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Beethoven Plus

May 18, 2014

beethovenI’m very excited to have been invited by the fabulous violinist Krysia Osostowicz to write a piece for her Beethoven Plus project.  I’ve long admired Krysia’s playing, as a soloist and in Domus and the Dante Quartet.  She and pianist Daniel Tong have had the great idea of commissioning ten short new pieces, each one responding in some way to one of Beethoven’s ten violin-and-piano sonatas.

They have chosen an amazingly varied and exciting line-up of composers – the other nine are Huw Watkins, Philip Venables, Matthew Taylor, Kurt Schwertsik, David Matthews, Jonathan Dove, Elspeth Brooke, Judith Bingham and Peter Ash.

Beethoven is one of my very favourite composers and I listened to him a lot when I was a teenager. His personality is so strong that even 200 years later it seems wise to do something completely different rather than get too close and risk disappearing into his shadow. But that’s why this commission is so intriguing – I think the way I shall approach it is to do something completely different, and see what happens to a few snippets of Beethoven when they find themselves in this very different space.

beethoven-home-page2The eighth sonata is a special favourite of mine for its endlessly cheeky, inventive, subvertive energy and charm. There’s a particular spot about a minute and a half into the first movement with a strange, devilish texture, twisting quick and light but also dark and momentarily sinister. Whenever I hear or play this bit I always feel that it’s Beethoven at the piano – in a cheeky mood, but with a strange undercurrent. I don’t know what will happen to it in my piece, but this will definitely be one of the bits that gets transplanted into an alien landscape.

Recently I seem to keep coming back to the violin – after In a quiet place, Primavera and Ouija, my last piece was Self-ablaze which was given a blistering premiere last month by Peter Sheppard Skaerved and Roderick Chadwick.  If that was massive, fierce and direct, for the new piece I now need to find a very different way of thinking – nimble, elusive, oblique, teasing.

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