On 1 February Ryan Wigglesworth and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra premiere Lisa Illean’s An acre ringing, still at Glasgow’s City Halls. The 18-minute work for orchestra and pre-recorded sounds was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and represents a substantive orchestral statement from Illean.

Its title comes from the Anglo-Saxon æcer, an “open field” - a measurement of land deemed tillable in one day. Here it evokes in part the turning over, the tillage, of a musical line, in the form of an upward reaching melodic fragment. ‘Ringing, still’ takes on a double meaning, as both ‘encircling, without moving’ and ‘sounding, even now’. 

The orchestral forces are divided in two: a chamber orchestra and a smaller consort made up of single strings, alto flute, clarinet, horn, trumpet, trombone, and electric guitar. The consort is placed behind the chamber orchestra and play with non-tempered tunings, creating the effect of being nestled inside the electronics.

Illean writes of the piece,

Looking upon an open field (or any space), I like to contemplate the three dimensions of time contained within it: traces of the past, glimpses of the future, the slow turn of the present.

In this piece, three layers of music form a sonorous braid. They correspond in my imagination to ‘past’ (filtered recordings of piano chords), ‘present’ (a gradual passage of non-tempered sonorities performed by the consort and pre-recorded sounds) and ‘future’ (aqueous and luminous melodic lines, like a slow-motion breeze, or an image just beyond grasp).

The pre-recorded sounds for the piece were created partly in collaboration with Michael Acker (Experimentalstudio des SWR). Though different in character, they draw on the patch created for Illean’s Tiding II (silentium), which received its UK premiere at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in November 2023 from David Zucchi and the GBSR Duo. String samples were recorded by members of Explore Ensemble, whose recording of Weather a Rare Blue was released in 2023.

On 11 May 2024 arcing, stilling, bending, gathering will receive its UK premiere from Britten Sinfonia. The 19-minute piece is scored for piano, strings, and pre-recorded sounds and premiered with pianist Aura Go and musicians from the Australian National Academy of Music on 21 April at the Melbourne Recital Centre – their performance is now available to watch online. In the same programme Britten Sinfonia will also premiere two transcriptions for strings of chansons by Gilles Binchois by Illean.