• Iain Bell
  • Aurora (2018)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Unavailable for performance.

  • 2+pic.2(ca).2.2+cbn/2220/timp.2perc/hp/str
  • Coloratura soprano
  • 17 min

Programme Note

In writing this concerto, I sought to explore the very colour that gives the 'coloratura' soprano her name and it seemed to me that the Aurora Borealis, or ‘Northern Lights’, would be the perfect expression of this. Moreover, I wanted to maintain the dialogue and conflict between the soloist and orchestra - integral to the concerto form – so, with the orchestra playing the role of ‘night’ and the soprano as ‘the lights’, the piece cast itself.

The first movement, Dusk to Darkness: First Glimmers opens in a muted twilight of sustained high strings, punctuated by various percussion utterances and distant bird-calls as dusk gives way to night.
The soloist enters with a simple, gentle motif - a hint of the display to follow. A cool breeze is suggested by the wafting of tremolo strings and harp, whilst a chilling bleakness interjects through concurrent extremes of pitch.
As the movement progresses, the soprano's theme develops further in rhythmic and melodic complexity, with the orchestra following suit, until the full power of the lights is unleashed in a joyful outburst.

The central movement, Night-time: Lights Come Out to Play is a scherzo. The soprano’s ‘lights’ flirt with the sky in extended passages of staccato-flecked melody. This humour is reflected by the accompaniment, characterised by obbligato solo winds enrobing the voice, strings delighting in molto crescendo whirls, and a battery of pitched percussion - all suggestive of the exuberance of the display. The soprano and orchestra seem to tease each other with their respective shows of exhilaration.

The final movement, Dead of Night: Phantom Shadows reminds us that whilst the lights may be a thing of beauty, they bloom in the dead of night - a time of danger, fear and nightmares. The soprano's florid lines now intimate a greater sense of urgency through the delivery of cascading scalic passages. The orchestra heightens the sense of danger, baiting and tormenting the soprano with aggressive percussion and brass, as low strings depict the throb of adrenaline-peaked pulses. Night eventually yields to the first rays of sun, recalling the sound-world of the opening bars, with icy string clusters now substituted by warmer tones from woodwind and sustained brass.