Continuum (U.S. premiere)
Colin Matthews was born in London in 1946. He studied music at the Universities of Nottingham and Sussex, where he also taught, and subsequently worked with Benjamin Britten and Imogen Holst. Since the early 1970s his music has been played widely both in the U.K. and worldwide, with recordings on Unicorn, Collins Classics, and Deutsche Grammophon. From 1992 to 1999 he was Associate Composer with the London Symphony Orchestra, writing, among other works, a Cello Concerto for Mstislav Rostropovich. In 1997 his choral/orchestral work Renewal was given the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for large-scale composition. His ballet score Hidden Variables opened the Royal Ballet's season in December 1999, and the large-scale ensemble piece Continuum was toured by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and Simon Rattle. Matthews is currently Composer-in-Association with the Hallé Orchestra. The composer has provided the following note about Continuum:
Over the three years in which I've been working on it, Continuum has changed and evolved, and its final shape bears little resemblance to my original plans for the work. In particular, the vocal element has grown to dominate, so that instead of my earlier intention to have two sung interludes, it is the instrumental sections which have become more to resemble interludes in what now seems almost like a 'scena' for voice and large ensemble (23 players).
Yet if it is a scena, then there is no definable plot: The texts I've chosen to set are not narratives, but highly complex and elusive poems. Consequently I'm not sure - since, at the time of writing this note, I'm too close still to the piece to look at it objectively - if I can be more specific about the overall theme, other than using the imprecise words "change" and "transience."
Two poems by Eugenio Montale (1896-1981) are the center of the work, both coming from his first published collection of 1925: "Crisalide" (Chrysalis) and "Casa sul mare" (House by the Sea). The first of these is set in the original Italian, the second in the fine English translation by Jonathan Galassi. They are framed by two epigrammatic fragments from the French poems Rilke wrote towards the end of his life (coincidentally also from around 1925). I hope that these difficult and dense texts can be left to speak for themselves, and that I can be forgiven for not trying to interpret them other than through their setting.
The instrumental 'interludes' - although calling them that obscures the fact that they carry equal musical weight - come at the end of "Crisalide": a turbulent continuation of the poem, spilling over into a somber postlude; and before the final stanza of "Casa sul mare" - an almost funeral-march-like interruption of the poem. The closing Rilke epigram echoes the opening: just as a continuum has no end, so the work spirals back to its beginning.
I am very grateful to Simon Clugston, Simon Rattle, and the BCMG - to whom Continuum is jointly dedicated - both for commissioning the work, and for their patience as it changed out of all recognition while they waited for it to arrive.
- John Henken is the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association's Director of Publications.