The Angry Garden

On the 8th March 2002, the English Concert Singers and Orchestra conducted by Roy Wales, have a triumphant world première performance of Michael's new work for choir and orchestra at St. John's Smith Square. The Angry Garden is a five-movement work based on a text prepared by poet Simon Rae. The environment forms the basis of the work, in particular its current uncertainty. From the silence of creation and Eden's garden, to a human mass almost out of control, this piece argues that time is short.

Programme Notes

I The Dark Mirror
II Eden
III Through Spawn and Spore
IV Man
V The Mirror Cracked

 

I was aware of damage to the environment during my early studies as a scientist, but I am not sure when general abuse of the environment turned into major threat. Neither am I sure when for me it became an emotive issue, but now it is beginning to connect to the very 'being' of civilisation. For this reason, with this work, I wanted to take a somewhat detached, external view, one which considers human action over a longer time span. The purpose was to hold a sense of perspective without lessening the seriousness of what is happening. This is also reflected in the title, implying that the world has a personality, one which does not like what is being done to it.

During my planning of the work, and indeed during the writing, I was aware also of how much it was confronting my general beliefs, not least reviving  younger thoughts of why  we are here? Thus the first movement, which had a working title of Creation, tries to establish different emotions at the same time, appearing from nothing other than the wind. The feel is both edgy and ethereal (the minor second being the most important interval), it becoming most powerful at the words 'that would nail God's palm to Time'. The second movement, Eden, is light in character, more reminiscent of a dripping rain forest than that of Adam and Eve. 'Englishness' is more akin to the central portion of the movement where an allusion to Vaughan Williams's Lark Ascending is made.

The third movement, built around the age of the dinosaur, not surprisingly is heavy and ponderous, but with a majesty that reflects the grandness of the inhabitants. As huge and powerful as they were, their environmental impact was minor compared with that of 'man'. The entrance of man and woman is in the fourth movement, via two instruments that represent early civilisations – the didgeridoo and the conga. The choir has been given primitive sounds, gradually building up the vowels of our alphabet. On from here the tension builds for the first time, the phrases 'men and markets', 'more mouths, more land', and 'turn up the heat', among others, providing the driving force.

The 'effect' has been held for the fifth and final movement. The crushed semitone appears again as a chord that opens the movement, the ice is creaking under off-beat motifs within the strings. This section culminates with the important words 'the signs of change', the music reappearing later with the equally-significant 'or that the ice is wearing thin'. The unaccompanied soloists make quasi-biblical reference and the choir follows with 'and so the prophecies have come to pass', marked 'hymn-like' in the score. It was tempting to close the work with the warmth of this passage but this seemed a luxury inappropriate to the subject matter and my feelings. Wherever one's beliefs lie, nothing is forever. Thus the opening music and words of Silence, Darkness, Emptiness, draw the piece to its close, ending where it began, with the wind.

Michael Stimpson

 

English Concert Singers and Orchestra

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© 2018 Michael Stimpson