CoMA at 30

PROGRAMME NOTES

December Air Paul Burnell (2021)

Massed ensemble

The text evokes an archaic spell or incantation that reflects on the permanence of love at a time when celestial changes signal daybreak and the end of the year.

December Air 

December moon, 

December star, 

December sun, 

December air. 

Trees are silver in December, 

The air now is colder. 

The trees bare feelings in a web of fragile memory. 

The sky is turning to the moon, 

The sky is turning to the full moon. 

The stars blazing high bestrewn. 

All of the firmament reflecting, 

The stars reflecting my stare. 

December air, 

Air forever. 

Forever moon, 

Forever star, 

Forever sun, 

Forever. 

Love is whispering a secret, 

Forever, for evermore. 

My love reciting incantations in a reverie. 

A treasure buried in a heart, the heart, 

A treasure buried in a warm heart, 

Is safe though we are apart. 

Love is a precious rare donation, 

A love forever we share. 

Air, forever air. 

Trees at sunrise in December, 

The year now is olden. 

The trees grow shadows as the past time becomes memory. 

The sky is turning to the sun, the sun, 

The sky is turning to the bright sun. 

The stars fading one by one. 

Time is a precious rare donation, 

A present that is aware. 

Air, December air. 

Paul Burnell

 

Strictly Come CoMA Elspeth Brooke

CoMA Sussex 

This piece was inspired by my love of Strictly Come Dancing! I chose four contrasting dance styles: Argentine Tango, Cha Cha Cha, Pasa Doble and Jive. The music is mostly fully scored out with some freer sections in the Pasa Doble movement, which also features a soloist. I have really enjoyed exploring the different characters of these dances and writing them especially for the CoMA Ensemble.

E.B.

 

Gregory Rose Red Planet

CoMA London 

Movement I        VALLES MARINERIS (Mysteriously)

Movement II       SYRTIS MAJOR (Firmly, with confidence)

Movement III      OLYMPUS MONS (In awe!)

Movement IV     SIRENUM FOSSAE (Confidently)

Movement V      ASCRAEUS MONS (With strident steps)

This piece for flexible ensemble was commissioned by CoMA in 2014 – Red Planet  was inspired by the spectacular images of Mars that have appeared through the exploratory work carried out by a succession of mainly US spacecraft over the past fifty years or so. The vastness of the mountains and valleys on the planet is hard for us to conceive, as is its inclement weather patterns. Mars is, simply, unimaginable. Red Planet attempts to reflect some aspects of the planet through contrasting musical scenes. Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and the second smallest planet in the Solar System and is named after the Roman god of war. It is often described as the ‘Red Planet’ because the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance. Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere, having surface features reminiscent both of the impact craters of the Moon and the volcanoes, valleys, deserts, and polar ice caps of Earth.

The large canyon, Valles Marineris has a length of 4,000 kilometres and a depth of up to 7 kilometres. Its length is equivalent to that of Europe and extends across one-fifth the circumference of Mars. By comparison, the Grand Canyon on Earth is only 446 kilometres long and nearly 2 kilometres deep. The largest dark feature seen from Earth, Syrtis Major Planum, is a ‘dark spot’ located in the boundary between the northern lowlands and southern highlands of Mars just west of the impact basin Isidis. Later topographical maps indicated that Syrtis Major includes a high-altitude bulge rising to 6 kilometres (3.7 miles). The dark colour comes from the basaltic volcanic rock of the region and the relative lack of dust.  The shield volcano, Olympus Mons (Mount Olympus) is an extinct volcano in the vast upland region Tharsis, which contains several other large volcanoes. At 22 kilometres Olympus Mons is the highest mountain on Mars and is over three times the height of Mount Everest, which in comparison stands at just over 8.8 kilometres. Sirenum Fossae is a trough in the Memnonia quadrangle of Mars and is 2,735 kilometres long. It is believed to have formed by movement along a pair of faults, causing a centre section to drop down, and extends more than 2500 kilometres to the southwest of the Tharsis volcanic region, which houses Olympus Mons. Ascraeus Mons is the tallest shield volcano located in the Tharsis region of the planet. It was discovered by the Mariner 9 spacecraft in 1971, and was originally called North Spot, because it was the northernmost of only four spots visible on the surface due to a global dust storm that was then enshrouding the planet. As the dust cleared, the spots were revealed to be extremely tall volcanoes whose summits had projected above the dust-laden, lower atmosphere. It is roughly 480 kilometres in diameter and is the second highest mountain on Mars after Olympus Mons, with a summit elevation of 18.1 kilometres.

