As part of the Armistice Centenary commemorations, Martin Suckling composed Meditation (after Donne), a new work for chamber orchestra and electronics which will take as its inspiration the massed ringing of bells as Armistice was declared.
Suckling describes the work as ‘a simple song for orchestra, with performers and audience surrounded by a constantly evolving tapestry of tolling bells created by live electronics’. The 11-minute piece received three premiered in November by the SCO and Nicolas Altstaedt, and will be performed in December by the Helensburgh Orchestral Society. More details can be found at armisticebells.com
Meditation (after Donne) marks the end of Suckling’s time as Associate Composer with the SCO, a remarkably rich partnership which has seen the creation of a clutch of brilliant new works: Six Speechless Songs (premiered by Robin Ticciati then revived by Oliver Knussen), and the dazzling Piano Concerto for Tom Poster. The association also included a revival of Candlebird, Suckling's exquisite song cycle for baritone and ensemble.
‘Recordings of church bells from across Scotland feature in Suckling’s atmospheric new work… Taking Donne’s plea for a shared humanity for inspiration, Suckling beautifully evokes the conflicting emotions that peace brings. Keening strings and the mournful wail of an oboe are united by the solemn tolling of the bells which segue into bird song in the final bars of this moving elegy.
The Scotsman (Susan Nickalls), 10 November 2018
‘Thinking back to the bells that pealed across the country to mark the Great War Armistice a century ago, Suckling had crowd-sourced recordings of bells today from listeners across Scotland, collating and ordering the resulting sound files, then weaving them together in a keyboard-triggered tapestry of clangorous sounds and textures. Alongside his bell soundscape, he conjured piquant, microtonal orchestral harmonies that emerged imperceptibly from the bells’ jangling overtones, or summoned a naive, folk-like string tune that threaded through them, or later a gnarly, keening oboe duet. The result was impressively immediate, thoroughly captivating, and well received by the Edinburgh audience. And it melded together with uncanny ease the somewhat contradictory senses of celebration, anger and grief that Suckling had described in his pre-concert talk. Beyond that, though, it was the fragile sense of community the work suggested – in creating a shared space for reflection, whose origins lie in contributions from right across Scotland – that created the piece’s potent emotional resonance – and one that tied it neatly to the John Donne Meditation No. 17 that inspired it…. Enthralling.’
The Telegraph (David Kettle), 9 November 2018