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Helen Grime

Publisher: Chester Music

Near Midnight (2012),
Commissioned by the Hallé Concert Society and first performed by the Hallé Orchestra, conducted by Sir Mark Elder on Thursday 23rd May 2013 at the Bridgewater Hall.
Chester Music Ltd
Year Composed
12 Minutes
Programme Note
Helen Grime Near Midnight (2012),
Near Midnight is the first piece that I have written for the Hallé as Associate Composer. I wanted to write a piece that played to the many strengths of the orchestra. There are moments of great virtuosity for individual orchestral sections, as well as music designed to exploit the very special, lyrical quality, which is so characteristic of this orchestra.
It is the second piece I have written recently that has a nocturnal quality; however, in the case of Near Midnight these night-time references are less overt and more personal. The solitary, sometimes melancholy, hours as one day moves into the next can be a time of reflection and unrest. When first sketching ideas for the piece, I came across a poem by D.H Lawrence called Week-night Service. Its melancholic undertones, images of tolling bells, high-spun moon and the indifference of night, immediately struck a chord with me. Throughout the piece fanfare-like brass passages act almost like the tolling of bells, sometimes distant but often insistent and clangourous, these episodes act as important markers in the structure of the piece.

Although continuous, the piece falls into four main sections. Beginning in the orchestra’s deepest register, with double basses and low brass, the music abruptly erupts into horn-lead fanfares. The first section is full of surging rising scales throughout the whole orchestra.

The second section is heralded by a fast, rhythmic duet for two trumpets punctuated by stabbing chords in the orchestra. Here the brass-led fanfares of the opening become more rapid outbursts in tuned percussion, upper woodwind and celesta.

Extended melody in the violins predominates in the third section forming the essentially melodic core of the work. Bright flourishes in woodwind, celesta and harp gradually take on a more significant role before becoming the central focus. The bell-like fanfares of the earlier sections begin to assert themselves once again before fragments of the restless, surging scales of the opening lead to the work’s main climax.

The final section is much quieter and reflective in nature, including solos for oboe, muted trumpet, clarinet and bassoon.


Preview the score

  • Ensemble
    Hallé Orchestra and Hallé Soloists
    Lynsey Marsh
    Sir Mark Elder and Jamie Phillips
Taking its inspiration from a poem by D.H. Lawrence, ‘Week-night service’, Grime summons a restless mood, ceaselessly manipulating the orchestral colours in a manner reminiscent of Oliver Knussen. There is much tumult - the brass section’s strident recurring fanfares were superbly executed and the ostinato repetitions had a disturbing, mechanic brittleness - as well as gloomy shadow and melancholy. The undulating rumblings of double basses and low harp and brass, supplemented by bells, at the start were particularly redolent of nocturnal misgivings. Nonetheless, the quieter third section which is the most moving of the work’s various parts. Here, the tender, meandering string line is supplemented by expressive flourishes from woodwind, harp and celeste The final section, too, sombre and reflective, laden with the static stillness of midnight, brought forward touching solos from the oboe, clarinet, bassoon and muted trumpet. I should very much like to hear this composition again.
Claire Seymour, Opera Today,10/08/2014
Helen Grime’s Near Midnight (2012), following Virga, confirmed her once again as a composer well-worth following.......Grime certainly conjures the hours of darkness, and owes to D. H. Lawrence’s poem, Week-night Service. Yet for all the enigmatic sounds and misty atmosphere of the opening, the 11-minute Near Midnight can be enjoyed in abstract terms, music that is active and teems with incident while compelling in the complexity of colour, rhythm and yearning expressiveness. Her deft handling of a large orchestra is also a joy in music that seems to resonate within itself, secrets enshrined therein, and may or may not have been influenced by Elliott Carter (although he came to mind) and maybe more so by Oliver Knussen. Whatever, Near Midnight is singularly impressive; expect this team’s recording of it on NMC next month
Colin Anderson, Classical Source,10/08/2014
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