By way of the roof

In the early stages of composing a piece for the wonderful cellist Tim Gill and pianist-composer David Gompper I chanced across a book of verses by the mystical Sufi poet Rumi (13th C). Among the many beautiful images I found there I was especially drawn to these lines 

If the doors of repose have been barred to you,

Come, let us go 

By way of the roof and the ladder

and was attracted by the restless compulsion to move on, to escape, regardless of obstacles and prohibitions, and the unexpected pathways opened up.

I think of the cellist here as a mystic, continually chasing after a state of exultation, following where body and spirit lead, through dance, song and ecstatic prayer.

By way of the roof is dedicated to my good friend Harold Meltzer. Tim Gill and David Gompper will give the first performance at the University of Iowa, on November 20th, and then bring it to Cambridge UK for a concert on December 5th, also featuring music by Tom Ades, Richard Causton, Zoe Martlew and David Gompper.

Gazelle

For a couple of years I’ve been wanting to write a piece for the harpist Michelle Abbott, who works in Hong Kong and also in the US.  Finally this summer a good moment emerged, and with it a quiet theme, gently circling, or rather spiralling.  This theme is the core of the piece: it has a life of its own, continually ticking over, watching, weighing up.  Mostly it is cool, elegant, but occasionally it shows strength and speed.

GRANT'S GAZELLE maleIt was fairly soon after drafting out this main theme that I got the idea for the title.  A gazelle is elegant, poised, attentive, beautiful, a little mysterious.  In Arabic literature it is associated with the beloved, and there is a genre of Sufi love-poetry whose name ghazal probably comes from the same root.

The harp is a special instrument, and an intriguing challenge for pianist-composers because its music looks on the page like piano music, and to some extent feels like it too, but this is a trap.  Finding those shapes and gestures which really speak in the tones and resonances of the harp requires as a crucial first step forgetting all about the piano.  There are also technical issues to do with the pedals and the tuning of the strings which require thought, but actually they’re easy enough to master.  What has been fascinating has been to try to discover the harp’s mother tongue, or rather, imagine it.  It has felt a little bit like trying to imagine the thoughts and sensations of a gazelle.

Image:  NHPA/Photoshot