1 The Menuhin Hall
Stoke D’Abernon, Surrey (Burrell Foley Fisher 2006)
2 Ronchamp Chapel
Chapel of Nôtre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, France (Le Corbusier 1955)
3 The East Stand
Arsenal Stadium, Highbury, London (William Binnie 1936)
4 Grand Central Waltz
Grand Central Terminal, New York (Reed and Stem 1913)
5 Walt Disney Concert Hall
Los Angeles, California (Frank Gehry 2003)
Bear Run, Pennsylvania (Frank Lloyd Wright 1935)
7 The Gherkin
30, St Mary Axe, London (Norman Foster 2004)
Frozen Music was commissioned by the Yehudi Menuhin School for a gala concert in the newly opened Menuhin Hall; celebrating the 90th Anniversary of Yehudi Menuhin’s birth. The composer took the opportunity to write a set of pieces based on architectural models.
Each of the seven movements evokes a particular piece of architecture. The sharp visual contrasts between the buildings are reflected in abrupt shifts of musical style. The compositional approach to each movement is guided by the techniques used by the architect – for example, in Ronchamp Chapel, the composer borrows proportional relationships from Le Corbusier’s “Modulor” architecture to structure the music.
The first movement is based on the Menuhin Hall itself and presents a phantasmagoria of music closely associated with Yehudi Menuhin and with his school; echoes of Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss and Schoenberg are frozen in time. The extended quotation from Schubert’s Litanei remembers Menuhin’s funeral, when all 29 violinists at the school gave a moving and unforgettable performance of the song.
The whole score is suffused with references, quotations and ciphers which occasionally bubble up to the surface. Fallingwater, for instance, is built from fragments of pieces about rivers and waterfalls. Grand Central Waltz refers to a scene in Terry Gilliam’s film The Fisher King where rush-hour commuters at New York’s Grand Central Terminal suddenly start Waltzing en masse.
The first performance was given on the, 22nd April 2006, in The Menuhin Hall, Stoke D’Abernon, Surrey, UK. Tom Ellis was the soloist with string players from the Yehudi Menuhin School. The same emsemble gave the first London performance at the Wigmore Hall, on 27th June 2006. The first U.S. performance was given by guitarist Ricardo Iznaola with members of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Hamilton Recital Hall, Newman Performing Arts Center, Colorado, USA on 5th October 2006. Recorded on Frozen Music (© 2007) – a collection of Stephen Goss’s chamber music.
Frozen Music (For Guitar, Violin, Viola, Cello)
This quartet is another considerable undertaking from British classical guitarist Stephen Goss and consists of seven movements that total about 20 minutes. It was commissioned by the Yehudi Menuhin School for a gala concert in the newly opened school, celebrating the 90th anniversary of Menuhin’s birth. The piece’s inspiration is architecture-the actual school itself, but also spreading to France, New York, California, Pennsylvania, and London.
As the first movement relates to the Menuhin School itself and represents the vast array of music associated with the building, we hear echoes of Beethoven, Strauss, Schoenberg, and an extended quotation from Schubert’s “Litanei”-remembering Menuhin’s funeral when all 29 violinists at the school gave a moving performance of the song. This takes a central place in the movement, with undulating string arpeggios topped by a gently swaying guitar part. The movement starts and ends with a free-sounding section involving long trill-like passages topped with guitar harmonic chords, that all die away at its close.
“Roncharnp Chapel” in France comes next and is another calm and still opening, with long drawn notes giving way to a bell-like guitar solo interweaving harmonic notes and ordinary ones. The two ideas swap a number of times, only broken at one point by a rushing arpeggio idea on solo guitar marked “strong and clear,” a considerable contrast to what went before and the calm and still-long notes that close the movement.
“Arsenal Stadium’s East Stand” (London) is next, and is marked “high energy”, with the guitar strumming frenetically, and the strings making lots of abrupt rhythmic interjections throughout. The time signatures are in constant flux, and there is a higher degree of dissonance here compared to what has gone before.
An attacca leads without break into “Grand Central Waltz,” relating to New York’s main train terminal. This instructs the guitar to be harp-like, and indeed spends its time playing swaying arpeggios or broken chords for most of this movement, with a couple of tricky moments of diving around helter-skelter without a safety net!
“WaIt Disney Concert Hall” (LA) follows immediately and is marked, unusually, “allegro pizzicato, tight!” The guitar therefore plays running arpeggios involving glissandos and slurs, while the other players are performing the pizzicato. This situation carries through right to the end of this movement and proves to be a considerable handful.
“Fallingwater” (named for Frank L10yd Wright’s famous Pennsylvania abode), by comparison, is very free and slow, with long spaces and a dream-like feel throughout; a watery theme and feel to it, but not easy to play, as there are some unusual and extremely precise indications throughout that take considerable working out.
“The Gherkin” is the final movement, opening in 10/8 with a “bold and bright, but warm and tender” indication on the score, but moving through multiple time signatures along the way. The guitar has a running part that requires dexterity and energy, and towards the close involves an alternation of rasgueado and percussive chords leading to an upbeat finish.
This is a major work that needs top-class players to do it justice. Goss’ harmonies are often unusual and at times difficult to pin down, but nothing is atonal or too hard to digest, and once one gets used to his very individual way of writing, the piece is well worth any chamber group’s attention.
by Chris Dumigan