Voices on the Air

for chamber ensemble of eight players

Mark Bowden

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for chamber ensemble of eight players

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Composer Mark Bowden
Year of Composition 2021
Duration ca.5'

Instrumentation Flute, Clarinet/Bass Clarinet, Horn, Percussion, Violoncello, 2 Violins, Viola
Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-mb1vota1


Commissioned and composed during the UK’s third lockdown period of the Covid-19 pandemic, this short chamber piece is a reworking of a duet from Act II, Scene 1 of my opera Sea Change. The opera is set in an imagined future where people live under the sea in individual pods, communicating only via screens. It is strange writing an opera during the uncertainty of a global pandemic; doubly so when the story focusses on a community isolated from each other and the outside world. In the scene which inspired this piece, Kai — voiced by the viola in this transcription — has travelled to an observation chamber near the surface of the ocean where she hears a sound through the water. A voice, perhaps? It is Anouk (represented by the flute), a woman who lives on the land. The two women had been unaware of the existence of each other’s community until this point. Together they sing “We are not alone. Apart, unseen, but still here and through our voices in company.” It can seem clichéd to talk about life imitating art, but this idea rang true when composing this work. The feeling of sometimes being in company only through a “voice on the air” was at times inescapable during the composition process.

Voices on the Air was commissioned by Uproar and BBC Radio 3 for BBC Radio 3’s New Music Show.

The first broadcast performance was given by Uproar conducted by Michael Rafferty at BBC Maida Vale Studios on 20th March 2021