Arcanabula comes to town!

…or, at least, to Melbourne. James Aylward will be giving Arcanabula (2020) its Australian premiere at the Hanson Dyer Hall, Melbourne University Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, at 7:30pm on Wednesday 26 April 2023.

The concert is an all-bassoon affair, shared between bassoonists James Aylward and Lyndon Watts, and besides me there will be recent works by Noemi Liba Friedman, and Elizabeth Younan, plus historic repertoire by Liza Lim, Sofia Gubaidulina and Louis Andriessen. So, if you are in the South Bank region of Melbourne that night do come along and get a recharge of your double-reed batteries.

My piece for solo bassoon, Arcanabula, is the fourth in a series of technically exploratory works dubbed collectively the Iso-études that I wrote during the periods of extended and intermittent lockdown here in the Melbourne catchment, from 2020 to 2022 or so. The first two such works, luminous and dark integers, are for solo vibraphone, and the third, ghosts of motion is my first outing for the marvelous new clarinet d’amore developed by my old friend Richard Haynes. All three of these works are, by reason of the character of the instrument or the musical concept, somewhat constrained expressively, and I chose to make the next Iso-étude considerably more extrovert – expressionistic even. Having previously and very successfully adapted my oboe solo ’e/meth for bassoon, James Aylward asked me to write something specifically for bassoon, and Arcanabula was the result. My relationship with bassoons had hitherto been somewhat strained; I had expressed reservations about the instrument and used it very rarely. But hearing James play ’e/meth completely changed my mind about the bassoon’s capabilities and I found myself really enjoying imagining slightly OTT music for the instrument. Arcanabula is so expressionistic that I suggested the player could wear a robe for the performance as an acknowledgement both of the piece’s extended meaning (a wizard’s spellbook) and its somewhat ironic and facetious character. In this reading the bassoon, rather than the clichéd ‘bundle of twigs’, becomes empowered as the wizard’s staff, endowed with, well yes, arcane puissance. The work, as befits its title, is a set of thirty-eight variations (spells) varying from the ultra-brief to quite extended. I’ve quite forgotten why 38… (Maybe because it is the number of chromosomes in the cat genome?)

I should add that the ‘wizard’s spell-book’ connection was an acquired meaning. I originally coined the word by analogy with incunabula and it was only when I did some internet burrowing that I discovered the word was already taken, with this meaning from the world of gamers attached. Clearly the received meaning was a good fit with the instrument so I decided to run with it. And run the piece certainly does.

The score can be downloaded here.