containing the theoretical text with relevant excerpts from the scores and sound recordings
The Mirror is a one-act chamber opera with an original libretto by Marike van Aerde which was commissioned by Jessica Cottis and premiered by her, conducting the Azalea Ensemble and cast: Clarissa Miller: The Human, Marcin Gesla: Death, Frederick Long: Life; at the Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London, with the patronage of Lady Valerie Solti, Sir Charles Mackerras and Andrew Ritchie CBE.
It has been suggested that there are certain Wagnerian trends in this opera.101 (click) In my opinion one of the many reasons for that is the sound world of the orchestration, which is certainly influenced by Bruckner, who is one of the composers I most admire. As he is not associated with Opera, and was himself strongly influenced by Wagner whom he greatly admired, his influence upon my orchestral sound in this case would be more naturally associated with Wagner for this reason. As I have just mentioned ‘orchestration’, while the score is for an ensemble of 20 instruments, it is indeed particular to this score that I have deliberately aimed for the ensemble to sound symphonic and it often does. The recording submitted is obtained from the premiere at the Duke’s Hall, which has a very resonant acoustics. The situation would be entirely different in an opera house. This will result in far greater clarity in hearing the more dense textures and minute details, but in such an acoustics the strings might have to be doubled or tripled. I would recommend that particularly if the house is a large one. The wind and brass could be also doubled, with further doubling of the strings, which is a historical practice in conductors’ interpretation at least since Wagner and is done to certain rules,102 (click) which many professional conductors are still aware of today. We can still hear/see it done on the concert platform nowadays, particularly with Beethoven Symphonies. In this respect, the particular differentiation of functions between the groups of the ensemble, as well as some particular use of octave doublings provide for the good orchestral balance, even with certain variations of the line up which ensue in the case of doubling the orchestra. It is known that such doublings work particularly well with Baroque music due to some particular properties of the polyphonic structures employed in it, and it should be noted that large sections of the score of this Opera are actually written in 3, 4 or 5 parts, like in a Baroque Opera. However, the way they are doubled and the use of timbre make them sound Wagnerian/Brucknerian instead. This allegiance to both of these rather different styles at the same time might seem paradoxical, but is not accidental. With a few more stylistic influences to be discussed below, the picture would become even more unusual.
A related issue in this context, which affects also a great proportion of my works, is that of density/complexity. As I often use dense and/or multilayered textures, sometimes the amount of detail presented simultaneously poses the question of how much of it can be actually heard.
I do not think that a score should be confined to what could be heard at once. The matter of balance in orchestral and ensemble works is very much in the hands of the conductor. As a conductor I know that the extent to which we can alter the balance in rehearsal is vast. Different conductors can make a complex score sound completely different in their varying interpretations by adjusting the balance differently. But furthermore, the acoustics of the hall, the position where a particular listener sits, and the attention factor – what each listener listens for, can significantly alter what is perceived by them. The same listener might be noticing different details every time he/she listens to the same piece of music. That is not only a personal observation, but there is psychological research that supports such views.103 (click) With that in mind, what I find really important is that all the numerous details in a texture are developed to have very strong logical interconnections. This way, even though they might not be perceived all at once, those that are perceived will convey the general musical sense intended, despite the fact that sets and proportions of perceived details would vary with each interpretation and for each listening experience.
An issue attached to that is ‘clarity’. For me ‘clarity’ is not an ideal in itself and I am not pursuing ‘clarity’ as a comprehensive and immutable quality in my music overall. For me it is only one of two opposites in a spectrum of possibilities. At the other end is ‘the mystical’, that which is opaque, mysterious, and even sometimes incomprehensible.104 (click) For me ‘the mystical’ is not only attractive, it is an important aesthetical ideal in my work. Thus, I see ‘the mystical’ and ‘clarity’ at the two ends of a continuum, and I often explore all the hues which exist between them.
Thus, if in some of my textures not every note could be heard or perceived at a single listening, or in one particular interpretation, that is not something that bothers me. Every note in them has its importance, and that importance is to some extent variable, which is also essential to the process of interpretation, in my view.
Another Wagnerian/Puchinian trend in this opera lies in the relationship between the singers and the ensemble, which are integrated together into a symphonic drama. In many ways the ensemble is an amplification of singers’ gesturality and inner world. The protagonists ‘own’ the instrumental music and it is almost an extension of their voices. A particular example of this relationship is the tendency for Death and Life to stir particular ‘energetic storms’ in the ensemble, particularly in The Duel, for instance: bars: 726, 738, 755-6, 780 (all in Example 12), 489, 619. In these instances and many others, the ends of singers’ phrases overlap with huge orchestral gestures – the singers release an impulse of energy that is iterated by the orchestra like a ‘tsunami’.