A rhapsody upon a song half-heard

This was composed for a project run by the Salzburg Mozarteum in Austria. They have a scheme to develop the orchestra of the similarly named institution in Havana and a small group of us from the Balthasar-Neumann organisation went across in March 2014 to coach, teach and conduct.  The main piece on the programme was Beethoven's Eroica and I wanted the heavy brass to have something to do - so I wrote for Eroica band plus bones and percussion.  My colleagues were surprised that I composed a slow, melancholy piece for the occasion but my logic was good, I think.  It's all very well for a pale European to come home from Cuba and say to the other pale Europeans "look at all these salsa rhythms I picked up".  They'll be duly impressed.  But a pale European turning up in Cuba with his pale salsa rhythms?  Errrr....no.  Such a thing would be beneath the coals to Newcastle cliché and nobody who's spent as much time in the Caribbean as I have is likely to retain any illusions as to his limin' moves.

I conducted the first performance in Havana on April 6th and I believe they're going to stream a video of it at some point.  For now, here's the programme note and links to the Balthasar-Neumann site, which has more about the fabulous Mozarteum project.

A few years ago I made a long solitary journey across Cuba.  I had travelled too much that year, I was tired and this, added to the fact that I cannot read a map, meant that in a short while I was hopelessly lost.  I didn't mind; it was pleasant to wander without a plan or any sense of where I was going.  Despite the heat, the countryside reminded me of the heart of England; the land rolls in the same gentle way, the towns are small, the people are reserved but friendly.  As in England, it rained: suddenly the downpour was too heavy for safe driving, so I stopped in Bolondrón.  The sidewalks there are covered; I sat and waited as a river flowed down the main street. Nearby, someone was singing.  It was a song filled with life, its haunting refrain half covered by the sound of falling rain.  A bus appeared, discharged its cargo of noisy schoolchildren and was on its way again.  That arrival and departure provide the beginning and end of the piece and the song, half-heard and half remembered, runs through it, a river from which all the themes spring.

Orchestra Project in Cuba

First performance of Bolondrón

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