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18' 00"
3334, 4331, hp, pf, timp, perc. 3 players (resaresa (rainstick), 7 roto-toms, xylophone, vibraphone, claves, metal chimes, tamtam,bass drum,tapped stones, 5 suspended cymbals, flax bundle, 5 woodblocks, guiro) strs.
one movement


audio/mpeg,715k Recording (715k) 17'00" - 18'00"© Atoll Records
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audio/mpeg,468k Recording (468k) Excerpt from 'the improbable ordered dance' performed by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya© RNZ Concert
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Programme Note

In his 1974 collection ‘The lives of a Cell’, Lewis Thomas wrote a memorable essay devoted to the spectrum of sound made by all living creatures. He believes that as well as producing sounds in every possible way to send messages to their own kind, all creatures have the urge to make some kind of music. The rhythmic sounds emitted by all creatures might, Lewis suggests ‘be the recapitulation of something else – an earliest memory, a score for the transformation of inanimate random matter in chaos into the improbable ordered dance of living forms.’ It was this essay, together with my fascination in the rediscovery of the part of Auckland I knew as a young child, that have shaped this piece.

The basis of the piece is the twelve possible three-note groups which function to form molecular structures – harmonic, textural, gestural, melodic – some simple, some complex, often symmetrical. The piece could be regarded as part of a classical tradition, in that it focuses primarily on balance of pitch and orchestration rather than on gesture or programmatic elements, and places the instrumental writing well within the range of the instruments rather than exploiting their extremes.

The improbable ordered dance is in a single movement and begins with a ghostly chant-like melody over a drone; this recurs in different forms several times during the piece. A transition section based on transformed sounds of nocturnal birds leads to a metrically free ‘dawn chorus’. The following chorale-like passages and the rapid sections that follow are part of a restless upward-moving continuum which can never settle nor ever finish. The later sections of the piece recycle, combine and finally dissipate the earlier material.

Composed in 2000 while Gillian Whitehead was composer-in-residence for the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

Performance History

World Premiere for P: the improbable ordered dance; APO c. Harth-Bedoya 31 May 2001 Performed by the Auckland Philharmonia conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya in the Auckland Town Hall, Auckland
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
12 May 2006 Performed by the NZSO, conductor Kenneth Young
05 May 2016 Performed by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, music director Giordano Bellincampi at the Auckland Town Hall, 5 May 2016
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra



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