Category Archives: Philip Cashian


Working document for Blog Steps Images.indd

Hailed as a miracle after its German premiere in 2005, FAMA finally arrives to the UK. This intriguing piece of aural theatre follows the story of a distressed young woman forced into prostitution in order to pay her father’s debts. London Sinfonietta are privileged to have composer Beat Furrer join them to conduct this long-overdue UK premiere of his 21st century masterwork, along with actress Isabelle Menke and soloist Eva Furrer on contrabass flute. They are also pleased to welcome choral group EXAUDI who will perform the eight-part vocal line.

In preparation for Friday’s performance of FAMA, we asked Philip Cashian (composer and Head of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music) to create an audio guide for Furrer’s work. Made up of 8 scenes in total, Philip presents an introduction to the work along with a detailed analysis of the fifth scene which should prepare your listening for the entire work .

Sound theatre in eight scenes for 22 instrumentalists, 8 singers, and one actress.


Swiss composer Beat Furrer was 51 when he wrote FAMA in 2005 and already well established as one of Europe’s leading composers as well as having a considerable reputation as a conductor (he was the founder of cutting edge new music ensemble Klangforum Wien).

FAMA is the fifth of seven works Furrer has written for the theatre.

The concept behind FAMA – which he more precisely describes as sound theatre – is taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses:  ‘of the home of the goddess Fama, Goddess of Rumour, a place to which all the events and sounds of the world come and find resonance. This space has an overwhelming sensuality where, there is no shouting, but a murmur, like the sea, that sounds from a distance, or the last echoing rumble of thunder.

Writing in 2001 about his Orpheus Books for chorus and orchestra. Furrer offers an interesting insight into how he considers his music; the narrative, compressed into a single instant and captured in endless repetition, is projected into changing spaces. Filtering processes cause individual layers to recede into the background or come to the fore, thereby generating contrasting perspectives.

I find this way of thinking about narrative is clearly audible in Scene 5 which stretches a minimal amount of music out over 14 minutes and within which musical fragments constantly recur. The drama and tension of the scene, however, never dips for a moment, creating an eerie and sinister soundscape that has you on the edge of your seat throughout. It’s almost cinematic even when listening, as I am, to a recording.



Opening – 53” single, isolated very high harmonics create an immediate sense of isolation.

53” (and recurring throughout) an extremely high pedal that is a disturbing presence for most of the scene.

1’13” clarinet glissandi: this is a recurring gesture in various forms throughout (i.e. 2’57”)

3’29” The first entry of the voice, which over time becomes another recurring element placed in subtly different contexts.

5’49” – 8’40” (and recurring later) Two low, slow moving bass clarinets which create an extremes in register ( in the music. From here on the two clarinets are very much in the foreground.

8’43” Bass Drum roll

9’16” Brief, resonant string pizzicatos and tremolo which punctuate the passing of time.

11’06” pulsing clarinets triggered by a brief stab in the piano which echoes the string pizzicatos. The pulsing clarinet figure is heard at other times in the scene.

14’00”-14’03” A very short flurry of activity that ‘switches off’ the scene.


Helmut Lachenmann Mouvement ( – vor der Erstarrung)

Luigi Nono Das atmende Klarsein

Bruno Maderna  Oboe Concerto No. 2

Bent Sorensen Sirenengesang


© Philip Cashian



(Un)Easy Listening? Romitelli – An Index of Metals

We kick off this season’s (Un)easy Listening post by delving into Fausto Romitelli‘s enthralling An Index of Metals. Read on as composer and Head of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, Philip Cashian, explores this extraordinary work ahead of our performance on Wednesday 8 October at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Find out more and book tickets here.

Fausto Romitelli (1963 – 2004)
An Index of Metals

Paolo Pachini video art
Leonardo Romoli video art
Kenka Lèkovich text

“At the centre of my composing lies the idea of considering sound as a material into which one plunges in order to forge its physical and perceptive characteristics”

Fausto Romitelli’s extraordinary An Index of Metals is a vast psychedelic soundscape that loops and swirls, stutters, accumulates, connects and juxtaposes layers and blocks of sound in a brilliantly unpredictable, but at the same time beautifully controlled way. He described the piece as a ‘desire to create a total perceptive experience’ which he undoubtably achieves.

