In March Ryan Bancroft and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales tours Tansy Davies’ Monolith: I Extend My Arms. They perform the work for strings and percussion on 16 March at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre with subsequent performances in Bangor and Llandudno. 

The 17-minute work, commissioned by Britten Pears Arts, was premiered by the Britten Sinfonia and conductor Sian Edwards at the 2021 Aldeburgh Festival; Davies discusses the piece on The Red House podcast here. It takes its name from a 1930 black-and-white photograph by Claude Cahun. The piece underlines Davies’ interest in primal, atavistic energies and geology: the piece is built from rock-like strata of canons in the strings, with textures alternately dense and translucent, enhanced and transformed with interjections from bells and bass drum. The composer describes Monolith as “as a cloud-shaped body of rock descending gently and very slowly, like an enormous feather, from sky to earth.”

Davies’ lithic imaginary is reflected in her latest large-scale work: Stone Codes for percussion and an ensemble of 14 players. The 18-minute piece for percussion and ensemble premiered at November Music last year by Konstantyn Napolov and the Orkest De Ereprijs.


As featured composer, Tansy Davies had written an arresting new piece for strings and percussion, Monolith: I Extend My Arms. Its starting point is a monochrome photograph from 1930 by Claude Cahun. The sound world is weighty yet gaseous, earthbound and ethereal, granite-like but translucent and refined. Scraps of melody emerge as if written in invisible ink. Scales bubble up through the orchestra like vapours. Davies achieves this through dense counterpoint, a close shading and cross-hatching of every technique in the string player’s lexicon.

The Guardian (Fiona Maddocks), 3 July 2021