for orchestra with soprano

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for orchestra with soprano

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Year of Composition 1996
Duration ca.49'
ISMN 9790570683437

Instrumentation Orchestra, Soprano
Forces 3+3.3+1.3+2.3/4431/timp/ 4perc/2hp/pf(cel)/sop/str.
Categories (all composers)
Catalogue ID ce-ns1l1


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During my holidays in the summer of 1973, when I was in a town called Poiana Brasov in the Carpathian Alps, I had a moment of silence after doing meditation in which a whole piece went through my mind. It was partly in music, partly in visuals and partly in the form of a philosophical idea. Afterwards, it took me a while to sort out what it meant. This piece was going to be about the process of attaining perfection. Its title, Lila, is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘the play of Nature’. According to Indian philosophy, this is a cyclical process, with energy moving alternately between potential and actual realisation.

The structure of the piece is provided by yoga philosophy which states that, in human beings, creative energy rises from the base of the spine to the top of the head through seven chakras’ or nodes. The flow of energy through each chakra represents a stage of development, as baser concerns are gradually cast off and the Self becomes submerged within the greater cosmic force. Each chakra, consequently, is associated with a particular colour, sound and elemental force.

The piece has seven sections, representing the seven stages of development, with the following associations:-

  1. Earth
  2. Water
  3. Fire
  4. Air
  5. Ether
  6. Consciousness
  7. Yoga (i.e. union)

Throughout the piece, at the start of each section, the double basses provide a pulse like a heartbeat, representing the process of meditation. And from here the first and ensuing stages of exploration, with their particular elemental characteristics, unfold.

The material has a two-fold thematic structure, one theme becoming pre-eminent, the other declining in importance, the shift in emphasis occurring in the fourth section. A motif on the alto-saxophone, representing base forces, dominates the earlier part of the work. However, even in the first section, in the midst of the orchestral sound, a phrase based on the harmonic series and played on the piccolos can be heard. This represents the emergence of Self-consciousness. As Self-consciousness deepens, and the preoccupation with all that is base begins to fall away, the phrase is amplified and extended by the orchestra, ultimately to be taken up by the soprano, who represents the fully realised Self. The piece culminates with a uniting of orchestral and vocal forces as the last chakra opens, and the Self gives way to Cosmic-consciousness, leaving nothing but pure energy, which is a formless void…

First performance 13th October 1996, BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins, with Sarah Leonard, soprano. Royal Festival Hall, London.

Commissioned by the BBC Symphony Orchestra.