Thursday Lunchtimes: Sally Beamish In Focus


Sally Beamish Between Earth and Sea for flute, viola and harp

Daniel Jacob-Ormson flute
Kevin Saw viola
Jess Hughes harp

Sally Beamish Quartet No 2: Opus California (version for saxophone quartet)

Leah Waddington soprano saxophone
Matthew Hodson alto saxophone
Zack Smith tenor saxophone
Jasmine Brown baritone saxophone

Sophie Nolan Strana Sorte for guitar duo

Nico Buri, Tom Dale guitars

Sally Beamish Epilogue for string quintet

Jacob Wright, Sam Lawson violins
David Mullooly, Henry Grant violas
Aoife Anson-O’Connell cello

Programme notes

Sally Beamish: Between Earth and Sea for flute, viola and harp

The piece is based on an ancient Celtic caoine or lament, which has its source in the call of the redshank – a mournful, falling pi-li-li-liu. John Purser, in Scotland´s Music, writes: ‘The redshank was held to represent the transition from life to death, living on the edge of the land on which man lives, and the ocean which represents eternal life.’ Between Earth and Sea is dedicated to the memory of Ellen and Alice Paterson, who lived only a few weeks.

Between Earth and Sea was commissioned by the Nash Ensemble with funds provided by the Nash Concert Society. It was first performed at the Purcell Room, London on 5 March 1997 by Philippa Davies (flute), Roger Chase (viola) and Skaila Kanga (harp).

Note by Sally Beamish.

Sally Beamish: Quartet No 2: Opus California (version for saxophone quartet)

In response to a commission from the Brodsky Quartet, who were assembling a set of pieces inspired by Beethoven’s Opus 18, I chose the first movement of number 4 in C minor, which was the first piece I ever played in a string quartet, at the age of fifteen. The rich, dark harmonies fascinated me, and it was the beginning of my realisation of what it means to play a stringed instrument – the world of chamber music opened up for me at that moment.

I took the first subject, first bridge passage, second subject and second bridge passage/coda respectively, as the material for four very simple movements.

I had just returned from the Cabrillo Festival, Santa Cruz, California, where I had heard a great deal of 20th-Century American music. I liked the directness and honesty of the musical language, and the immediate, warm response of Californian audiences. This quartet represents an `opening-up’ of my own language, while offering a light-hearted angle both on the Beethoven, and on the American experience.

The four movements each take a fragment of the Beethoven and develop it, using aspects of jazz and contemporary American style. The first movement describes the types ‘strutting their stuff’ along the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, the second is a snapshot of the Golden Gate Bridge, from the air, in an early morning mist. Dreams before Lullabies is a gentle cradle song, and Natural Bridges is the name of a popular beach with spectacular rock formations.

This arrangement for saxophone quartet by Kenneth Coon was made by consultation with the composer. The first performance of this version was given by Tetraphonics in May 2013 at Christuskirche, Brühl, Germany.

Note by Sally Beamish.

Sophie Nolan: Strana Sorte for guitar duo

Strana Sorte explores the music of Carlo Gesualdo, a renaissance composer famous for his progressive harmony and for murdering his wife and her lover in flagrante. The piece creates a mosaic of his madrigal Sio non miro non moro (book 5, no.2) and further develops its harmony in a way sympathetic to Gesualdo’s own style. Despite the lack of any consonant harmonic movement or even pitch centricity at its climax, the piece aims to remain aesthetically rooted in the Renaissance. It’s title, ‘Strange Fate’, is taken from the lyrics of Sio non miro non moro, which consider the phenomenon of life after death and death during life.  

Strana Sorte was written by Sophie Nolan, who is currently studying composition at the RNCM for her Masters in Music. She has composed for ensembles such as Exaudi and The Brodsky Quartet, and her music is usually socio-political in nature. It is being performed by acclaimed guitar duo Tom Dale and Nico Buri, who study under the world-renowned guitarist Craig Ogden. 

Note by Sophie Nolan.

Sally Beamish: Epilogue for string quintet

This short quintet was commissioned by Uppsala Kammarsolister for a programme of ‘nocturnal’ music.

I took as my starting point the idea of the evening Meeting, (‘Epilogue’), which ends many Quaker events. This takes the form of a silent gathering: a chance to collect thoughts and to be together after the activities of the day. Often, there are many impressions still racing in one’s head – but these subside into quiet contemplation, with occasional ministry given spontaneously.

The central theme is a canon by the 16th Century English composer Thomas Tallis, which is sometimes sung at the end of Quaker worship as a prelude to night. All the material relates to this very simple melody.

The piece starts with the idea of quiet breathing, with interjections by individual instruments. These become more restless and insistent, until the canon is introduced by the violas, and the mood is once again calm, settling into very soft repeated pairs of chords – again, like breathing. The music builds from here into a unified climax, from where animated solos gradually merge into a second statement of the canon, this time beginning on high violins, and bringing the music to a close.

Note by Sally Beamish.