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Simon Bainbridge

Publisher: Novello & Co

Diptych (2006)
Commissioned by the British Broadcasting Corporation
Novello & Co Ltd
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
33 Minutes
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Programme Note
Simon Bainbridge Diptych (2006)
Venice’s numerous canals are a labyrinth of images and reflections. These can appear as perfect mirrors – crystal clear and completely still – only to suddenly dissolve, disturbed by movement and motion, and then to slowly and magically reform.

It was this evocative imagery that provided the starting point for the first part of Diptych. The piece is invented out of a continuous sequence of vertical components; harmonic “pillars” of different densities and colours, that at times are on the edge of audible perception. They are aurally informed by heterophonic echoes and distant polyphonic murmurings that constantly articulate the surface of the music. This creates an unstable musical environment, one that is in a perpetual state of flux, with the harmonies either solidified or in the process of evolving or dissolving.

The second part of Diptych also has a strong visual association; the image of a large symphony orchestra shattered, fragmented and scattered into a plethora of different instrumental groupings that gradually reassemble (like an aural jigsaw puzzle) into a seamless and fluid kaleidoscopic continuity.

This was achieved by dividing the entire orchestration of the piece into three re-invented chamber orchestras, each of which has one of three interrelated tempi. All three orchestral groups were assigned a series of three 2-minute pieces, each one deploying different instrumental ensembles. These 2-minute pieces (nine in all) were initially composed as complete, organic miniatures. Then, in the course of the compositional process, they were cut up into sections from 5 seconds to 30 seconds in duration, and finally assembled into a fusion of fragments, creating a kind of continuous harmonic and linear labyrinth.

Although the orchestral layout is conventional, the many different chamber groups from within the orchestra invite the listener to explore and discover the orchestral space. Indeed in the many string divisi sections, I have utilised equally the back desks and front desks of each section, either soloistically or in sub groupings, further spatialising the instrumental textures.

Like viewing a large canvas, the act of listening to Diptych Part 2 was conceived as an accumulative experience of familiarisation with the details that make up the work’s surface, and where at its conclusion there is a memory not only of the many entwining components of the piece, but also of an eventual unity.

The two parts of Diptych can be performed either together or separately, which is my preferred choice.

Simon Bainbridge, January 2007

In his Diptych, Bainbridge has gone exploring the sheer diversity of subtle combinations available from a hundred musicians, and come up with music that fascinates by its quietly mutating colours and almost heroic restraint, as though confident that the story of what it all means can be told on another occasion. Despite the name, Diptych is a work of two unequal parts, like a prelude and an elaboration. Bainbridge prefers that they be played separately, as they were at the BBC Symphony Orchestra's lucidly prepared premiere, one at the start of each half. Both take visual metaphors as their starting point: images that break up and reassemble in unexpected but coherent ways. The first deals in quiet chords and even quieter articulations of the space between them, often just with faint percussion rolls. Horn colour strengthens the palette and achieves a temporary dominance, but there is no melody or pulse, just flurries of notes rippling the surface. Harmonies recall Debussy, particularly Jeux, but with an implicit sense of evolution that steals up as the music proceeds. Part two sets out from similar stillness - separation makes it like a reminder rather than a continuity - but soon sustains a multi-layered concentration. It remains quiet, but activity is purposeful and eventually settles round a long melodic line that comes and goes.
Robert Maycock, The Independent,15/02/2007
Simon Bainbridge's new orchestral work, Diptych, is in two parts that the composer says he would prefer to be heard separately. In this premiere performance by the BBC Symphony under David Robertson, they were positioned as the opening items in each half. The first has its visual starting point in reflections of Venice seen in the canals when their surfaces break up and re-form. In Bainbridge's musical analogue, harmonic pillars dissolve into the polyphonic lines that form the music's surface, then solidify once more - a process repeated many times. Bainbridge's delicate harmonic and instrumental palette is finely deployed. The second panel is also concerned with fragmentation: here, of a large ensemble into three separate chamber-orchestra-sized units, which subdivide further into smaller groups and solos.
George Hall, The Guardian,14/02/2007
Normally it's only at "electronic music concerts" that the sounds are literally unfathomable, in the sense that you can't connect them with anything you're looking at. But some composers have a gift for making the familiar instruments of the orchestra seem equally extraterritorial. The 54-year-old British composer Simon Bainbridge is one of them. The very first sound of Diptych, his new two-movement piece premièred by the BBC Symphony Orchestra on Friday, was nothing more exotic than high trilling strings and a high oboe. But it registered as a glistening smear, followed immediately by a kind of afterglow of cymbals and triangle. The composer tells us the piece was inspired by the canals of Venice, which give the city back in a million reflections, sometimes still like a mirror, sometimes wavy and prismatic. Proper modernist that he is, Bainbridge removes the local reference and goes for the abstract sensation. There wasn't even a hint of a gondola song, just the constant play of mysterious brushed chords against silence. The second panel of this Diptych was much more extended and intricate. Now angular melodic lines emerged from the procession of chords, their corners picked out in highlights of different colours; a harp here, a muted trumpet there. The delicacy of the playing, and the sensitive rubato engendered by the conductor David Robertson, was a wonder to behold.
Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph,13/02/2007
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