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Michael Zev Gordon Michael Zev Gordon | 15:36 UK Time, Thursday, 7 July 2011

Picture of composer Michael Zev Gordon

Michael Zev Gordon

Composer Michael Zev Gordon is writing a new piece for the BBC Symphony Orchestra. In the coming months he'll let readers get inside his head, with regular insights into the actual process of composition


This blog will be, I hope, something unusual. Most times, composers are asked to write or talk about their music after they've written it. But what I want to do here is to blog about my new commission for the BBC Symphony Orchestra while I'm writing it.

So I'm not going to write about ideas when they're fully formed. Instead I want to reveal what it is to arrive at something, with all the possible accompanying uncertainties, all the things that change. I want to talk as much about what I reject as what I keep, to show how raw things can be at first, and something of the long graft of refining, of ordering.

I want to reflect sometimes, too, the quite complex relationship between my intuition - what I leave to gut feeling - and my conscious mind.

All this is going to be done over the next 6 months or so. I want to blog regularly every week or two - some of these blogs will appear on this website site. The piece itself will be performed in Autumn 2012 in the Barbican in London.

So what can I say to start off? Well, in fact I can't pretend I'm right at the start of the process. It's been bubbling away for months, even years in some ways. For a start, I received the commission more than a year ago, and my thoughts about a piece for large orchestra pre-date that.

What has driven it? In part, to build upon a piece written for the London Sinfonietta in 2009 - a work for piano, ensemble and electronics - in which I explored fragmentation and fragility; used past music as a trigger for expression to do with memory and nostalgia; and looked at how music can play out the opposition between tranquillity, as we let things go, and our human desires that root us. The central concept was a Buddhist one: The Impermanence of Things, which gave the piece its title.

How then to go on from this? Well, in particular I've started to think about how much the pull between stillness and turbulence has to do with time, or our perception of it. Time is of course always music's medium. It can always be seen to be shaping time, or its flow. But it is something that came much more into the consciousness of composers in the 20th century - and it feels it's my turn to focus that much more explicitly on this.

One of the best moments in music for me is when time appears to stop at the end of Stravinsky's Les Noces. Twenty-five minutes of rushing music and pulsation gives way to its opposite. Bells waft across air, space, time - into the ether. I want to think hard about how I can do something like this - and also how I might be able to use the orchestra to explore multi-layered times. And I want too to keep in mind my excitement about fragmentation, about things that do not come to a close, but hover in the air. And finally I want to dwell on how to develop an orchestral sound-world of intense beauty - and what feels particularly mine, a kind of fragile beauty - one that might easily be broken.

Well that's enough to start. Next time I want to think out loud about what I'm going to call my piece.




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