Piano Concerto No. 2: Cauldron of the Speckled Seas
Composition Date: 2016
Orchestration: Solo Pf - Picc.2.2.2.BCl.2.CBsn - 4.3.2.BTbn.1 - Timp - 4 Perc - Hp - Str
First performed by Martin Roscoe with the BBCSSO conducted by Thomas Dausgaard on 10 December 2016 at the City Halls, Glasgow.
Commissioned by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
The starting point for the concerto was a suggestion from its dedicatee, Martin Roscoe, that it might in some way be based on the whirlpool at Corryvreckan, off the west coast of Scotland.
Martin and I took a boat trip out to the whirlpool, and I also took my three grown-up children. It was this experience – a family outing – that got me thinking about the trajectory of life, and how its themes on occasion are thrown into a kind of maelstrom – emerging transformed.
It was less than a year after the death of my violinist mother, who had a huge influence on my development as a composer – giving me the tools to write music at a very young age. My childhood was defined by music, and it is my mother's love of Shostokovich which has inspired the main theme of the work.
Cauldron of the Speckled Seas is a translation of the Gaelic corryvreckan. Expressed as a single movement, the piece opens with a violin solo, and the piano's role develops gradually from simple commentary to impassioned virtuosity at the work's climax.
The first section is an exposition of themes, which feature woodwind, brass and strings/harp respectively, finally combining into the first full orchestral tutti.
The second part embarks on a journey, or voyage – restless, with shimmering semiquavers in piano. This gradually builds into a frenzied, relentless tutti, exploring the lower resonances of the piano, which interacts with different drums. A whirlpool effect is created by a single chord traversing the orchestra, while the piano explores the simple theme from the original exposition. In the midst of the climax a sudden quiet descends, from which the piano emerges on a single note, settling into a jazz-inflected moment of calm which opens a reflective cadenza, drawing in soloists from the orchestra.
The voyage music returns briefly as the background for a joyous recapitulation of the main themes; then, diminishing, dissolves into the final section, which is an exact retrograde of the opening; rescored with new soloists and with a gentle commentary from the piano.