Commissioned by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

  • 2020/2200/hp/str
  • 14 min

Programme Note

Naaotwá Lalá was commissioned by the BBC and first performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Edward Downes, at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester on 4th December 1984.
The title means 'Naaotwá's Song' in the Ga language of southern Ghana, and the piece was dedicated to my second wife NaaOtwá. It is scored for a peculiar orchestral line-up, in that almost no low instruments are used. I had been so impressed by the violins of the BBC Philharmonic when they had played my earlier orchestral piece Pentecost music the previous year that I decided to write a piece that featured them - not divided into firsts and seconds as is usual, but in a single section, in order to take advantage of the wonderful sheen that is created when a large body of violins play a single line. I used the violas to extend and support the violins, but cellos and basses take a minimal (but important) part in the piece, supplying a quietly pulsing bass. Flutes, clarinets, horns and trumpets add occasional touches of colour, and the most featured instrument is the harp, which plays almost continuously, and whose part is the source of all the musical material. I imagined a solitary harpist repeatedly playing a refrain which gradually changes and develops; as the harp plays, other sounds are conjured up, as if from an imaginary forest, and the orchestra gradually materialises. At the end, the orchestra fades away and the harp is left alone again, as if the preceding orchestral sounds have been a dream.

Giles Swayne 2008

Programme note by Anthony Burton available from:


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