Composition Date: 1991
Commissioned by the Northern Light Festival, Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Britten Sinfonia and the Woodend Barn Arts Association for Evelyn Glennie.
First performed by Evelyn Glennie (marimba/perc) with Tromsø Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Bjarte Engeset, Tromsø, Norway, 2005.
Trance o Nicht
(Passage of Night)
For marimba, percussion and orchestra
Sally Beamish 2004
I Yird on-ed Sin: Mirk
II Scurryvaig III Erst Licht
The work was commissioned for Evelyn Glennie, to be premiered at the Northern Lights Festival in Tromsø, Norway, and both these facts influenced the creation of the concerto. I started with four poems, drawing on the dialect of Evelyn’s North East Scotland, which may be spoken as part of a tape installation accompanying the piece, or delivered live. The title has two meanings – reflecting both the dream-like nature of the texts, and also the Scots ‘trance’, which means a passage, or corridor; a passage through the Arctic night; the absence of the sun, and its return.
The main protagonist of the concerto is the marimba, which is coloured by a pair of contrasted instruments in each movement. The first movement is written around the first two poems. The prologue, ‘Yird on-ed Sin’ (Earth without Sun), is a lament. An opening marimba soliloquy, echoed by piccolo, descends gradually to ‘Mirk’ – an evocation of darkness, which forms the main body of the movement, characterised by low marimba gestures and incessant virtuosity on temple blocks. At the end, a recurrent rocking theme fades into silence.
The second movement, ‘Scurryvaig’, or Vagabond, is a description of the Northern Lights, incorporating ideas of solar wind and electric activity. The marimba is complemented by bells and bowed cymbals. Energetic woodwinds are set against a skyscape of static, sustained string colour. The third movement, ‘Erst Licht’, begins with solo cello – a flirtation with a few notes, gradually drawing in the marimba until they form a duet. Around them, the strings gather, building a carpet of simple tonality, against which fragmentary woodwind calls stand out, like birds. The marimba begins a quirky, hesitant passage, from which the orchestra gathers itself into a swaying, pulsating dance, becoming frenzied with the build-up of cymbals and tam tam. The strings emerge with a rhythmic ostinato, against which patterns are woven; layered with the sounds of ancient brass, primitive drumming and birds. After a brief return to the opening ‘dawn’ music, and a final sunburst of tam tam, the concerto ends with a flourish that hangs, expectant.
Evelyn Glennie’s voice recording of the poems was made by Ben Fenner. *
The composer wishes thank the poet Donald Goodbrand Saunders and Dr Gilbert McKay for their guidance on the Scots text, and Stirling Writers’ Group for their advice during the creation of the poems.
The work was co-commissioned by the Northern Lights Festival, (Nordlysfestivalen), Svenska Kammarorkestern (Swedish Chamber Orchestra), Britten Sinfonia with support from the Arts Council of England, and the Woodend Arts Association with support from the Scottish Arts Council. It was first performed by Evelyn Glennie with the Tromsø Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Bjarte Engeset, at the Northern Lights Festival in Tromsø, Norway, on 27th January 2005. The first Swedish performance was given by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra conducted by James MacMillan in Orebro, February 2005. The first Scottish performance was given by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jurjen Hempel, as part of ‘Sound’ – North East Scotland’s Contemporary Music Festival, in November 2005.
*available only direct from Evelyn Glennie. If this is used in performance, both Evelyn Glennie and Ben Fenner must be acknowledged in the programme note. The poems may also be performed live by an actor, or by the soloist, either during or before the performance.