A response to the pottery and writing of Edmund de Waal, Martin Suckling’s Psalm, for harp and three spatialised ensembles (13 players in all), was unveiled in November by the Aurora Orchestra. The venue for the premiere was London’s Royal Academy of Arts, where de Waal curated ‘On White’, an exhibition of his favourite white objects and paintings, from death masks and medieval ivories to contemporary photographs and sculpture. The 12-minute work also featured as part of an evening of words and music related to the German poet Paul Celan at Kings Place.

In Psalm, the harp acts as the lynchpin – generating (almost) all of the material, which is then refracted through the ensembles. It’s a similar situation to that which Suckling is exploring in his piano concerto And This Was How It Started for Tom Poster and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (to be premiered in 2017) though, its composer observes, ‘the energies and dynamics of the two pieces are entirely different..'


‘Suckling’s absorbing new work, Psalm… You can interpret the ‘’whiteness’’ of the 18-minute Psalm in different ways. Suckling subverted the brief any imagining a prism of white light refracted into all the colours of the rainbow. Yet he also wanted to fold in a response the poetry of Paul Celan, which responds to the trauma of the Holocaust. Like the colour white, it’s something you can contemplate without adequate description.

What emerges has an aura that lingers after the final bars. The main storyteller is the solo harp, pinging around icy broken chords that gradually shimmer and bend through the two other chamber ensembles ranged around the room.

At first it’s a little like ‘’white noise’’, as if someone is tuning an old-fashioned TV without finding a channel. As the piece develops, however, the harpist turns into a frustrated balladeer: harsher chords emerge and there’s a sense of underlying ferocity. Finally, in a quotation from the Gaelic psalm Martyrs (a sensitive nod to Celan’s poetry), the viola introduces a shard of song, though it sounds more like a rite. Suckling a composer with a vividly theatrical imagination, has risen to the challenge of writing literally colourless music with haunting effect.’

The Times (Neil Fisher), 12 November 2015


Read Martin's '7 fragments after Edmund de Waal' here