s and ventured into composing for the chamber setting.

Adams refers to Road Movies as "travel music". The first and third movements utilize a rocking, or swinging, rhythm, illustrating the beat of driving on the open road. Adams's distinctive Minimalist and Serialist techniques are in evidence throughout the work.

The first movement progresses in a layered pattern, enhancing the initial picture with a new dimension or showing the trails behind it. Off-rhythms within the larger regulated tempo have a humorous, rather than confusing, effect. The irregularities in this music do not come from complex meter changes, but instead are crafted to be on and off beats in a rather asymmetrical pattern.

In the second movement, the mood is more contemplative, in the style of the blues. The violin's lowest string, the G, is tuned a whole step lower to make it an F pitch. Since the tonality centers on the G-key in this movement, the F is a 7th pitch going upwards from G (or in reverse a step below the G). This focus on the 7th pitch is a typical characteristic in the blues, and specifically known as the 'Blues 7th'. The lowered G string creates a looser kind of sonority for the instrument, giving the movement a sense of languid nonchalance. This quiet attitude is in clear contrast to the two outer movements, which are defined by rhythmic jauntiness and percussive articulation.

The title of the final movement, 40% Swing, refers to the computer setting on a MIDI. The violin and piano swing side-by-side, sometimes in full concert with each other, at other times more independently. Adams describes the third movement as "for four-wheel drives only" and the listener just needs to hang on for this wild ride.

Notes © 2008 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co. Ltd.