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Haflidi Hallgrímsson

Publisher: Chester Music

Ears Stretch A Sensitive Sail (1998)
commissioned by the Northlands Festival
Chester Music Ltd
Small Ensemble (2-6 players)
Year Composed
25 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
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Programme Note
Haflidi Hallgrímsson Ears Stretch A Sensitive Sail (1998)

The title of my composition derives from a poem by the Russian poet Osip Mandelshtam. I chose it for two reasons: firstly, when I listened to Evelyn Glennie perform as a percussionist, I began to imagine that she was surrounded by a large and invisible sail, which she used to gather sounds towards her innermost being. Secondly, it was my intention to explore the sensitive and poetic world of percussion instruments; after all, the combination of a string quartet and percussion instruments, calls for sensitivity to balance, and a discreet use of the more brilliant and powerful members of the percussion family.

‘Ears Stretch a Sensitive Sail’ consists of seven movements, in which eleven different kinds of percussion instruments are explored within the context of a string quartet. The role of the quartet is constantly changing, according to which percussion instrument is being used. The quartet provides a harmonic framework, accompaniment and variety of textures, becoming a duo partner, providing an echo to prolong sounds and finally becoming an opponent who tries to gain the upper hand. Taken as a whole, the percussionist is the soloist, with the string quartet playing a supporting role.

The percussion instruments used are as follows:

Movement I: Suspended cymbal and tam-tam
Movement II: Steel drum and glockenspiel
Movement III: Tom-toms and bass drum
Movement IV: Tubular bells and crotales
Movement V: Snare drum
Movement VI: Marimba
Movement VII: Suspended sizzle cymbal and cow bells

© Haflidi Hallgrímsson

“The title of the new work Ears Stretch a Sensitive Sail taken from a poem by Osip Mandelstam, could almost have been written with Glennie in mind, says Hallgrímsson “Whenever I have heard Evelyn perform, it seems as if she has surrounded herself with a large invisible and sensitive sail which gathers sounds towards her innermost being.” Glennie is equally taken with Hallgrímsson’s fragile, yet colourful soundworld. “Haflidi’s writing is interesting as he treats the instruments like pieces of glass, he writes so delicately for them. He concentrates on the real sound colour and touch more so than I’ve seen in a long time, the tiniest stroke means something.” “Evelyn Glennies’s Celebrity Concert on Saturday night was also a magnificent tour de force. The combination of percussion and string quartet, engineered by the Northlands Festival with its commission from Icelandic composer Haflidi Hallgrímsson, was an overwhelming success. In Ears Stretch a Sensitive Sail, Glennies’s talents were matched by the immaculate Yggdrasil Quartet. The audience, which included a lot of young people were spellbound by the variety of delicate sounds Glennie seemed to coax out of thin air from a dazzling array of percussion instruments. The fairy-like sound of the glockenspiel and more metallic boom of the steel drum were initiated by the strings as they shadowed the percussion and vice versa.” “ Haflidi Hallgrímsson’s Ears Stretch a Sensitive Sail, written for Evelyn Glennie and the Yggdrasil String Quartet, sheds a whole new light on writing for percussion. Instead of the all-to-familiar macho battery of sounds, we hear a delicate, softer palette of colours. The strings are used to envelop the vibrations of the cymbals, echo the shimmering tubular bells and crotales and gently scrub beneath a tinkling glockenspiel. The interaction between Glennie and the quartet is spellbinding as the tom-toms stalk the strings or the strings shadow the snare drum in a mesmeric game of cat and mouse.”
Susan Nickalls, The Independent,01/08/1998
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