IAN WILSON, WORKS FOR STRING ORCHESTRA
As shown by the pieces on this CD, Wilson’s music has retained its emotional impact through a period of rapid stylistic development. This arises in part from the frequent practice of presenting the compositional materials – be they melodies, harmonic sequences, or more complex gestures – with a minimum of dialectical adornment. This is not to say that Wilson’s music is neither dynamic nor unornamented – it is frequently both, and in Limena (1998) especially so. Here the core material is an elaborate piano fantasy (released as a solo piece under the title Lim) that encompasses both florid melody and expansive gestures across the keyboard. What is remarkable, however, is that the string parts are composed almost entirely from the pre-existing piano line. There is almost no exact doubling, but Wilson constructs rich string textures by inferring new contrapuntal lines from the piano part: the result resembles a cloud of vapour trails, as though one is hearing solo Bach in an echo chamber. Wilson manipulates this to bring particular perspectives on the piano part in and out of focus; any dialogue between piano and strings takes place out of the corner of the eye.
In the earliest piece here, The Capsizing Man and other stories (1994/1997), each of the five short movements draws inspiration from sculptures by Alberto Giacometti and obsessively pursues a particular mood or moment. The sliding, syncopated chromaticisms of ‘The Capsizing Man’ suggest an endless moment of overbalancing: a story without end, only endless replays. The thin, abrasive chords of ‘The Forest’ perhaps recall most directly the attenuated yet rugged figures for which Giacometti is known, but the expressionistic bumps of ‘Seated Woman’ are equally suggestive. The brevity of these pieces, however, allows no room for emotional release and tension is kept at a high level.
Sullen earth (2005) takes its title from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29, in which a mundane, earthbound life is transformed by “the lark at daybreak arising” that is love. Wilson says that it is only the title that connects his piece to the poem but, as a simple, medieval-sounding melody emerges near the end of the piece from the surrounding starkness, a similar transformation into lightness takes place.
Around the turn of the century Wilson moved away from the iridescent polyphonic-melodic style of Limena and sought a more objective technique. In many of his later pieces he is not afraid simply to present regions of one music or another, letting them talk for themselves. Wilson then arranges these musical chunks like coloured bricks to create tension and drama in the interplay of connections and juxtapositions. It’s a technique that reconsiders traditional conventions of form: attention is focused on the integrity of the musical materials themselves rather than their motivic, harmonic or contrapuntal development.
Composed for Gordana Matijevi Sullen earth is among the starkest examples of this later style. At times, such as the passages of arpeggio supported by the lightest orchestral touches, the music has almost been bleached completely white. Wilson has said that he seeks in his music to “enliven the notes with a certain emotional resonance”. In Sullen earth this takes place through a judicious use of resources: there are hints of Limena’s florid melodicism, as well as quartertones and other carefully extended techniques, but these become points of colour rather than the predominant style.
The high-friction juxtaposition of formal blocks requires some sort of release, a way of reconciling the conflicting elements, or sidestepping them entirely. In several pieces Wilson inserts new, often contemplative material as a means of releasing pressure; hence the melodic interruption in Sullen earth. But even in the structurally more uniform Limena the various elements are juxtaposed at ever decreasing intervals, as though enclosing the piece in a hall of mirrors. The piece turns so tightly in on itself that the only way out is a complete change of direction. The coda of funereal bell-tones gives a tragic twist to the delicate filigree that precedes it. It is characteristic of the raw emotion under the surface of all Wilson’s music.
© Tim Rutherford-Johnson, 2009
Ian Wilson was born in Belfast in 1964 and obtained the first D.Phil in composition to be awarded by the University of Ulster, which in 1993 commissioned his orchestral work Rise in celebration of the tenth anniversary of its foundation. His music has been performed and broadcast on six continents by artists such as the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the Ulster, Belgrade Philharmonic and Norwegian Radio Orchestras, the London Mozart Players and the Irish Chamber Orchestra, the Artis, Vogler and Vanbrugh Quartets, Lontano, Avanti! and Camerata Pacifica ensembles, Catherine Leonard and Hugh Tinney. Works have been performed at many festivals including the BBC Proms, Venice Biennale, ISCM World Music Days, Brighton, Cheltenham and the Ultima Festival in Oslo, where Running, Thinking, Finding for orchestra received the composition prize in 1991.
He has written over ninety pieces including chamber operas, concertos, orchestral works, string quartets, multi-media pieces and many other chamber and vocal works.
In 1992 Ian Wilson was awarded the Macaulay Fellowship administered by the Arts Council of Ireland, and in 1998 he was elected to Aosdána, Ireland’s State-sponsored body of creative artists. From 2000 to 2003 Ian Wilson was AHRB Research Fellow in Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Ulster and from 2009 to 2010 is An Foras Feasa post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Dundalk Institute of Technology. His music is published by Ricordi London and Universal Edition.
Since winning first prize at both the 1983 Pozzoli and 1984 Paloma O’Shea piano competitions, Hugh Tinney has performed in more than 30 countries throughout Europe, the USA, South America and the Far East. Festival engagements have taken him across the globe and he has broadcast in more than 15 countries.
