On 16 September at Sage Gateshead Dinis Sousa conducts the Royal Northern Sinfonia in the world premiere of Cassandra Miller’s Swim.
Around 16 minutes in length, Swim is a companion piece for Schumann’s Symphony No.3 (“Rhenish”) and scored for the same forces. Its material is derived from a plaintive brass chorale in the penultimate movement. The piece imagines Schumann going for a swim, evoking the repetitive motion of his arms, and letting his psyche dissolve in the deep water – not of the river Rhine, but rather a cool Canadian lake described by poet Anne Carson. “The piece is, all told, as much about Carson as Schumann”, Miller notes.
Swim was co-commissioned by Vancouver Symphony Orchestra & Victoria Symphony supported by the Hugh Davidson Fund at the Victoria Foundation, and Royal Northern Sinfonia; the North American premiere of the work will take place on 5 November with the Victoria Symphony, conducted by Kalena Bovell, at the University Farquhar Auditorium.
Miller writes of the piece,
At first, I took each two-chord gesture of the Schumann excerpt and repeated it, in right-left slowness (and blurred it, as if underwater). Each section of Swim then explores images from Carson’s essay, “Water Margins: An Essay on Swimming by My Brother” (as found in the publication Plainwater: essays and poetry, 1995). In Schumann’s original, his chords are imbued with heroic, romantic ideologies, sounding grandiose. In Swim, they take on my own ordinary and resolutely non-heroic feelings about swimming, via Carson’s imagery: dull and vivid colours, quotidian repetition, and cold revery.
In its dovetailing of literary and musical sources of inspiration Swim recalls Miller’s recent viola concerto I cannot love without trembling composed for Lawrence Power, which premiered to acclaim in Brussels in March 2023. The 25-minute piece, described by Alex Ross as “music of bruising immediacy” (New Yorker), finds twin creative wellsprings in the writing of Simone Weil and recordings of Greek émigré violinist Alexis Zoumbas. Zoumbas’ funeral laments were Miller’s starting point, ultimately creating in the piece an atmosphere of mourning that is “engulfing…music that reminds how to cry” (New Yorker, Alex Ross).
The 23/24 season will see performances of her cello concerto Duet – celebrated by the Guardian as one of finest instances of 21st-century music – from Ilan Volkov, Charles Curtis, and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Glasgow and Aberdeen. La Donna¸ recently performed by the BBC Philharmonic at the Aldeburgh Festival and in a studio concert on 2 August, will receive its Canadian premiere from Otto Tausk and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in November. On 11 April 2024 Sean Shibe and Dunedin Consort will premiere a new work by Miller for guitar and strings, as part of a folk-inspired programme.