2005 VOICE OF THE PLANET for cello & orchestra


The title was prompted by Alexander Baillie, who commissioned the work. Amongst our ongoing discussions to find a running theme through the music, he wrote the following:

“As the world heads inexorably towards religious wars, extreme divisions of rich and poor and tensions of all sorts, the one thing almost totally neglected is spirituality. The healing power of music cannot be underestimated in this context. To write a piece for cello with the landscape of a large and colorful orchestra offers a perfect chance to use the therapeutic singing voice of the cello to bring some soothing, comforting, calming, warning, gentle enlightenment. YOU are definitely the man to write this music: I imagine a ballade or poem which may contain some terrifying sound images to remind the listeners what is looming ahead but set alongside a powerful spiritual antidote which seeks to offer a prayer or an answer to our planet’s immense distress.”

I had to reconcile his concerns with my own views of reality. The healing power of music is proportional to each person’s susceptibility. That is to say: his disposition to detect and evaluate the parameters which make a particular piece of music ‘work’. Quite apart from what music is capable of expressing in the first place, we usually speak to the converted and for them the music can either be reassuring and lend a voice to their feelings; or re-ignites convictions and understandings that were already there. At best it profiles and articulates these feelings, convictions and understandings on a non-verbal level. For the naturally curious with some musical knowledge it might open up perspectives of a musical nature and offer glimpses into the mindset of the composer.

The problems in our world – be they environmental, social, political, psychological, on a local, national, or global scale – are usually the result of human shortsightedness, greed, opportunism, lack of knowledge, inability to communicate, indoctrination or abuse of power. These, we can’t address in music. What we can do, is show an alertness for opportunities and ambiguities in the musical landscape that we open up with each new piece, elaborate on these and bring to fruition what had the potential to life. This way the composer demonstrates what is possible in a musical reality, which can be of a complexity not unlike what we experience in ‘real life’. On the other hand he can dodge these and follow a path that is proven and tested, and aim to please rather than to illuminate. It’s in that choice that I hope my true credentials will be found.

The planet is a grave concern to me but my belief in humanity borders on the pessimistic. Despite its almost unlimited potential for the positive and constructive it is Sod’s law that power is often, if not usually, in the hands of the irresponsible and, unfortunately, it is power we need to address the great problems which we face today. If anything, it is creative power we need most, but to unleash it we need the open and free society that seems to elude vast sections of humanity. I can’t reach those, however much I reach out to and empathize with the millions of our fellow human beings who suffer as a consequence, or however much I would like to raise my voice at those whom I despise for causing and perpetuating the problems.

Voice of the Planet therefore speaks with two voices. One is the human voice that Alexander hinted at. It emerges not without difficulty from the depths and turmoil of its orchestral environment and when it does, it speaks alternately with promise and disillusion, sadness and joy, hope and pessimism, clarity and confusion, passion and resignation. But ultimately this voice is subject to that other voice: the voice of the planet, that cosmic speck in the universe which has brought forth oceans, volcanoes, the atmosphere, the tectonic plates, organisms, plants, all living beings and on top of the pyramid of life: human intelligence and ingenuity. The planet will survive however much we upset its subtle balance. Humanity as such is of no concern to the planet and destruction in its eyes is mere transformation.

We will all have to come to terms with our humble destiny which is to gracefully disintegrate into the great scheme of things. There is no redemption, only the transient sparks of our efforts

Tetbury, August 2005.