On 21 June the Royal Scottish National Orchestra released the world premiere recording of Martin Suckling’s Meditation (after Donne), conducted by Rory Macdonald.  It appears on Our Gilded Veins (Linn Records) alongside music by James Macmillan, Anna Clyne, Jay Cappernauld, and Peter Maxwell Davies. Listen to Meditation here.

Suckling’s 11-minute work for chamber orchestra and electronics was composed for the Armistice commemoration in 2018, taking as its inspiration the massed bellringing that signalled the end of the First World War. Suckling envisions the piece as “a simple song for orchestra, with performers and audience surrounded by a constantly evolving tapestry of tolling bells”; the electronics in the work draw on the sounds of Scottish bells. The elegiac character of the piece is complemented by keening strings, the mournful wail of an oboe, and, at the close, the sound of bird song.

Meditation (after Donne) was commissioned by Scottish Chamber Orchestra, who premiered it with Nicolas Altstaedt in 2018; the work was generously supported with funds from the Cruden Foundation and RVW Trust. It concluded Suckling’s tenure as Associate Composer with the SCO – a partnership which has seen the creation of storm, rose, tiger and Six Speechless Songs, and his Piano Concerto.

In March 2024 it received its French premiere from Ilan Sousa and students from the Conservatoire de Caen as part of the 42nd Festival Aspects des Musiques d’Aujourd’hui, which included a focus on Suckling’s music.

In 2017 RSNO gave the world premiere of Suckling’s flute concerto The White Road, a work inspired by Edmund de Waal; Katherine Bryan was soloist in the 14-minute work, which was conducted by Arild Remmereit. In 2013 they performed Suckling’s The Moon, the moon! as part of a schools’ concert series; like Meditation, the 7-minute work is a also a musical response to poetry, namely Edward Lear.

Recordings of church bells from across Scotland feature in Suckling’s atmospheric new work… Taking Donne’s plea for a shared humanity for inspiration, Suckling beautifully evokes the conflicting emotions that peace brings. Keening strings and the mournful wail of an oboe are united by the solemn tolling of the bells which segue into bird song in the final bars of this moving elegy.

The Scotsman (Susan Nickalls), 10 November 2018

Alongside his bell soundscape, he conjured piquant, microtonal orchestral harmonies that emerged imperceptibly from the bells’ jangling overtones, or summoned a naive, folk-like string tune that threaded through them, or later a gnarly, keening oboe duet. The result was impressively immediate, thoroughly captivating…melded together with uncanny ease the somewhat contradictory senses of celebration, anger and grief…Beyond that, though, it was the fragile sense of community the work suggested…that created the piece’s potent emotional resonance – and one that tied it neatly to the John Donne Meditation No. 17 that inspired it…. Enthralling.’

The Telegraph (David Kettle), 9 November 2018