In 2007 I collaborated with conceptual artist Rory McBeth on some new work for an exhibition at Leeds Art Gallery entitled ‘Depicting the Social Order’, which showed how visual art has been used to portray class divisions in society. One of the works shown in the exhibition was a dramatic poster which depicted the different classes as a pyramid – not unlike the layers of a wedding cake – with the monarchy (and money) at the top and the workers at the base, supporting the whole edifice. It made a blunt, naïve statement which haunted me long after the exhibition had ended, and seemed ripe for musical representation.
I began with the intention of making an almost literal ‘transcription’ of the visual image into music, but the musical ideas quickly started to develop a life of their own and the five different strata began to combine and influence one another, although I hope that they are still clearly differentiated.
‘Strata’ was composed in the spring and summer of 2013. It was first performed by the Orchestra of Opera North (Justin Doyle) and recorded by the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra (Mikel Toms).