While it’s always very rewarding to go back over a piece written years previously and in re-writing find that problems which seemed intractable then are now more manageable, it is also very rewarding to find that, on occasion, you did an OK job the first time. Re-writing dov’è aperto l’azzuro, sketched in 2011, was one of the latter cases: the piece emerged from my pile of old sketches just as I remembered it – delicate, floating, ephemeral, brutal. Of course, I still made considerable changes: its rather spare skeleton score – an abandoned torso of an unfulfilled project – had to be reimagined primarily because of changes of instrumentation. From an impractically vast symphony orchestra, I was re-writing it for the chamber sized Secession Orchestra to play at the Novalis Festival on the island of Pag in Croatia later this month. Without the brooding weight of armies of brass and strings, I found myself looking for new ways of maintaining the piece’s energy, mainly through lots of decoration including the frequent criss-crossing of quasi-melodic arpeggiations. The way that Boulez coloured in his simple piano Notations in the later orchestrations – very often messily spilling over the original lines in the process! – was in the back of my mind, even though I was collapsing rather than expanding forces.
Rescuing things from the rubbish-heap is also rewarding, of course, if you’ve spent months writing them! Finding a new home for dov’è has been surprising and fun – the piece’s themes of islands, storms and (hopeful) imaginations of the future have meshed serendipitously with performance on Pag, especially in the context of the Novalis Festival (in its second year). The piece also seems to have reinvented itself as part of Gradiva, an opera in the (very) early stages of development with La Chambre Aux Echos. Drawing on Wilhelm Jensen’s 1902 novel, made famous by Freud, Gradiva is concerned with the new meanings that stuff dug up from the past takes on in the present. Set in Pompeii in the early C20th, our version reimagines the introverted protagonist as a C21st techno-nerd looking for satisfaction in the virtual world, while tsunamis rage in the outside world… Anyway, back to the present.
“After the storm, the clouds part above a dream-like island. You have never been there before; everything is fresh, and the dawn is filled with possibility. Time drifts past, intercut with aftershocks (or memories) of the storm’s violence. Inspired both by the beginning of Shakespeare’s Tempest and a beautiful moment in Nono’s Prometeo (‘ti grida la voce del dio / dov’è aperto l’azzuro‘), my piece is also an early fragment of Gradiva, an opera exploring storms, dreams, love, and climate change. “.