Proms premiere – Tansy Davies – Re-greening

tansy davies composer

Tansy Davies

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!

Initial verdict

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.

Second hearing


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:

Proms Interview: Tansy Davies – Re-greening

Tansy Davies Photography by Rikard Österlund

For the annual appearance of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain at the BBC Proms, listeners will be treated to a performance of Mahler’s farewell to life, the Symphony no.9.

Prior to this, however, they will hear a new piece of music all about bringing new life to proceedings. Re-greening was written by composer Tansy Davies as a complementary piece to the Mahler, and in a short notice and generously arranged interview with Arcana the composer gave a guide to her new work and her Proms history:

Do you remember your first encounter with the Proms?

I must have been aged around 15. I just turned up with a couple of friends, not having planned or looked at what was on. We prommed of course, and I know that the programme included Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. The atmosphere was palpable, and I loved every second.

What was your first Prom as a composer?

In 2010, when I wrote Wild Card for the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Have you written for the National Youth Orchestra before?


Where did the idea for Re-Greening come from?

The concept emerged out of a collaboration between the NYO, Sir Mark Elder and myself. It’s a celebration of youthful exuberance and Spring. The commission brief, which was flexible, included the following ideals: references to old English melodies, singing in the orchestra, no conductor, and the orchestra would consist of upwards of 165 musicians. And it should create a feeling of freedom within the orchestra, before Mark Elder enters the stage as the voice of experience, to lead them through Mahler 9.

Did you have a particular location in mind when writing it?

I see the piece as being rather like a journey around a forest. The place I was thinking of is Earth (Re-greening the Earth…); and an old English forest.

What is it about an old English forest that you have represented in the piece, or were you looking to capture the overall atmosphere more?

That was really just part of my inspiration; drawing on ideas about reaching back to our roots as humans with a deep connection with nature (the structure is loosely based on a shamanic wheel of the year). But I think 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.

As you are writing a piece to complement Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, was it important to write a piece with a lot of opposite elements?

It was important to find something unique, performable and right for the group and the occasion, within the given constraints.

What do you like about Mahler as a composer?

The epic film-like quality of his vision.

How do you portray the colour ‘green’ in classical music?

That’s not something I’ve tried to do, although green is the colour of the heart-chakra, and my music mostly comes out of this part of me.

Neon for chamber ensemble of 7 players

Is it fair to say that through your career as a published composer you have tended to work with smaller ensembles, working gradually up to orchestral composition?

No – I think it has been more haphazard than that! It’s true that I wrote for smaller groups in most of my early music, but I’ve actually written quite a lot of orchestral music over the years. You can include chamber orchestra music in that, and my Requiem As with Voices and with Tears, which is for chorus, string orchestra and electronics.

Were you pleased with the production of your opera Between Worlds, and the reception it got?

Over the moon!

Tansy Davies and Deborah Warner talk about their operatic collaboration, Between Worlds, staged at the Barbican Centre recently

What else are you working on at the moment?

My next piece is for symphony orchestra, I’m very excited about it, but I can’t say any more just yet. I’m thrilled to have had so many opportunities to write for orchestra; I never planned it that way, but I absolutely love getting a feel for how to work with the medium.

If you could see one other Prom this season, which one would it be?

There are many and some wonderful things that I sadly can’t get to. But I hope to attend the BBC Scottish Symphony playing Sibelius and Michael Finnissy (16 Aug), and then Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia in Bartók and Shostakovich (24 Aug). After that I am also attending the next two Proms – the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Edward Gardner (Prom 54, Nielsen Flute Concerto and Janáček Sinfonietta) and the SWR Symphony Orchestra with François-Xavier Roth (Prom 55, Bartók Concerto for Orchestra and Boulez …explosante fixe…

Tansy DaviesRe-greening will be performed at the Proms by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain under their conductor Sir Mark Elder, on 8 August 2015. For more information about the composer head to her website, where you can hear excerpts from her catalogue of works.