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Programme Notes

i. Nocturne I
ii. Maze
iii. Nocturne II
Two Nocturnes and a Maze was written to be performed in the stunning church at Ernen, which sits on a hall, looking down on an enormous valley in the Swiss Alps. I couldn’t really resist evoking the alphorn – Nocturne I opens with the sound of solo horn, playing a melody on its natural harmonics. This melody becomes a bit of an obsession, repeating in various guises, but also orbiting around two other ingredients: more mechanical contributions from the violin, and solemnly descending chords in the piano.
The opening bars of the second movement come from the last bars of a movement of my violin concerto Pleasure Garden – what would happen if I took that little coda but made it the start of something that goes in a completely different direction? The movement is often led by the violin, but all three instruments contribute a lot of virtuosity. The aim here was to make listening to the piece a bit like navigating a hedge maze – you often seem to return to the start, and try to retrace your steps, but it’s not quite how you remember it. Everywhere often appears the same, but small differences mean you end up in quite a different place. Lastly, there is a great endpoint that is more expansive, palatial, quite unlike the confusing narrow corridors that brought you there.
The final Nocturne reworks material from the seventh and first scenes of my opera Violet. The horn takes the lead again, guiding us from the dark, austere music of the opening to more open landscapes and slow, vertiginously high melodies. Towards the end there are visitors from other movements.

Two Nocturnes and a Maze

Kirche St. Georg (Ernen, Switzerland)

Alec Frank-Gemmill/Daniel Bard/Alasdair Beatson

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