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Phaedrus (1993)

Duration: c.30 minutes

Commissioned by the BBC

This was written for Clive Swansbourne and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. A concertino group of fl.2o.(=picc.); bass clar; alto sax in Eb; tpt 2o (=flugel horn) and vibraphone surrounds the solo pianist.
The rest of the orchestra is divided into 3 groups (apart from the timpani and strings) which are to be spatially separated:
Group One: fl1o; 2 obs; clar in Bb; 4 horns; 2bsns; contra bsn [stage centre].
Group Two: tpt 1o; 2 tbns; perc 1o [stage right].
Group Three: tpt 3o; bass tbn; tuba [stage left].

The concertino is a kind of virtuoso backing group for the solo pianist. Although there are three clear movements, the music has extra musical inspiration in the form of Robert Pirsig's 1975 cult novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This gives the music the quality of an onward-pushing musical "Road Movie"; a journey across the States, as well as through the inner experiences of the alter ego of the novel's protagonist, the eponymous Phaedrus. The solo pianist, to some extent, personifies this figure.

All this is not to say that abstract musical forms do not figure in the work. The pell-mell rush of the first movement is largely a variation sequence on Schubert's song "Erlkönig". The second (slow) movement is a kind of "trio", involving intimate exchanges between the solo pianist, the concertino, and various delicately supported voices (e.g. bass trombone) within the orchestral groups. The finale sets elements of rondo and sonata form against each other to create a musical/psychological torrent.

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MP3 audio extract (1'44"):
Slow movement

View score at the British Music Collection:
at British Music Collection

Other Orchestral Music:
Judith's Doubt and Resolve
Fanfares and Nocturnes