de oro y sombra ...
for fourteen players
flute, bass flute, clarinet in B♭, 2 horns, 2 trumpets in C, harp, 3 violins, viola, cello, double bass
Year of composition:
BCMG Sound Investment
The Birmingham Contemporary Music Group / conducted by Oliver Knussen,
CBSO Centre, Birmingham, 25 September 2011
Two gates the silent house of Sleep adorn;
Of polish'd ivory this, that of transparent horn:
True visions thro' transparent horn arise;
Thro' polish'd ivory pass deluding lies.
Aeneid, trans. J. Dryden, Book 6, lines 893-6
de oro y sombras (of gold and shadows) follows closely from surrounded by distance (2008), where I was drawn to exploring the indefinable, yet seemingly precise, manner in which musical shapes and configurations arise spontaneously in my awareness as evocative appearances and illusory continuities. But this time the use of brass sonorities, which occasionally punctuate the continuous veil of translucent chords resting on the hollow sound of a bass flute, has led me to uncharted territories.
While composing the piece I became attracted by the mysterious spaces depicted in some ancient contemplative Chinese landscapes that I encountered at an exhibition at the Grand Palais. Seen from a distance, one of these thin horizontal hand-scrolls – coloured in muted ochre and pale lapis lazuli – seemed like a full-scale ‘tiger of gold and shadows’ (to borrow a phrase from Borges) lying in a glass case. But as I approached it, instead – no longer being able to see the totality at a glance due to its extensive width – I could discern a dense web of boulders, cliffs, a stream crisscrossed by footbridges, and winding paths bounded by balustrades that emerge to later disappear into masses of thickly foliated trees. I was particularly attracted to the combination of a densely saturated foreground with extended areas of open and vast background. Though mostly without apparent hierarchies, this intricate mountainous landscape is effectively punctuated by two solitary figures, which despite their minuscule size function as powerful focuses of attention: at the centre a boy carrying a basket of ‘mushrooms of immortality’, and at one extreme an alchemist ‘standing alone on a promontory, surrounded by an ocean of clouds …’.
de oro y sombras consists of four continuous sections entitled:
first gate: of polish’d ivory this
second gate: that of transparent horn
echoes: thro’ transparent horn arise
shadows: thro’ polish’d ivory pass
The beginning of each section is marked by the return of elements from the opening bars of the piece.
de oro y sombra rehearsal
BCMG, conducted by Oliver Knussen, September 2011