When I was asked to compose a piece as a concert-partner for Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Violin and Percussion Orchestra (or Koncherto por la Violono Kun Perkuta Orkestra, its official title in the Esperanto of which he was such a fervent advocate during his life), I was keen to write the antithesis of a concerto; I sought to create something that would involve all the players equally, performing strictly as one unit. Two very different examples of this attitude came to mind: the brief moment at the end of Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale (1918), where the violin blends into the percussion for a few seconds before vanishing and Steve Reich’s early-1970s loop-based compositions, Clapping Music and Six Pianos, written immediately after his trip to Ghana, where he studied drumming.
It seemed logical to allow the influence of Reich’s modern-day hocketing and Ghanaian-infused rhythmic ambiguities to permeate the periphery of my own piece as I already knew that the musical culture of Ghana is at the heart of ensemblebash. In addition, I decided to give a ‘nod’ to Stravinsky in the very opening violin chord, forming the basis of the first section which gradually shrinks with each of its three re-occurrences. While the background pulse remains constant (q = 252), the use of accenting and modulated time signatures creates a permanently shifting beat which is itself affixed to a broad sectional arrangement not dissimilar to a classical rondo.
It was interesting for me to watch how a completely new composition grew out of such geographically, musically and ideologically disparate stimuli. However, as Steve Reich wrote in his 1968 seminal essay, Music as a Gradual Process, ‘all music turns out to be ethnic music’.