Commissioned by the BBC and first performed on 24 November 2006 at Hammersmith Town Hall, London, by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alexander Rumpf.
Between Earth and Sky
A celebration of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate
While Anish Kapoor’s work has greatly influenced my thinking in recent years, Between Earth and Sky is my first direct creative engagement with it. From the first time that I saw early images of Cloud Gate, his monumental sculpture of stainless steel set in Chicago’s Millennium Park, I was entranced. What particularly struck me was a sense of timelessness emanating from the work, and I wondered how such a sensibility could be explored musically, without becoming reductively minimalist. The simplicity of the work is immediate but deceptive, and seems to be inviting us into a symbolic sacred space, a region beyond mere personal expressiveness. As in much of Kapoor’s work, there is a joyfulness and luminosity. It goes far beyond the appreciation of beautiful objects, for the engagement is visceral and overwhelming – precisely his intention.
Cloud Gate is a monumental mirror, mirror of self and other, both private and public in its reach. Perception of it involves multiple reflections, for, much as it reflects us, the viewers, we, too, reflect it back in the mirror of our mind. My composition is one such reflective response, not an attempt at a literal ‘representation’ of the sculpture. In approaching a workable design for my composition, the seemingly endless curved skin of metal suggested to me an orchestral form perpetually turning in on itself, less teleologically driven, more contemplative in design, energised by a structural polyrhythmic backbone of constant glissandi that span all five movements and unify them in a single Grundgestalt. These glissandi work both at the microscopic level, of individual melodic lines in near constant curvature, as well as on a gigantic scale, moving slowly in the background, and reaching in opposite directions from the centre of the pitch spectrum. The reach is downwards and upwards, much as Cloud Gate itself seems to reach in both directions, earthwards and skywards, and sucks in the visual energy-imprints of both into its exterior reflective sheen in a celebration of primal power. These reaching-forth movements gave impetus and imagery to the core ‘Earth’ and ‘Sky’ sections of my work.
Apart from its exterior ‘public’ surface, however, the sculpture engages us more personally, within its interior dome: the omphalos, where we can view reflections of ourselves, and find, perhaps, inner spaces for meditation and transformation. Thus, my central third movement cradles an orchestral void in which almost all we hear is the aural illusion of an endless luminous ascent, devoid of narrative. ‘Ascension’ leads to the dancing forms of ‘Sky’, constructed on a fast-pulsating background, irradiated by glissandi. The motion, when it is finally arrested, tumbles down in a slow, string glissando to the static panel of the fifth movement where the orchestration reduces to reflective solo string writing, intimate responses to the monolithic and large-scale statements that have gone before.
To be given both the opportunity by the BBC to work on this piece and to be able to dedicate it to Anish Kapoor, I feel deeply privileged.
© 2006 Param Vir
NOTE ON CLOUD GATE:
Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate was first unveiled in Millennium Park, Chicago, in 2004. Inspired by liquid mercury, it stands 66 feet long and 33 feet high. The 110-ton elliptical structure is formed from a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates which reflect the city’s skyline. A central arch provides a gate into a concave chamber of mirrors, the 'omphalos', allowing the visitor to pass through the sculpture.