Upon entering a painting was written in 2008/09, and it was commissioned, with funding from the Britten-Pears Foundation and the RVW Trust, by Piano 4 Hands (Joseph Tong and Waka Hasegawa), to whom it is dedicated. The inspiration of the piece was the kind of painting which, as you gaze at it, seems to draw the onlooker into the frame, indeed into the very paint itself. The specific trigger for the idea of the piece was the Rothko Exhibition at Tate Modern in 2008 – Rothko has long been a favourite painter of mine, even though his creative world is very different from my own. However, there were one or two paintings in the exhibition in which I felt strongly this sense of being drawn into the inner life of the painting, especially when I was able to incur the wrath of the curators and step close to the paintings and examine the surface in detail. The opening and closing sections of the piece, with their gradual thickening of the harmonies and (at the end) equally gradual thinning, reflect this sense of stepping forward into and backward out of the works. The inner life of the faster sections, while apparently very un-Rothko-like, reflects the extraordinary, teeming inner life of the brush-strokes.
Programme note © Copyright 2009 by John McCabe