Last October I found the idea for a new violin piece, reading a book by Robert Macfarlane called The Wild Places. The book tells of his own personal attempt to get close to the wild, to feel it, think about its history and its value and the various ways in which we have related to it through human history.
At one point he writes about an ancient tradition called shan-shui: these artists, living in the mountains of China admired and revered the unconfined energy of the wild, its continuous coming-into-being. To this quality of aliveness they gave the name zi-ran, which might be translated as ‘wildness’, ‘self-thusness’ or ‘self-ablazeness’.
I was thrilled to discover this idea and make it the focal point of my new piece. At the same time, with the busy-ness of termtime and then a bout of illness around Christmas, it was a long time before I managed to make any real start on it. No doubt at some level ideas were brewing at the back of my mind, but they were far from being specific musical ideas, just some vague sense of what the whole thing ought to feel like. As time passes, the fact that it feels like a very powerful, inspiring idea also starts to become a pressure: if you’re going to tackle an idea like this then you have to come up with something worthy of it… Finally, in early March I was able to make a start, and (luckily, and quite unusually) once I’d got going the piece flowed with remarkably little hesitation. I’ve now had the pleasure of hearing Peter Sheppard Skaerved and Roderick Chadwick, the violinist and pianist for whom I wrote it, give a truly barnstorming first read-through, which was very exciting. I’ve rewritten just one part, where I felt the music slightly lost track of the central idea, and am now looking forward very much to the premiere on Sunday 27 April in Kettles Yard.