Commissioned by the BBC and first performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Robertson at the Barbican, London, on 9 February 2007.

  • 2+pic(afl)+afl(bfl).2+ca.3+bcl.2+cbn/4430/4perc/pf.hp.acn/man/str(
  • 33 min

Programme Note

Venice’s numerous canals are a labyrinth of images and reflections. These can appear as perfect mirrors – crystal clear and completely still – only to suddenly dissolve, disturbed by movement and motion, and then to slowly and magically reform.

It was this evocative imagery that provided the starting point for the first part of Diptych. The piece is invented out of a continuous sequence of vertical components; harmonic “pillars” of different densities and colours, that at times are on the edge of audible perception. They are aurally informed by heterophonic echoes and distant polyphonic murmurings that constantly articulate the surface of the music. This creates an unstable musical environment, one that is in a perpetual state of flux, with the harmonies either solidified or in the process of evolving or dissolving.

The second part of Diptych also has a strong visual association; the image of a large symphony orchestra shattered, fragmented and scattered into a plethora of different instrumental groupings that gradually reassemble (like an aural jigsaw puzzle) into a seamless and fluid kaleidoscopic continuity.

This was achieved by dividing the entire orchestration of the piece into three re-invented chamber orchestras, each of which has one of three interrelated tempi. All three orchestral groups were assigned a series of three 2-minute pieces, each one deploying different instrumental ensembles. These 2-minute pieces (nine in all) were initially composed as complete, organic miniatures. Then, in the course of the compositional process, they were cut up into sections from 5 seconds to 30 seconds in duration, and finally assembled into a fusion of fragments, creating a kind of continuous harmonic and linear labyrinth.

Although the orchestral layout is conventional, the many different chamber groups from within the orchestra invite the listener to explore and discover the orchestral space. Indeed in the many string divisi sections, I have utilised equally the back desks and front desks of each section, either soloistically or in sub groupings, further spatialising the instrumental textures.

Like viewing a large canvas, the act of listening to Diptych Part 2 was conceived as an accumulative experience of familiarisation with the details that make up the work’s surface, and where at its conclusion there is a memory not only of the many entwining components of the piece, but also of an eventual unity.

The two parts of Diptych can be performed either together or separately, which is my preferred choice.

Programme note © 2007 Simon Bainbridge