nine choreographic sketches for orchestra (2004)
This work – my first conceived for dance – consists of nine short movements which contrast strongly in character, form and colour. The first six play almost without break, as do the final three, so the piece basically divides into two parts.
I - Spell
A simple introduction, exclusively for divided high strings, leading through a suspended chord to:
II - Recit
A long, ornate melody shared amongst the winds, underpinned by a sonorous harmonic background. The doubling of the melody in wide, parallel interavals intentionally evokes organ registration.
III - In the Mirror
A brief polyphonic movement, divided into two halves, the first legato and plaintive, the second more energetic and pointed. Both sections are canons by inversion - hence the title.
IV - Interruptions
Various musical materials cross-cut and superimpose in this volatile movement: virtuoso woodwind flourishes, heavy chords in the lowest regions of the orchestra, a fierce quartet of horns, a hesitant oboe solo… On its third appearance a distant, slow chorale links to:
V - Song
A more flowing movement, with the main line shared between solo viola and muted trumpets. An abrupt change of atmosphere marks the coda, where an E-flat clarinet takes the foreground.
VI - Hammers
The full orchestra, employed as a single mass, placed almost entirely in a high register. Monolithic pulses are disrupted by abrupt changes in pace while blaring melodic fragments hocket across the brass.
VII - Alone
A complete contrast – a veiled texture, subdued and low in tessitura. A major third in low muted trombones leads to:
VIII - Olicantus
A longer movement, also reflective in mood and scored for chamber-like resources. A dark-hued canon between bass clarinets and cellos prefaces three statements of the same, simple melody. At each recurrence the tempo slows considerably while the melody is harmonised and embellished in ever more elaborate ways.
IX - Whirling
A very short but energetic presto, exploiting a play of perspectives across the full orchestra as a melodic line, mainly in the first violins, spins its way through a mass of other textures.
George Benjamin, 2006.
Dance Figures was commissioned by the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie/Koninklijke Muntschouwburg, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for MusicNOW and Strasbourg Musica.
Dance Figures was conceived as a ballet to be choreographed by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and was given its first ballet production at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels in May 2006. The world concert premiere was given by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim on 19 May 2005, and the European concert premiere by the Südwestrundfunk Orchestra under the baton of the composer, at Strasbourg Musica on 23 September 2005.