A prize in the 1987 Leeds Piano Competition earned him a busy career in the UK, performing with major orchestras there including the London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, Royal Scottish National Orchestra and BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Highlights in Ireland include regular solo appearances with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and Ulster Orchestra. Chamber music partners have included the Borodin, Tokyo, RTÉ Vanbrugh and Vogler Quartets, Ensemble Wien, Steven Isserlis, Bernadette Greevy and Catherine Leonard. He has previously recorded solo, chamber and concerto repertoire for Decca, Meridian, Naxos, Marco Polo, Black Box, RTÉ Lyric fm and Riverrun.
From 2000 to 2006 Hugh Tinney was Artistic Director of the Music in Great Irish Houses festival. He teaches at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and has been a jury member at several international piano competitions. He was awarded a two-year bursary in 2006 by the Arts Council of Ireland to work on contemporary music and he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Music by the National University of Ireland in 2007.
gained her BA and MA degrees at Belgrade Faculty of Music, where she now holds the position of docent professor in the Department of Stringed Instruments. She has won several domestic competitions and scholarships, was awarded the prize for best interpretation at the Music in Serbia Festival (1988) and also won the Second Prize for interpretation of chamber music at the International Review of Composers (1992).
Gordana Matijević-Nedeljković has been a member of the Belgrade Strings since 1984, holding the position of leader from 1987. With this orchestra she has also performed as soloist at numerous concerts and all the music festivals in Serbia, as well as at the International Music Festival of Santorini in Greece, Saint Petersburg in Russia, Ohrid Summer Festival in Macedonia and Sofia Music Weeks in Bulgaria. As a soloist she has played with Nigel Kennedy, Vladimir Chernushenko, Christian Gansh, Claudio Vandelli and Ronald Zollman.
She is a keen exponent of contemporary music, having given numerous premieres with the Belgrade Strings, and in 2005 she was the soloist in the first performance of Ian Wilson’s Sullen earth, a concerto for violin and string orchestra written specially for her.
The BELGRADE STRINGS is the most famous and widely traveled string orchestra in former Yugoslavia, highly acclaimed by both public and press in the course of their international tours. The orchestra has given over 400 concerts abroad, in Great Britain, France, Belgium, Denmark, Poland, Russia, Hungary, Greece, Turkey, USA, China, The Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, former Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Macedonia.
The ensemble, known in Serbia as the “Duafter his death in 1975. Since 2003 the Music Director of the ensemble has been Obrad Nedeljkovi
In addition to an extensive repertoire ranging from pre-classical through to 21st-century music, the Belgrade Strings has premiered over 70 works written specially for them by Yugoslav composers.
The ensemble has performed at many festivals including the City of London Festival, Prague Spring Festival, Cheltenham Festival, Santorini International Music Festival, Istanbul International Music Festival, Music Festival Pablo Ruiz Picasso, Bilbao Music Festival and Dubrovnik Summer Festival, among others.
Blistered and bent into quartertones, the buckling solo line in Ian Wilson’s2005 violin concerto “Sullen Earth” picks obsessively at fragile, folk like figures before bursting into lyricism against the wheezing, accordion-like harmonies of the string orchestra.
It’s a bold work,and a bold performance from Gordana Matijevic-Nedeljkovic and the Belgrade Strings, who also accompany pianist Hugh Tinney in Wilson’s subdued “Limena” (1998). Disturbing and cute, “The Capsizing Man?” sees Wilson at his most accessible.
The Independent – review, 6th August, 2009 By Anna Picard
Two years ago, Riverrun released a disc of Ian Wilson’s string quartets – four of them – and has now brought together three of his works involving string orchestra. Wilson’s style has changed since 1999, when he was forced by Nato bombing to leave Belgrade and return to Ireland. The later music seems rougher hewn: less concerned with making formal patterns and more with expressing what it wants to say directly, often by boldly juxtaposing contrasting kinds of music material. That technique is seen in Sullen Earth for violin and strings, from 2005, in which everything is pared down to its emotional core, allowing the highly wrought textures to relax just once for an archaic-sounding lyrical interlude. Limena, from 1998, expands a solo piano by surrounding it with muted string textures, while the five taut miniatures that make up The Capsizing Man and Other Stories are all inspired by Giacometti sculptures.
The Guardian, 21st August, 2009, By Andrew Clements
Commissioned by the Serbian musical forces in ardent evidence here, Ian Wilson’s 2005 Sullen Earth is an archetype of a more recent compositional process that focuses on “stand-alone” building blocks of musical thought. The result is a distillation of conventional narrative or technical development into raw cells of emotion. Here combined with piano and strings, a more melodically florid affair, and the suite, ‘The Capsizing Man’, itself a juxtaposition of five concisely contemplated ideas, the disc is a well-balanced recital in itself. The added bonus is the presence of the composer as conductor. (5/5)
Sunday Tribune, 23rd August 2009 by Karen Dervan