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Helen Grime

Publisher: Chester Music

Woven Space (2017)
Commissioned for Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra by the Barbican
Work Notes
Winner of the prize for Large-scale New Work at the Scottish Awards for New Music 2019
Chester Music Ltd
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
22 Minutes
Programme Note
Helen Grime Woven Space (2017)

I. Fanfares
II. Woven Space
III. Course

Helen Grime wrote her first orchestral piece, Virga, for the London Symphony Orchestra just over a decade ago, music of spectral luminescence and captivating mystery, suitably named after an upper-sky phenomenon, of shafts of rain that seem to hang in the air, never reaching ground level, because they will have evaporated away. Now, in this bigger composition, her thinking turns from nature to art – though not all the way, for Woven Space takes its title from a structure by Laura Ellen Bacon, whose work, exploding the notion of basketry, is done with fresh willow twigs wound into forms that might echo those of plant growth or water flow. In her choices of both material and structure, therefore, Bacon is an artist of the natural, which would be one reason for Grime to find her work sympathetic. What Bacon does with withies, Grime accomplishes with lines of notes: shapes them into curves, balances their strains, weaves them.

One big difference, of course, is that where Bacon’s pieces, often made for specific outdoor locations, are bound to disintegrate within a few years, a musical composition will with time become firmer, as successive performances discover its strengths. Another is that woven space, in music, must be woven time.

The first movement, ‘Fanfares’, was written for the orchestra’s opening concert of the season, back in September. ‘Bright, dance-like’ is the marking at the start, aptly describing the characters of the two kinds of music set in motion and how they interact: clangs from tuned percussion with rushing woodwind scales are intercut with, then combined with, a springing drive from strings, harp and celeste.

Trumpets and horns, hitherto mostly in the background, spill forwards at an initial climax and stay involved, up to a point where the music becomes ‘Submerged, distant’. The cor anglais sets out a line that is threaded through what follows, along with reminiscences, until there comes a full restoration of brilliance in a melding of the musical principles that initiated the movement. The ending, though, is again withdrawn.

‘Woven Space’, the title the big central movement shares with the whole work, was also the name of a structure Bacon created at Chatsworth in 2009, an enclosure in an enclosure, made of curving walls of interlaced willow twigs within the spaces of an ancient yew.

Grime’s music may similarly give a sense at times of enfolding the listener. Its opening is mysterious, a resonance of bells and tam tam sustained by muted brass and lower strings as background for lines winding down in groups of second violins. To these the firsts respond with defined figures, thus re-establishing, in a very different atmosphere, the contrast that sparked off ‘Fanfares’. A third item is due, and it comes with a brass chorale. Then everything begins to interweave, to interconnect, and to strengthen in doing so, until the growing tension is released in bright triplet energy, coming first from high woodwind and celesta. Slower music persists on other levels, but the exuberance bounds on. As woodwind solos and duets come forward, the movement arrives at its close, with alternations between steady melodic winding and triplet speed.

The finale also takes its title, ‘Course’, from a work of Bacon’s, a channel of woven willow made to snake down into the river in the grounds of Hall Place, in Bexley. ‘Driven’ is the marking, for music that maintains its swirling motion of lines upon lines, speeds upon speeds, through a central sequence in which the drive recedes into the distance for a focus on woodwind solos. When the energy comes forward again, impelled by trumpets, something is held in reserve. Then, with earlier ideas rushing back, the music can be let fly.

Programme note © 2018 Paul Griffiths
Not to be reproduced without permission

Preview the score

  • Ensemble
    London Symphony Orchestra
    Simon Rattle
    LSO Live:
...subtle, gleaming intricacies...
Fiona Maddocks, The Observer,29/04/2018
This is Rattle’s kind of new music, driven forward by, if not excessively reliant upon striding pedal points and skittering ostinato figures. The piece grows appreciably outwards from a slow, rocking branch of an idea planted at the opening of the central movement. Grime has never been one for protracted closures, and the thrust of Woven Space is abruptly cut off at its knees, though one suspects that the harmony has run its course to that very point with the kind of structural ingenuity and economy that would have raised a dry nod of approval from Haydn.
Peter Quantrill, The Arts Desk,27/04/2018
Helen Grime’s new composition Woven Space, given its world premiere by the LSO under Simon Rattle, takes its inspiration from a willow-woven creation by the artist Laura Ellen Bacon. As such, the opening, incident-packed movement, Fanfares deploys Grime’s usual striking palette of sonorities, while its closing bars set off a coruscating ripple that hangs in the air. The interweaving strands and often brittle sonorities of the second movement recreate the lattice forms of Bacon’s work, while the downward trajectories of the third aptly reflect her willows. The aspiring, string-rich lines and voluptuously bitter-sweet harmonies have an almost Mahlerian quality and provided a suitable complement to his Ninth Symphony.
Barry Millington, Evening Standard (London),23/04/2018
Taking its name from a piece by the sculptor Laura Ellen Bacon, who works with natural materials, the new score may aspire to being something of a sound sculpture of "woven time", but it is a symphony in all but name. Structured in three movements and lasting around 25 minutes, it opens with a lively jostling of textures.... Grime has something authentic to say when she gets to the haunting central movement, with a sustained luminosity that is far from typical in modern British music.
John Allison, The Telegraph,21/04/2018
Back in September, when Rattle began his new life with the LSO, the movement of Grime’s piece [Fanfares] was included in his opening concert. We were promised more then, and here it is: two more movements, all inspired by the extraordinary creations of the British artist Laura Ellen Bacon, who weaves strands of willow and other natural materials into gardens. That sounds placid and genteel, but what it has triggered in Grime’s imagination is anything but. The three movements are disparate in tempo and mood, but all convey tumultuous tussle – between contrasting instrumental textures and between themes. Grime increasingly has the confidence and technique to build these into longer movements that ebb and flow, and ebb again.
Richard Morrison, The Times (London),19/04/2018
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