Philip Cashian, composer and Head of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, delves into the music of early-career composer Samantha Fernando. On Thursday 11 and Friday 12 February we premiere her latest work The Journey Between Us, a piece in four movements interspersed with short stories read by acclaimed actress Lisa Dwan.
Samantha Fernando’s music treads a delicate line between obsession, stasis, repetition, simple harmonic and melodic figures, silence and instrumental timbre all of which lend it an enigmatic quality that is both captivating and beautifully constructed.
Her music is very economical, built on fragments that are put under the microscope and then re-arranged to create pieces that have an almost meditative and hypnotic feel. Composers should always be economical, drawing the most from their ideas and really giving them character and identity (therefore making them memorable) and this is evident in the three pieces of Samantha’s that I’ve listened to and examined here.
Her music has clarity and is exquisitely paced: nothing ever feels rushed or out stays it’s welcome, creating musical structures that are almost sculpture-like.
Fault Line for solo cello is a good example and shows how she often builds her music out of juxtaposing or alternating two pitches or opposing musical ideas.
Opening – 01:06: The piece opens with 20 seconds of aggressive tremolo, then, after a short silence, a quiet sustained G played normally and as a harmonic.
01:06 – 01:21: The G is then alternated with an F sharp for 15 seconds.
01:36: This is followed by a double stopped C/A flat drone at the bottom of the cello’s register, which is juxtaposed against the F sharp and G before a short melodic figure.
And by varying and re-arranging these few simple musical objects, she constructs the whole piece.
Her Sinfonietta Short piece Kinisphere* for solo flute and the quartet Positive/Negative Space for flute, clarinet, saxophone and cello both, to my ear, have the ghost of tonality in the background.
Positive/Negative Space settles around an A major dominant seventh chord from 05:38 with a pizzicato A in the cello (06:02). From 03:56 Kinisphere starts to settle on a low C sharp which, with high F sharps (from 03:26) and G sharps (from 03:46), is made to feel like a tonic note.
Other moments to listen out for:
The whispery coda in Kinisphere at 04:26 and a similar texture in the cello in Positive/Negative Space around 04:42 – 04:55.
Saxophone multiphonic in Positive/Negative Space at 00:57 and a musical phrase that grows out of two note oscillating figures at 02:18.
In Fault Line an obsessive alternation between F sharp and G for over a minute during 03:15 – 04:26.
* Sinfonietta Shorts are bite-sized pieces of the best new music, commissioned, recorded and released as downloads by the London Sinfonietta. Kinesphere by Samantha Fernando will be available on NMC Recordings from Friday 19 February 2016: http://www.nmcrec.co.uk/recording/kinesphere
Salvatore Sciarrino: Lo Spazio inverso https://open.spotify.com/track/3wHipnreF8d8egwUcndolm
Iannis Xenakis: Charisma
Sofia Gubaidulina: Trio for Three Trumpets
Simon Holt: Feet of Clay
Laurence Crane: Sparling