On 3 June Kenneth Woods and the English String Orchestra gave the premiere of David Matthews’ Shiva Dances for string quartet and string orchestra at the Elgar Festival at the Worcester Guildhall. The 13-minute piece was commissioned by the Elgar Festival.
Matthews’ title refers to the Hindu god of creation and destruction, who he heard referenced in a talk by Aldous Huxley. Huxley sees in the figure of Shiva “the idea of the infinite energy dancing timelessly and forever through this world.” The form of the piece was, Matthews writes, inspired by his earlier String Trio No.2.
I thought of my Second String Trio whose form is based on North Indian classical music, with a slow contemplative introduction leading to a fast movement which is dancelike but with extensive use of pedal notes. I decided to use a variation of this form again, where the solo quartet would be able to play elaborate solos, something in the manner of the Indian sitar.
After a slow introduction, the piece moves through four dances based on each of the elements: earth (loud and vigorous), water (which combines a moto perpetuo for the orchestra with solos for the quartet), air (a diaphanous scherzo), and a lively waltz for the concluding section, fire. The work concludes with a quiet coda, establishing a timeless mood.
Matthews holds the English Symphony Orchestra’s “John McCabe Composer-in-Association” Chair, and this premiere continues his association with the Elgar festival, the ESO, and Kenneth Woods: in 2018/19 they joined with the Orchestra of the Swan for a year-long focus on his music, celebrating his 75th birthday.
This summer will see another world premiere from Matthews in his Sonata for oboe and piano, which will be performed by Nicholas Daniel and Huw Watkins at the Presteigne Festival on 27 August.