Concerto for Cor Anglais and Orchestra
Commissioned by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Premiered by Michael Pisani (Cor Anglais) and the MSO, conducted by Nicholas Carter. Hamer Hall, Melbourne, on June 24th, 2021..
In orchestral settings, the cor anglais is often charged with the responsibility of giving voice to music’s most melancholic, bittersweet and emotionally profound melodic moments. In planning this concerto, I decided early on that I was not interested in pushing the instrument into a space it did not easily fit. And so, armed with the desire to write a primarily lyrical work, together with a list of soloist Michael Pisani’s favourite cor anglais orchestral moments, I created The Rest Is Silence as a musical response to the quote by Aldous Huxley: “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music”.
My concerto seeks to position the cor anglais in the spaces between music and silence. It is often both the first and the last to be heard, acting as a conduit between string and wind sonorities. Its unmistakable tone appears in brief glimpses between chords, like sunlight briefly piercing through clouds. The regular silences and moments of rest found in the orchestral parts are manipulated by the soloist, who either fills the space, comments upon it, or prepares us for the silence yet to come.
Formally, The Rest Is Silence is presented in three interconnected sections. The opening acts as an unfolding of the musical themes through the harmonic underpinning of the orchestra and the gradual expansion of the opening cor anglais line. At the heart of the work is a taste of some of those ‘inexpressible’ feelings found in music – acceptance, uncertainty, comfort, beauty, expectancy, rest, joy – all grown from the same opening motif. The soloist weaves between wind and string chorales, sometimes joined by others, but often alone. Repeated, unresolved cadential figures interrupt the flow of the music, forcing us to sit in the space between the notes, listening to what surrounds us. Then finally, we are treated to a song – a literal (though wordless) chanson grown out of the motivic foundation set by the soloist at the very start of our journey. The words that we do not hear, an extract from Huxley’s essay ‘Music at Night’, describe a still and silent evening that is alive and vibrant with scent, breath, and sensation.
My hope is that this work, to borrow more of Huxley’s words, will “give expression to (the) awareness of blessedness” that comes from being still and knowing. The Rest Is Silence is a prayer, a celebration, and a meditation on the quiet still spaces, the silence amidst the hustle, and the enduring power of music.
Quotes taken from ‘The Rest is Silence’ and ‘Music at Night’, both found in “Music at Night and other essays” by Aldous Huxley, published 1931.