On 25 October Gustavo Gimeno conducts the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the North American premiere of Tansy Davies’ Plumes. The 5-minute work for chamber orchestra draws its inspiration from the River Tyne, visible from the concert hall where it made its debut. Plumes is a ‘duet between air and water’, Davies says, and evokes the complex currents of the great river.
It is a confluence of two musical flows: murky undercurrents that provide momentum and rising aerial interjections, represented respectively at the outset by a lugubrious line in contrabassoon, bass clarinet, and double basses, and diaphanous figuration in stratospheric violins. Cloud-like material forms as the two elements become one, before condensing and reforming as deep river currents, then ascending again. The piece for chamber orchestra was commissioned by Royal Northern Sinfonia to mark their 60th anniversary, and received its first performance at Sage Gateshead, now the Glasshouse International Centre for Music, in September 2019, conducted by Giedrė Šlekytė.
Several other orchestral works by Tansy Davies are yet to receive US and Canadian premieres. Tilting (2005) is a 7-minute piece originally written for the LSO and inspired by the work of architect Zaha Hadid, which takes some of its material from a French trouvère song; another Hadid-inspired work looking to make a North American debut is Davies’ trumpet concerto Spiral House (2004), a 22-minute piece premiered by Mark O'Keeffe, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Zsolt Nagy. Davies’ Wild Card, a 24-minute journey through a pack of Tarot cards, was premiered at the BBC Proms by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Jirí Belohlávek and awaits a US and Canadian premiere. Davies previously taught at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, Bloomington. Her concerto for four horns Forest was co-commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and received its US premiere at the David Geffen Hall, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.
October also saw the Chinese premiere of Davies’ grind show (unplugged) (2008) from the London Sinfonietta at the Beijing International Music Festival. The 6-minute work for a chamber ensemble of five players is a drama of irregular dances. It is partly inspired by Goya’s painting A Pilgrimage to St Isidro¸ showing a crowd of debauched and frightened revellers appearing to flee across the hills from a distant town: the figures in the picture were superimposed onto a desolate landscape painted earlier by Goya. The original 2007 version of the piece – grind show (electric) – sees this superimposition represented by a dark background of electronics against the ‘bright’ acoustic dances.