'Prelude and Coda: a seance for an orchestral concert' plays with the literal/etymological meanings of these words (ie. prelude = before playing, coda = tail, seance = sitting, etc.), as well as the inner/outer worlds that are the theme for the concert. It's kind of a ritual to contact the spirit of Schoenberg to try to convince him to reverse his development of the Twelve-tone method, which for me symbolises the sacrifice of genuine exploration of inner worlds (the irrationality of the human mind/emotions) for the superficial rationality of a strict system of composition. It also pays tribute to the Minotaur legend, the labyrinth being a journey into that animalistic centre of our being that every now and then rears its head, sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful...
The instrumentation is:
In the first movement, 'Prelude', the idea is that the string quintet is already on stage playing (with practice mutes) an arrangement/extension of Schoenberg's 'Praeludium' from Op.25 (chronologically his first dodecaphonic piece), and keeps playing this throughout as an independent unit.The winds, brass and percussion (except the oboe) are arranged behind the audience in a semicircle, and Brett will be conducting them 'over' the audience, ie. facing them with the audience between him and them. There will be a percussion instrument made of 2 corrugated iron sheets on sawhorses (my percussion instrument of choice...), which will be played with hammers, an electric drill, and saw as well as more standard beaters. The oboe, piano and harp will be on stage and will intermittently play short interjections against the rest of the ensemble. Their role is to play different voicings of the musical letters drawn from Schoenbergs initials, ie. A, S (es = Eb), C, H (= B). This musical autographing is an old trick of course; in my piece this repeated chord is meant to invoke his ghost in order to call him to task over serialism. The oboe plays repeated microtonal As around 440Hz, signalling this instruments role in tuning the orchestra, a prelude to any orchestral concert. The microtonal variations are a reference to the kind of mechanics Im using for the compositions structure, being based on the Magic Square of the Sun number square, which is made up of the first 36 integers and adds up to 666, and some recordings (or renderings) of the sound of the sun. The use of these are obliquely related to the idea of the Minotaur, as a symbol of the sun god, and the architect of the labyrinth, Daedalus, whose son Icarus of course flew too close to the sun. These elements are not really meant to cohere into a neat narrative, theyre more of an inspirational web of associations for the work, in a similar way that in many rituals, divergent elements are put into orbit around a unified set of actions in order to elicit a certain associative link between them and access a kind of transformative experience or consciousness.
The second movement, 'Coda', will have the whole ensemble on stage apart from one percussionist who will play the corrugated iron installation with cello bows, most likely amplified with contact microphones. The movement will be based on a simple concept of attack and decay (the 'tail' of the attack), being a series of 37" unevenly spaced chordal/percussive loud attacks followed by different kinds of sustained trails of sound, all based on the material from the 'Prelude'. The celeste and harp will play 'remnants' of the Schoenberg 'Praeludium' in the background. I think of these as the 'entrails' of Schoenberg's piece, recalling the practice of divination from the inner organs of sacrificed animals.