A span of 18 years straddles the first and the final pieces of The Nightshade Trilogy, a collection of compositions all delving into the seemingly endless perceptions of the basic contrasts in life such as high/low, loud/soft, fast/slow, etc.
The idea of writing three pieces of music all exploring the same core-material didn´t materialize till well after the completion and subsequent premiere of the first “instalment”, as it were. When looking up Nightshade in the dictionary you will – after having learned that the term is a common denominator for a particular family of plants and vegetables such as potato and eggplant – realize that there´s a more sinister variety lurking in the dark: deadly nightshade, a poisonous plant Atropa Belladonna. Now, that´s more like it, definitely more alluring and mysterious than potato. It was, however, not the botanical distinctions inherent in the word which led me into choosing it as a title of a piece, which came about as the result of a commission in 1986 from the London-based(now defunct)chamber-group Capricorn.
NIghtsthade was premiered by them the following year under the baton of Oliver Knussen at St. John´s, Smith Square, London. The word itself, or rather the abundant sonorous possibilities conjured up by the connotations hiding behind the two words night and shade had been “slow-cooking” at the back of my mind for a while back then, so I thought: why not go for it? I subsequently settled on a combination of instruments capable of encompassing an extreme range of pitches: alto flute/piccolo; oboe; contrabass clarinet; contrabassoon; french horn; trombone; percussion; piano; violin; double bass thus evoking an almost gothic association with pale moonlight, tombstones, crypts and the elusive shadows deep inside an ancient forest at the deep of night…
In 1991 the St. Magnus Festival of the Orkney Islands wanted a new piece from me to be premiered by The Scottish Chamber Orchestra the following year, more precisely on 20 June at the St. Magnus Cathedral, conducted by Ivor Bolton. Having chosen the title The Second Nightshade it was now obvious to all and sundry, including myself, that I had embarked upon a project involving more than just one piece dealing with the word Nightshade and its multitude of connotations.
With The Second Nightshade – subtitled A symphonic Nocturne - the contrasting worlds of dark and light are predominantly presented horizontally. The composition is divided into two sections almost demonstratively at odds with each other. In the first half the listener is being relentlessly chased on a panicky, creepy-crawly night-ride through a dangerous forest of almost Brothers´ Grimm-like bleakness, depicted by sliding violins, yapping brass and thumping bass drum, only to escape into a clearing bathed in pale-bright moonlight in the form of a slowly progressing chorale.
The piece is scored for medium-sized orchestra employing two of each wood winds, horns, trumpets, trombones and bass drum and a modest string section. That´s obviously a step up the symphonic “ladder” from Nightshade with its modest crew of only 10.
- Poul Ruders, May 2014