Instrumentation

1(=afl+picc).1.1(=bcl).1(=cbsn) - 1.1(=ptpt)1.0 - perc(1): 4 susp.cym/2 tgl/2 crot/gong/vib/guiro/mcas/whip/tpl.bl/ping-pong ball/flat-bottomed drinking glass/large newspaper/tam-t/SD - pno(=cel) - 2 vln.vla.vlc.db

Availability

Score 0-571-50718-2 on sale, parts for hire

Programme Notes

In the Tate Gallery there is a late Turner oil painting, Norham Castle, Sunrise. The 12th century castle in this picture is silhouetted against a huge, golden sun. What struck me immediately about this beautiful image was the way in which solid objects – fields, cows and the castle itself – virtually appear to have melted under the intense sunlight. It is as if the paint were still wet. Abstractly, this observation has been important to the way I have composed the piece. A ‘solid object’ can be formed as a punctuated, clearly defined musical phrase. This can be ‘melted’ into a flowing, nebulous continuum of sound. There can be all manner of transformations and interactions between these two ways of writing. Equally important, however, this piece is a contemplation of dawn, a celebration of the colours and noises of daybreak. It is set in three movements: in the short, opening one, superimposed fanfares burst into hazy, undefined textures. After a pause the extended second movement follows, itself subdivided into several contrasted sections, full of abrupt changes in mood and tension. The concluding movement arrives without a break, and progresses in a continuous, flowing line illuminated with ever more resonant harmonies. At First Light, which is dedicated to Donald and Kathleen Mitchell, was commissioned by the London Sinfonietta with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain. The première, under Simon Rattle, took place in November 1982. George Benjamin

Reviews

Barbican Hall, London, 1 April 2003 Scottish Chamber Orchestra/George Benjamin ‘… one of the most important composers of his generation… His conducting is defined by the same features that distinguish his music: a fastidious ear for detail and clarity, combined with an unerring sense of structure and pacing… his 1982 work, At First Light, scored for 14 players, is full of brilliant sounds and sensuous textures. Colour is a direct inspiration for this piece: the dazzling luminescence of Turner’s painting, ‘Norham Castle, Sunrise’. In the painting, colours and figures melt into one another; in Benjamin’s music sounds dissolve from solid melodies and gestures into fluid glissandos and unstable registers. The structure of the piece is similarly volatile, and the long final movement is structured as a series of waves that crests in an apocalyptic tam-tam stroke. Benjamin released an overwhelming power from the SCO players, as if they were 40 rather than 14 players.’ The Guardian (Tom Service), 3 April 2003 George Benjamin: At First Light Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama, Glasgow, 28 March 2003 Scottish Chamber Orchestra/George Benjamin ‘… an astonishingly intricate score packed with ingenious nerve-tingling effects…’ The Scotsman (Kenneth Walton), 1 April 2003

At First Light

Théâtre des Champs-Elysées (Paris, France)

Orchestre de chambre de Paris, Douglas Boyd

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