2009 CRITICAL MASS for string quartet

CRITICAL MASS (2008/9) – eight critical states for string quartet, consists of eight short pieces which, in the tradition of classical music, might have been called ‘bagatelles’. As the title suggests, my inspiration for the work comes from the physical concept of ‘critical mass’: the perfect proportion of fissile material to maintain a nuclear chain reaction in a container of a certain shape and size. This proportion has a narrow margin – is ‘critical’ – and must be kept constant in order to keep the chain reaction going – hence my allusion to the individual pieces as ‘critical states’. A piece of music can be considered a musical state (or succession of states) in which, on the one hand, a certain degree of equilibrium is maintained, and on the other, boundaries are constantly challenged. That is to say, it is one of the dynamics my music adheres to as it tries to simulate energy, life… It aims to maintain a high state of alertness in the listener and only provides relief when duly challenged.

A few composers from the past sprang to mind when I wrote the work, most obviously Anton Webern and Pjotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky. The very mention of these two giants in one breath perhaps illustrates the diversity I tried to create in these very brief ‘sketches’.

Critical Mass was a commission from the Rubens Kwartet.