Do not keep silent


Title: Do not keep silent
Year: 2013
Category: ensemble with soloist
Instrumentation: fl(picc),ob,,cl(,bsn(c.bsn),tpt,hn,tbn,perc(1),hrp,vln1,vln2,vla,vc,db,
Duration: 21′
First performance: University of York Chamber Orchestra (cond. John Stringer), with Samuel Thompson (piano), Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, (26/06/2013)
Commission: Lyons Celebration Award (York Concerts)
 Composers Edition

Programme note
I. Do not keep silent
II. Sing of mercy and judgement
III. Not silent
IV. Out of the depths
V. In the sanctuary

As the Sir Jack Lyons Commission, Do not keep silent is inspired by Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. I have taken Psalms adjacent to those which Bernstein sets, giving me numbers 109, 101, 22, 130 and 134 to work with. I was keen to write a piece based on the Psalms which did not set the texts, although I still wanted the notion of a ‘voice’ to be present: the voice of a soloist against an ensemble seemed to work well.

Taking a first-person perspective, the Psalms are very personal texts, yet they speak of universal beliefs, experiences and views. The stories of each of my chosen Psalms acted as an emotional starting-point for the five movements, and before writing any notes I took a line of each Psalm to name each one. This gave me a mental picture for each movement – really five interlinked character pieces – from where I could set up the soundworld and basic framework of each, before moving back to the full texts for further inspiration.

This duality between the individual and a larger whole, that to me is so crucial to the Psalms, led to the idea of a work for soloist and ensemble. However, this is not intended as a traditional concerto: the individual here is just as at home as part of the group as they are as a declamatory soloist. This is of course true of the concerto soloist, but here this single voice has multiple roles: it has conversations with individuals of the group, whispers to those watching, comments to itself, leads the discussion, follows it and even argues with the others. These different roles are explored throughout the piece as the piano tries to justify its place at the front of the group.

Central to the proposal for this piece was working with Samuel Thompson as soloist. I have known Sam for most of my life, and throughout our close friendship I have seen the important place both music and faith play for him. To be able to write a piece for Sam which combines these two elements has been an utter pleasure. Do not keep silent is dedicated to Sam: I hope it will be the first of many pieces to have this honour.

I. Do not keep silent
The piano remains silent for a long time as the orchestra establishes its voice. The protagonist introduces itself with an idea which has ramification for the rest of the work. Its partnership with the glockenspiel and harp as a concertino group is set up here.

II. Sing of mercy and judgement
The basset clarinet takes a focal role here, as a set of variations spin around its central melody. The piano comments on the melodies throughout, sometimes taking a more prominent role, other times remaining as part of the ensemble.

III. Not silent
Starting with a moment of calm, this movement sees distinct instrumental groups vie for attention as they each give their own perspective on a melodic line and its permutations. The piano finds its place in both of these groups and acts as a mediator between them.

IV. Out of the depths
The piano takes an unaccompanied solo role. Having taken on board everything that has been said in the preceding movement, it is able to give a fully-formed summary.

V. In the sanctuary
A very different soundworld to the previous movements gives a final opportunity for the ensemble to act as a unified force, though distinct instrumental groups are still present.