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Kevin Volans

Publisher: Chester Music

Concerto for Double Orchestra (2001)
Commissioned by the BBC Symphony Orchestra
Work Notes
Commissioned by the BBC Symphony Orchestra
Chester Music Ltd
Year Composed
20 Minutes
Programme Note
Kevin Volans Concerto for Double Orchestra (2001)
Having avowed that he was not a minimalist throughout the writing of the work for which he is best known (the African‑based pieces), Kevin Volans has recently turned to minimalist architecture and painting as a source of inspiration. Invoking the Japanese term 'wabi' (' voluntary poverty' or 'emptiness'), he cites his aim as being to strip music of its content. He remarks: "The music of the 20th century is cluttered and busy I want to write something that is full of empty spaces and that allows the listener time to move about in.'

The original source of inspiration for the Concerto for Double Orchestra was an exhibition by the sculptor Rebecca Horn (she is not known as a minimalist). After spending the weeks sketching material inspired by one of Horn Feather Pieces, Volans ran into difficulties and returned to the exhibition to see her films. As a blank screen with empty lines came up (before the film started), Volans was struck by a new idea in its entirety for the work. He returned home and composed it in short score in a single day.

Volans has divided the players for his work into two almost equal orchestras ‑ left and right. The two groups toss a chord to and fro between them. The bulk of the piece consists of only one chord, based on open fifths and very quietly coloured with other pitches which in no way alter or add emotional meaning. His interest is in structuring and varying the beginnings and endings of the various occurrences of the chord: they may be hard‑edged, soft-edged or even blurred in different parts of the piece. Towards the end, new material is added, creating a gentle rocking motion between the two orchestras.

In the past Volans has stated that he has been interested in going beyond historicism (1970s), beyond style (1980s) and beyond form (1990s). Now, in a new millennium, he hopes he is moving beyond content. In essence he is aspiring towards going beyond music (sound as art) into art (art as sound).

Programme note by Mary Rorich © BBC

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