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John McCabe

Publisher: Novello & Co

Symphony No. 7 'Labyrinth' (2007)
Commissioned by the BBC for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Novello & Co Ltd
Year Composed
20 Minutes
Programme Note
John McCabe Symphony No. 7 'Labyrinth' (2007)
I grew up in Huyton and then the centre of Liverpool (just around the corner from the Philharmonic Hall), and one of my most potent memory images is of travelling by train into or out of Lime Street Station and going through what was then known as the Edge Hill Tunnel. Though the railway tunnel was not part of the system of caves and tunnels built in the early 19th century by the businessman and philanthropist Joseph Williamson (now known as the Williamson Caves), it was in the same area, and my abiding memory is of poking my head out of the train window and looking up one of the ventilation shafts and seeing, far overhead, a bird flying across the small square of visible blue sky.

'Labyrinth', my 7th Symphony, is in a sense a tribute for Liverpool’s 800th anniversary, and to the concept of a struggle towards the light from a dark labyrinth. The piece is continuous, beginning with a high piccolo solo and then tortuous cello and double bass lines, and gradually moving towards a faster tempo and an upward resolution. The melodic lines themselves are dominated by a sense of upward striving, and though the musical language I use is probably not a particularly difficult one, there are sections where the argument is quite tough and reflects the struggle behind the initial idea. The Symphony was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and first performed by them, conducted by Vasily Petrenko, on 14th September 2007 in the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool.

© 2007 by John McCabe

…John McCabe’s Labyrinth – his Seventh Symphony – was a more ambitious affair, inspired by the man-made caves outside Liverpool, and also (the composer suggests) a metaphor for the city’s historical struggle from darkness to light. Beginning with pastoral birdsong, then passing through bi-tonal turbulence, it gradually gathered its energies into a sonorous dancing finale. A well-made symphony that deserves to be heard outside the city that nurtured it.
Richard Morrison, The Times,18/09/2007
It is a pleaseing, well-considered contemplation, which positively yearns to take wing and to be at one with nature, rather than weighed down by trials and tribulation.
Joe Riley, Liverpool Echo,17/09/2007
John McCabe's Symphony Labyrinth is a more reflective work, inspired by McCabe's childhood memories of the sky over Liverpool as seen from a train. Beautifully written and occasionally reminiscent of Sibelius, it generates considerable tension through the juxtaposition and development of soaring woodwind with phrases that rise, with mounting insistence, from the depths of the strings.
Tim Ashley, The Guardian,17/09/2007
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