About five years ago the Ensemble Modern commissioned a composition giving me relatively free rein over instrumentation, duration, and completion date. I was very excited about the opportunity and eager to start work, but first I had to finish a symphony and a cello concerto. However, when I wanted to begin writing the piece for Frankfurt, inspiration became silent, and remained silent for the next three years, apart from the two works for chamber orchestra: I experienced my first writer’s block.
This was not my first commission, but the first time that I was seriously worried about a piece and started thinking about the commissioning ensemble and its expectations. If anything, I held the Ensemble Modern in too high esteem. The ensemble is notorious for being a group of all-rounders who have already seen and done everything. However, it was simply time for me to challenge my self-belief as composer and to search out what kind of composer I really am.
Whatever the true reason was, I still didn’t get anything down on paper. Nothing would gel.
In 2008 a stipend from a New York foundation led me to an Italian lavender-castle from the 15th century, far away from everything else, deep in Umbria. The deadline for my first opera moved dangerously closer, but was barely started. The next commission for an orchestra was also waiting in addition to the piece for EM: only empty sheets.
When I came home six weeks later, though I hadn’t finished anything, the spell was broken. Behind the massive walls, drafts had been created for what within the next years should grow to one and a half operas, my second symphony, a double concerto, and a concerto grosso – and “In Circles”, the 30 minutes piece for Ensemble Modern. It became 16 works, 16 dances, circling around themselves. These initially seem to have no connection at all, but in fact – beside the fact that they were all created within a few weeks in a self-parametric creative frenzy – there are several connecting musical threads. Amongst others, one third of the pieces use a reducing and multiplying line similar to the concept of Mandelbrot’s fractals. The music alternates between really danceable, rhythmic themes and ideas which are definitely rather “inner” dances. As in a frenzy, as dreamed these imaginary dances are almost ended, before their real potential could have been unfolded. But gradually, when the big circle is closed, the complete image appears.