National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain – without a conductor (Prom 31)
Duration: 9 minutes
BBC iPlayer link
What’s the story behind the piece?
In an interview for Arcana, Tansy Davies detailed how Re-greening, written for all 164 players of the National Youth Orchestra without a conductor, is essentially an introduction to Mahler’s Symphony no.9, the piece they performed without a break afterwards.
In the interview, which can be read in full here , Davies explains how “the way the music is layered to me suggests a forest like quality; interweaving arpeggio-type figures bubbling or erupting up from the cold earth in winter, and scales or lines reaching up to the light”.
Did you know?
Before making her way as a composer, Davies sang and played guitar in a band. That was probably until she won the BBC Young Composers’ Competition in 1996!
Re-greening begins with bright sounds like a forest coming to life – the opening percussion stroke, a bright, metallic sound, feels like the first sun of the day.
Then we hear the rustling of the orchestra, with harmonics from the stringed instruments and shrill woodwind that sound like the birds, sonorous brass. A song is sung by the orchestra, the popular and ancient song Sumer is icumen in, essentially a hymn that glorifies in the arrival of a new season or a new day. The chant continues, surrounded by a large orchestral sound that is used economically. The brass are prominent, Davies making great use of a big space with percussion and a huge string section.
Davies layers the sounds, so that it feels like several chords are piled up on top of each other in a full bodied texture. Then towards the end the orchestra sing again, this time a canon from English Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis, set like the earlier song in C major,. This proves an unusual and moving experience when set among the excited cacophony from the rest of the instruments.
Where can I hear more?
There are a couple of excellent Tansy Davies discs in circulation, partly because her music seems to be very aware of its surroundings, i.e. it is aware of the culture – both popular and classical – in which it is written. So far she has tended towards chamber pieces that are of manageable length but considerable intensity. That much is very clear from her Troubairitz disc for Gabriel Prokofiev’s Nonclassical label, which includes the excellent Neon for chamber ensemble – and from the Spine disc for NMC, which includes the Saxophone Concerto with Simon Haram: