Instrumentation

3(II+III=picc).2.ca.3(II=Ebcl.III=bcl).2.cbsn - 4.tpt in D.2.3.1 - perc(5): 4 timp/SD/siz.cym/BD/5 tpl.bl/5 bongos/glass chimes/whip/5 susp.cym/glsp/tam-t/tgl/vib/xyl/t.bells/cyms - cel - pno - harp - strings (pref 16.16.12.10.8)

Availability

Study score 0-571-51078-7 on sale, full score and parts for hire

Programme Notes

A dramatic photograph of a thunderstorm over the New Mexico desert and an extract from T.S.Eliot’s The Waste Land provided the inspiration for this piece. I wanted to portray an eerie tension as a landscape is overwhelmed by a vast storm. The work starts slowly and mysteriously, with a succession of three textures that recur throughout the structure – weird, soft, bell chords, a sustained semitone clash, and deep tremors in the lower registers of the orchestra which depict distant thunder. Piccolo solos surrounded by high violins follow, and fuller developments of the opening ideas, gradually transform the momentum to faster music. Here a sonority of wind and muted trumpets, punctuated by wooden percussion, is juxtaposed with quieter, more lyrical cello solos. These build with increasing intensity, culminating in a massive climax, after which the music slowly descends to the bass register, subsiding in a solitary bass-drum roll. There follows a sequence of dark, ominous chords for full orchestra (a sound completely new to the piece), interspersed with solo melodic lines over the deep tremors of the opening. For a moment the original semitone clash hovers motionless in the air; the thunder at last erupts in a violent explosion; and the work returns to a mood of unreal calm, ending as it began, with a soft bell chord.

© George Benjamin

Reviews

Barbican Hall, London: 9 July 2003 (final concert in the “By George” series) London SO/Antonio Pappano ‘[The series] has been a triumph, an exercise that has stated loud and clear that any contemporary music worth its salt – and Benjamin's is worth rather more – sits easily alongside older work. The contemporary music ghetto, the usual refuge for concert-planners wary of scaring away their established audiences, is not the answer.’ Evening Standard (Stephen Pettitt), 10 July 2003 ‘… Benjamin's music seems to stop time, as fragments of the storm are suspended in mid-air: a cor anglais melody, an impassioned cello solo. The work opens and closes with the same gesture, a quiet bell chord, as if the whole piece has been a slow elaboration of a single moment, the still centre of a tornado.’ The Guardian (Tom Service), 11 July 2003

Ringed by the Flat Horizon

BBC Composer of the Week: George Benjamin. Into the Little Hill excerpts only. Lessons in Love and Violence excerpts only.

BBC Radio 3 (United Kingdom)

Ross Pople, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Mark Elder, Hila Plitmann, Susan Bickley, George Benjamin, London Sinfonietta, Stéphane Degout, Barbara Hannigan, Gyula Orendt, Peter Hoare, Samuel Boden, Jennifer France, Krisztina Szabó, Andri Björn Róbertsson, Netherlands Radio Orchestra, Dietrich Henschel, Berlin Radio Choir, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Kent Nagano

Ringed by the Flat Horizon

BBC Radio 3 (United Kingdom)

George Benjamin, BBC Symphony Orchestra

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Konserthuset (Stockholm, Sweden)

Susanna Andersson, Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, Christian Karlsen

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Open Rehearsal

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Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, Christian Karlsen, Susanna Andersson

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Festspielhaus (Baden-Baden, Germany)

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

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