Wall of Water responds to the power, movement and colours of the celebrated contemporary artist Maggi Hambling’s series of oil paintings: Walls of Water. Commissioned by the English String Orchestra with funds provided by the Britten-Pears Foundation and the Arts Council, England, it was premiered by violin soloist Harriet Mackenzie and the English String Orchestra, conducted by Kenneth Woods on the 18th October, 2014 at LSO St Luke’s, London. It was subsequently performed at the National Gallery in January 2015 and commercially released on disc by Nimbus.
The work opens with a solo violin cadenza that emerges from darkness, as if from the depths of the sea, introducing the main musical idea: an expressive melody that undulates and flows like the movement ofwater, supported by a pedal in the lower strings. As the cadenza draws to a close the pedal gradually transforms and moves into the foreground as the ensemble takes up the main musical theme.
The second part of the work is faster with short, aggressive rhythmic cells in the solo violin against pizzicato lower strings in response to the colder colours of the paintings. This fast moving pace is continued through a dance-like melody in the solo violin against cascading scales in the upper strings followed by a dramatic harmonic and textural shift as the solo violin takes up the faster music of the ensemble, whilst the ensemble play a series of glissandos in parallel major and minor thirds (following the previous quartal harmony) to show the introduction of warmer colours in the paintings. The opening cadenza is then revisited, transformed and set against a contrasting harmonic background to show a greater mix of both warm and cold colours.
The final section of the work begins with an ethereal and elegiac melody in the upper register of the solo violin. The soloist and ensemble gradually come together as one voice, building up intensity and dynamic before gradually descending into the darkness from which the piece began. Wall of Water is not only a response to the paintings by Maggi Hambling, but is also the story of a solo human voice, resonating with the universal imagery, myths and legends of the sea.