Listening to the piece through headphones is an absorbing aural adventure with the music constantly twisting and turning in completely  unexpected ways as he combines acoustic instruments with electric guitar, electronics and the female voice. Live, with the extra layers of video and projections (on three screens) I imagine the whole experience will be a real treat in the concert hall!  It’s rare to find a piece that can truly combine electric guitar (as used in rock music) with acoustic instruments without falling into clichés, in fact all the music, to my ears, sounds fresh and unpredictable and is unreliant on gestures or ‘common sounds’ we’ve heard before.

The 50 minute piece is divided into 12 continuous sections which until No.10 (Hellucinations) alternate between sections with female vocals and shorter intermezzi. The first and last sections cleverly frame the entire work quite literally switching the piece on and off : No.1 (Introduzione) is a loop, like a record that can’t quite get going, and No.12 (Cadenza) is a slow sustain ( briefly referencing the opening as it starts) that gradually accumulates before suddenly being switched off.

Sections 3, 5 and 7 feature the female voice and are all titled Drowningirl. The music in all these sections is slowly descending, dragging the voice down. In No. 3 from 4’02” listen out for trilling waves of sound slowly slipping downwards.

In No.5 at 1’35”, 2′ 35″ and 4′ 47″ there is a recurring gesture that glissandos downwards acting as a kind of refrain in the movement.

In No.7 at 5′ 08″ you can hear descending patterns in treated acoustic instrumentals that fall into the  electric guitar at 5′ 59″.

No. 10 (Risingirl) is the most engaging movement vocally and feels like a point of ‘arrival’ in the piece, almost operatic in places. My favourite  moments are the busy flute and voice at 2′ 30″, the two note figure with feedback at 4′ 33″ and the effect of the voice suddenly being  heard as if on the radio or distantly at 5′ 06″.

Speaking as a composer,  some of the subtle links between sections really impress me and are worth listening out for. Like No.4 (Secondo Intermezzo) which begins with little popping sounds moving between left and right over the electric guitar and slowly changing in timbre and moving into the foreground. By the opening of No.5 they’ve transformed into a heart beat.

Further Listening

Karlheinz Stockhausen Aries

Rubens Askenar Testo Junkie

Sigur Rós Takk

Gérard Grisey Talea

Radiohead Kid A

Aphex Twin Tha

© Philip Cashian

Listening Club: March edition

On Wednesday 30 April we perform the UK premiere of Michel van der Aa‘s complete Here Trilogy at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. In this edition of our Listening Club, composer and Head of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, Philip Cashian, takes you through the last movement of the work.

We want to know what you think!
Do you want to find out more about Michel van der Aa? Or do you have a specific question about the piece? Send your thoughts to us by clicking “leave a comment” on the left hand side of this post and we’ll get back to you!

Michel van der Aa
Here (to be found)
for soprano, soundtrack and chamber orchestra

Written in 2001, Here (to be found) is the final part of Van der Aa’s Here Trilogy, although the first of the three movements to be written. The text (written by Van der Aa) creates a mood of isolation and disengagement that is quite clearly underpinned and amplified by what for me is an uncomfortable and unsettling score. His music doesn’t set the text so much as puts it through a hall of mirrors.

Van der Aa’s music is unmistakably Dutch, showing the influence of his teacher Louis Andriessen, a leading light in the Netherlands contemporary music scene for the past 40 years. A repetitive and economical approach to harmony scored in clear, chorale-like homogenous blocks of chords, typical of Andriessen, can be heard early on in the strings, wind and brass from 01:54 – 02:26:

Van der Aa likes to juxtapose different types of music next to and on top of each other, always with real clarity and for just the right amount of time. Maybe this also shows the influence of Andriessen who often uses hocketing in his music. This is a technique where a single musical idea is chopped up and distributed to different instrumental groups. From 02:33-03:23 Van der Aa places music for the soprano, soundtrack, vibraphone, wind, brass and strings, side by side to almost dizzying effect as well as cleverly using silence.

As a student he studied at film school, and the editing of the soundtrack – chopping up and freezing time whilst disjointing any sense of forward momentum – is clearly a cinematic approach to sound. I think this makes the piece feel like entering into a maze. Listen out from 06:39 – 07:05.

