Symphony (2022)
Instrumentation: 2(2+picc)
Commissioned by Internationales Chor und Orchester Musikfestival Kassel

Dedicated to Christine Lucia
Bardic Edition
Study Score in preparation
Available from
Goodmusic Publishing
Full Score and Parts on hire from
Schott Hire Library
Duration: 31 minutes, 30 seconds

First performance: 8 December 2023; Kassel, Germany; Kyiv Symphony Orchestra, Arjan Tien (conductor)

Programme note
The history of my first symphony goes back to 2010 when I was commissioned by the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra to write a new work. I had sketched the first two movements before a political upheaval put paid to the project and it was consigned to the bottom drawer for the next decade. It was only when the Internationales Chor und Orchester Festival Kassel commissioned a symphonic work that I retrieved the sketches in January 2022 and worked on the piece for the next six months.

Just as my first string quartet (2001) was a kind of summing up of my experience of that particular repertoire, and a musical bridge between Africa and Europe - the two continents where I had lived and worked - so is this symphony. Many of the symphonies I’d studied and lived with over five decades – Beethoven 9, Ives 4, Bruckner 6, Mahler 5 and 9, Rachmaninoff 2, Sibelius 6, Messiaen “Turangalîla”, Stravinsky “Symphony in 3 Movements”, Berio “Rendering”, Debussy “La Mer” – played a role in the unfolding of my work.

The first movement is cast in something like traditional sonata form, more by accident than design, with the first group of themes using birdsong (transcribed from recordings made in Cape Town), the second theme using slowed fragments of a popular political song. The second movement is a Scherzo and Trio, including an exact repeat of the Trio. It is a set of variations on the great tune for the mbira dza vadzimu (Zimbabwean thumb piano), “Nyamaropa”, with virtuoso parts for clarinet and bassoon. The Trio refers back to an earlier composition of mine based on the Xhosa song “Inxembula”, originally accompanied by the one-string uhadi bow.

Reconstructing those two movements from the sketches was relatively straightforward, how to continue much less so. I decided to use the organ as a bridge from the musical material of 2010 to the material of 2022, a bit like Berio used the celeste in his “Rendering” to bridge the Schubert 10
th Symphony sketches and Berio’s newly-composed material. At the same time, I cannot deny the impact on the last movement of the aggression that began in Eastern Europe as I started working on it in February 2022. In retrospect it seems brutal and relentless, but that is the reality. After that there was no question of a fourth movement.

The work is dedicated to Christine Lucia and lasts about 32 minutes.

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