Symphonic Dances

The 5 dances were written at the request of the young cellist, Joy Lisney, and they are dedicated to her. After having given many performances of JOY (2011), also written for Joy and her father, the pianist James Lisney, she not only started tackling the more demanding score of Anatomy of Passion (2004) but asked me to write a new solo piece as well. Her obvious passion for my music and profound musical talent were an opportunity not to be missed and gave me a chance to take revenge on a much earlier attempt at writing for cello solo. Wu Li (1986) was conceived in a short-lived attempt to emulate the Darmstadt mania for complexity and a result of my infatuation with Xenakis whose Nomos Alpha I had analysed in great detail . Whether or not that was misguided or an inevitable phase in my development, the demands Wu Li puts on the performer are not for the faint-hearted and aspiring cello players probably think twice before taking it on.

Although I was delighted with Joy’s request, I hesitated at first, aware of my partial knowledge of cello playing. Writing for a solo string (or wind-) instrument is exposing one’s inadequacies in broad daylight. I had to go back to the drawing board and study Bach and Britten’s solo suites to acquire an orientation that was cello and listener-friendly. I gained further and valuable insight into the possible and impossible, the comfortable and trickier aspects of technique from demonstrations by and discussions with Joy directly. Finally, the Internet provided me with an array of opportunities to peruse the repertoire and watch performances closely by various experts on the instrument.

Another angle of approach, if not a challenge in my case, was a desire to write ‘dances’, that is, music that can be danced to. Metre and pulse are the building blocks of dance and therefore all five dances are rigorously driven by an audible beat. That is not to say that other aspects of the music come second or don’t necessarily belong to the domain of rhythm. When I compared Bach and Britten I was made aware of the importance of harmony in the concept of ‘dance’. In Bach, more than in Britten, harmony is constantly implied in both melody, rhythm and architecture, sometimes enhanced by double, triple or even quadruple stops (chords) over the strings. It is a difficult, but inescapable aspect of composition: both the lack and presence of harmonic concern are audible quantities and contribute or detract from its power of orientation .

1. Overture
2. Dance No. 1 – Passacaglia
3. Dance No. 3 – Tarantella (dance for arachnophobes)
4. Dance No. 4 – …of the veils
5. Dance No. 5 – Argument
Total duration: between 17 and 18 minutes.