The section from 06:21-06:37 of fast moving ‘chugging’ chords in the ensemble reminds me of Frank Zappa:

Have a listen to Frank Zappa’s The Perfect Stranger from 08:12-08:50:

Here are some other composers who’s music has a lot in common with Van der Aa’s:

Martijn Padding – First Harmonium Concerto:

Louis Andriessen – Hoketus:

Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind is a hugely influential piece as it is structured out of constantly juxtaposed sections of music:

Philip Cashian 

Listening Club – September edition

Welcome to the first London Sinfonietta Listening Club with Philip Cashian, composer and Head of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music.

Philip will be exploring the music featured in our concerts this season through monthly audio-illustrated blog posts and we’re inviting you to get involved in the discussion by posting any questions or comments you might have by clicking “leave a comment” at the top left hand side of this article. Philip will follow up with a post based on the main themes that you are interested in exploring!

This month, we take a closer look at Karlheinz Stockhausen’s monumental work Gruppen ahead of our performance on Sunday 6 October at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall. Read on to find out more.

Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007), Gruppen

for three orchestras

duration: c.23 mins.

First performance: The Cologne Radio Orchestra, Cologne, 24 March 1958, conducted by Karlheinz Stockhausen (Orchestra 1), Bruno Maderna (Orchestra 2) and Pierre Boulez (Orchestra 3)

Stockhausen wrote Gruppen (Groups) between 1955 and 1957 at the same time as working on the groundbreaking tape piece Gesang der Jünglinge (Song of the Youths) in the North West German Radio electronic music studio in Cologne. In writing Gruppen he said that he wanted to “physically experience the movements of sounds in space” and the influence of working in the studio with purely electronic sound is evident in his dazzling handling of instrumental colour, sonority and the brilliant balance, juxtaposition and sharing of instrumental texture between and within the three groups; Gruppen really has to be experienced live for the listener to fully appreciate this physical movement of sound around the concert hall.

He was interested in hearing layers of music co-existing at different tempi and, at times, he also independently slows down or speeds up individual orchestras to momentarily relax or intensify their musical discourse in relief to the other two groups. Three orchestras positioned around the hall each with their own conductor made this possible and the layering and juxtaposition as well as the coming together of these three distinct ensembles (each has their own instrumental ‘flavour’) is the essence of what makes the piece so exhilarating to listen to.

Here it is in full:

For the first five minutes or so we will hear the first violins as they are contrasted and juxtaposed against larger groups of instruments.

The first solo instrument to be heard is a solo violin from orchestra 1:

Then we hear a solo violin from orchestra 3 a few moments later:

Soon after that a solo violin from orchestra 2 articulates a brief silence:

The first violins of orchestra 1 are a constant thread before settling onto a long sustained D sharp:

The following section is an interlude for brass with spiky figures thrown around the three groups which build to a climax at 15:29 as a sustained chord is playfully passed around the hall.  During this passage listen out for the piano in orchestra 2 which gradually creeps in (initially with low note ‘stabs’) and takes over with it’s own mini cadenza at 15:46-16:21 after the brass chord exchange:

One of my favourite moments comes here in the splintered aftermath of the piece’s climax (which is quite conventionally about two thirds of the way through) in a brief moment of unexpected lyricism for woodwind and strings in orchestras 1&2 that has the quality of Webern or even Berg. And it’s the sense that the music is almost a three dimensional object that can twist and turn in any direction whilst being in a constant state of grace and re-invention that thrills me most about Gruppen:

For a work written nearly 60 years ago, when Stockhausen was still not thirty, it’s influence in the exploration of musical space as a physical entity for the listener is far reaching and can still be seen today, even amongst the younger generation of composers.

We want you to join in. Post any questions you have relating to Gruppen by clicking on “leave a comment” at the top left hand side of this article and Philip will follow up with a post based on the main themes that you are interested in exploring!

Further listening

Karlheinz Stockhausen Gesang der Jünglinge
Luciano Berio Formazioni
Harrison Birtwistle Earth Dances
Elliott Carter Penthode
Gyorgy Kurtag  …quasi una fantasia . . .

Philip Cashian

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