The five movements of my suite are arrangements for violin and piano of various occasional pieces of mine composed between 1996 and 2002. The final movement is subtitled Snow Flurry as the original upon which it is based was written during an early winter snow storm in Toronto in November, 2002.
A Viola on Skye was inspired by a trip to Scotland that included a stay on the Isle of Skye in the depths of winter. The initial sketches for the work were made at the time, influenced by the bleak, barren but richly hued landscape. This is personified by the characteristic timbre of the instrument and accounts for the particular sweep and colour of the music.
The work falls naturally into two parts and can be described as a transition from complexity to simplicity. The first is characterized by a great variety of activity – agitated configurations, short melodic phrases, alternations of sul pont, pizzicato, arco, tremolo and so on. The structure is loosely based on a twelve note series and features a series of twelve groups. These are short sections of music, each emphasising one of the notes of the series. There are only four types of groups used so the first part of the work can be heard as three related variations. The second part of the work uses the series material melodically. It opens with these notes presented in the order and registers established in the preceding part. Ultimately this develops into an extended melodic line with the close of the work attaining the ultimate in simplicity – a repeated note.
“The sanskrit equivalent for initiation is abhisheka, meaning ‘sprinkle’, ‘pour’, ‘anointment’. And if there is pouring, there must be a vessel into which the pouring can fall. So at last we might really give up all these complications and just allow some space, just give in. This is the moment when abhisheka – sprinkling and pouring – really takes place, because we are open and are really giving up the whole attempt to do anything, giving up all the busyness and overcrowding. Finally we have been forced to really stop properly, which is quite a rare occurrence for us.”
(Taken from Chogyam Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, from album Nederlands Blazers Ensemble: Zeibekiko, NBECD014).
The composer writes: ”Drafted immediately after reading a book by the Buddhist guru Chögyam Trungpa, Abhisheka was my first-ever attempt at writing music with space in it. Until this piece, practically everything I had written was ultra-caffeinated, fast, full of notes, and murder on performers. But having been (albeit temporarily) inspired by the great truths and peace in Trungpa’s writing, I found myself navigating slower passages of musical time, as well as exploring the microcosm of inner space between the even intervals of our chromatic tuning system.”
Abhisheka by John Psathas was chosen for the list of string quartets in 2000 for ‘IAMIC Sounds of the Year’. The composer has also prepared versions of Abhisheka for mixed chamber ensemble, this version performed by Manos Achalinotopoulos, Vangelis Karipis and Nederlands Blazers Ensemble at Paradiso, in Amsterdam in 2004, and for string orchestra (2008).
Programme note from the New Zealand String Quartet’s 2012 New Zealand at Kings Place concert.
Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio and Pierre Boulez have long been in my group of compositional heroes. Not that I have always understood or accepted what they were doing but rather because they opened new vistas of compositional processes.
Stockhausen in particular offered composers new ideas about the way music is structured. His ‘moment’ forms made a deep impression and his early electronic music pieces Gesang der Jünglinge and Kontakte blazed new pathways. They are classics in the music of the twentieth century.
Adieu KS for solo vioklin is my musical way of offering a deep sense of gratitude to Karlheinz Stockhausen. This short hommage nods in the directly of Stockhausen’s early Sonatina for violin and piano and utilises a sequence of pitches from this work. Fragments contrast with continuity, melody with violinistic sounds and movement with stasis.