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Boundaries of the Possible

Simon Bainbridge's new BBC commission, 'Diptych'


The British composer Simon Bainbridge was present to receive the warm acclaim of an enthusiastic, large audience for his latest BBC commission, Diptych, given a compelling world première at the Barbican Centre [London UK] on 9 February 2007, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted with dynamic precision by David Robertson. Diptych comprises two contrasting movements which share a common soundworld and conceptual approach, and which may be played together or, with an intervening work, on this occasion Bartók's Piano Concerto No 3, forming part of a larger whole.

Diptych Part I presents a hushed, glacial sound sculpture, inspired by the 'labyrinth of images and reflections' of Venice, watery reflections which, as the conductor explained, adapt vertical harmonies into horizontal lines. The piece consists of a regular pulse of short full orchestral chords, complex, veiled, harmonies as if refracted through a prism, different yet similar each time, and interspersed by quiet passages of percussion, or decorative textures, trills, glissandi and the like, frissons of movement between monolithic, if slim, blocs of sound. It is a characteristically post-Boulezian idiom also suggestive of a postmodern urban architecture of tall glass buildings of different sizes and shades.

While at one level static, the piece also is processive, the connecting lines expanded and evolved as the piece progressed, the linking moments becoming more increasingly defined and characterful, towards the end, the shimmering vibrati of accordion and mandolin. Overall it created a sense of timeless space, and of spacious time, a place to explore awareness in peace, on the edge of silence, and the complex compression of contemporary consciousness.

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Copyright © 18 February 2007 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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