First performance by the Southbank Sinfonia at the Levinsky Hall, Plymouth, February 4, 2023.
Winner of the Musica Viva Composers Award 2023
Duration: 5 minutes
Composed in December 2022, BREAKWATER is a short overture for Symphony Orchestra. Owing its title to the Plymouth Breakwater, the piece traces the endmost journey of a river as it races to the sea. From its inert, pallid preface, darting lines emerge accumulatively, until rushing rapids twist across the surface of the music, and the the sea comes into sight. As the piece runs its course, I’d like the listener to picture the geography of the city of Plymouth in their mind, as the Tamar hurtles towards Plymouth Sound and the English Channel beyond.
As I approached writing this work, I spent quite a bit of time watching drone footage of Plymouth Sound, and panoramas of the waterfront. I conceive of music in an intensely visual manner, so having a strong mental image of the way that the Tamar relates to the Sound aided me in constructing the sound-world of the piece. This was my first time properly scoring a work for orchestra, so I also had to think laterally about my methodologies in approaching the piece. A bit like a collagist collecting images, I started by sketching a whole series of ideas on paper which I felt reflected these influences. As I played around with different ideas of how the piece could take shape, I discarded some and kept others (like the almost static chord which forms the preface of the overture). I then began to construct the piece in earnest. I drafted it in short-score (writing on just three staves). Whilst I had quite a clear idea of how I wanted the orchestral sound to take shape at this stage, it enabled me to focus more on the thematic content of the work – the ‘big picture’ – rather than thinking about the detailed decisions which are involved in orchestrating ideas. Then, like a painter applying colour to a black-and-white sketch, I started translating this sketch into an orchestral score. This was one of the most rewarding stages of the process, involving considering the different images implied by certain timbres; how to evoke the idea of water using various combinations of instruments. The result is BREAKWATER, a piece which incorporates both dynamism and subtlety; an energetic work that effervesces with excitement throughout its course.