The first performance of ‘Red Planet’ was given by CoMA London Ensemble, conducted by Gregory Rose at St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch, July 1st, 2014. The second performance was by CoMA Sussex conducted by Adam Swayne at St John sub Castro Church, Lewes, on June 28th, 2015.  Gregory also made an orchestral version which was recorded on Toccata Classics in 2020, on TOCC0558, with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. Gregory Rose was conductor of CoMA London Ensemble from 1999 to 2019.

 

Whippoorwill Joanna Lee

CoMA Singers 

‘whippoorwill’ was written as part of COMA’s Open Score project. The piece is an exploration of nine different spaces and places, indicated in the score by nine keywords, which the performers place themselves in and explore through vocal performance. The text by e.e. cummings is a kaleidoscope of words thrown at the reader, taking them through a whirlwind of spaces and places, which subsequently results in them not knowing which space or place they are actually in!

‘whippoorwill’ allows the performers to explore both their space through improvisation, which creates room in the text and therefore in its meaning, along with fixed notation that is performed exactly as written, putting the performers and the listeners in an exact place and role with little space to manoeuvre. Finally, the performers explore the role of spaces and places in vocal music, for example in the physical act of singing, in the core vocal technique areas, and in the different styles of singing or pronunciation.

 

Medusae Chloe Bowers-Soriano

mysounds youth cohort

Medusa is the name given to the life phase of certain sea jellies that begin their life cycle as polyps when they start to look like what we know as jellyfish. The species Turritopsis dohrnii is a small, biologically immortal jelly that can restart its life cycle instead of dying by reverting to the polyp stage. Jellyfish migrate in huge groups called a ‘smack’ or ‘smuck’, and the sound of these migrations is a low frequency hum in the water that sounds like a rush of water in your ears. Medusae is scored graphically, for any combination of strings and wind, water glasses, paper, and plastic, and encourages the listener to think about themes of waste, transition, and whether the end is ever truly the end?

 

Hildegardstraße Joanna Bailie

Massed ensemble

Hildegardstraße/Bundesallee is built around a recording made at the Hildegardstraße/Bundesallee intersection in Wilmersdorf, Berlin. In fact, though we hear a few cars at the beginning of the recording, the main object of the sound is the ringing of the bells from the Maria Unter dem Kreuz church. The piece explores the richness of the bell sonorities — the tape part is periodically frozen and this chordal cross-section of sound is analysed. The analysis of the cross-sections forms the basis for the instrumental parts.

There is a subtle process throughout the piece, a slow filtering of the bells that gradually reduces the harmonic field to only a handful of notes. The piece, like many of my others, is an attempt to find the ‘music’ in the sounds that surround us in real life.

 

O Futurum Stephen Montague

Massed ensemble

O FUTURUM was commissioned by Contemporary Music for All in celebration of the charity’s 30th Birthday, with funds generously provided from subscribers to CoMA’s Commissioning and Friends of CoMA schemes.

The work is composed in Open-Score format which, unlike traditional orchestral works, means the instrumentation is not specifically fixed. Open-score works are designed to be played by any combination of instruments which means each performance has its own unique orchestral sound and colour.

O FUTURUM (“Oh Future!”) is in two-part form: Slow – Fast. Unfolding chordal textures are followed by an animated fanfare. The harmonies are derived from the musical implications of the first and last letters in the word CoMA, hence C major ultimately evolves harmonically into A major for the finale.

Stephen Montague

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