‘blessed unrest’, was one of six short pieces commissioned by the New Zealand Trio as “attention-grabbing”, programme opening pieces. They wanted something that would start a concert “with all guns blazing”; a piece that ought to be “high-impact, dynamic and edgy”. It took a long time until I found something that I thought satisfied this demand, as I didn’t want to write an obviously motoric pulse-based piece. I wanted to create a sense of pent-up energy and its release in bursts. Many approaches were tried and rejected and while this was going on I came across the quote that gave the piece its title. I don’t think my dissatisfaction with earlier versions of the piece was either ‘queer’ or ‘divine’ and I dislike the lofty tone, but parts of Martha Graham’s statement nevertheless resonated with me: “There is vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not yours to determine how good it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is ever pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
Senryu – a Japanese poetic form similar to haiku “An inquiry into the nature of man”. Associating a poetic form with this music concerns the regular balanced proportions of section lengths. This strict formal outline is articulated freely and intuitively. A note on the metronome markings: The metronome markings are all defined by an increasing ration of 7:6. There is a 3/4 bar before each metronome change to give the proportional relationship leading to the new tempo. However each new tempo has been given a standard metronome mark which doesn’t correspond exactly to the mathematically correct tempo. This means that each new tempo can be rehearsed separately with standard metronome markings. It is also an indication that the metronome markings do not have to be treated too dogmatically. Suggestion for rehearsing: Practise each section separately at the correct tempo and later negotiate the tempo modulations to link them together. A matter of balance: In Senyru instrumental balance should be related to the string pizzicatos. In almost all cases the pizz notes need to balance with bowed notes or piano notes. Thus, the whole work will be relatively quiet but must still be intensely energetic!
Stapes is the first piece in a series of three trios collectively entitled Middle Ear. The stapes (or stirrup) is the smallest in the chain of three bones that transmit vibrations from the eardrum to the internal ear in the process of transformation of external soundwaves to an emotional or cognitive response within the listener. The composition of Stapes was largely dictated by the idiosyncrasies of the ensemble: the piano, suffering under equal temperament and timbral limitation, and the strings, free in pitch and hosting a wide timbral palette. The juxtaposition of these disparate musical entities, with the instruments working together and against each other, forms the basis of this work. The piece is physically and mentally demanding, pushing the players in individual and collective struggles for articulacy.