Annunciation Triptych (2019-2022)

Three scores sit on my desk in Berlin.
They make up my large orchestral cycle, Annunciation Triptych (2019-2022) comprising:
I. Sappho/ Bioluminescence (2019-2020)
II. Mary/ Transcendence after Trauma (2020-21)
III. Fatimah/ Flowers of Jubilation (2021-22)

The various parts of this 50-minute cycle were commissioned by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the WestDeutscherRundfunk Sinfonie-Orchester, and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks.

*Update, 8 May 2022: a recording of the WDR live broadcast of the premiere can be found here

2019-22 These are the years that span the first drastically challenging years of the global pandemic (whose end is not at all clear). There were two cancellations each of the first two parts but it looks like performances in 2022 will be possible for which I am infinitely grateful.

The premiere of the full cycle is scheduled for 29 April 2022 by the WDR Sinfonie-Orchester conducted by Cristian Măcelaru with the wonderful soprano, Emily Hindrichs (who starred in my opera ‘Tree of Codes’ back in 2016!), at the Philharmonie in Cologne as part of Musik der Zeit.

The BBCSSO under Ilan Volkov are due to play Sappho/ Bioluminescence a couple of days later on 1 May in Glasgow as part of the 2022 Tectonics festival. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Johannes Kalitzke are due to play Mary/ Transcendence after Trauma in October 2022. I’ve written previous blogposts about Sappho/ Bioluminescence and Mary/ Transcendence after Trauma.

Here are some words about the third part:

Fatimah/ Jubilation of Flowers (2021-2022)

For soprano, orchestra and singing audience 

This work forms the third part of a cycle of orchestral works called ‘Annunciation Triptych’ (2019-2022) which celebrates three female spiritual leaders: Sappho, Mary and Fatimah. I wanted to explore the figure of the Lady Fatimah al-Zahra, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them), as the ‘seed of light’ that radiates into the world. 

One of the questions or challenges of the ‘Annunciation’ theme is that something is being announced, but can one answer? Can one respond to it? I have thematised this in the cycle as a relation between a profound receptivity through hearing and a speaking forth that is a spilling over after having been filled up — receptivity generates response. It is in the third and final part, ‘Fatimah’, where this dyad: the state of receptivity passing into voicing, comes to fruition The music is set in a devotional, elegiac register. Through Etel Adnan’s words, the soprano sings of the luminosity of a woman, of flowers whose beauty and seeming fragility contain an unshakeable resilience that rises above violence. The words for me condense lamentation and love into lyric space.

In the musical work, the intention is that the singer begins her song from amongst the audience — she is ‘one of us’ — before making her way to join the orchestra on stage. A little later, there is a section of audience participation where the listeners are invited to join in singing/humming to the resonance of the orchestra ­– a very simple, natural and hopefully non-coercive gesture (!)

I would like to express my deep gratitude to Etel Adnan’s partner Simone Fattal and to E. Tracy Grinnell and Rachael Wilson of Litmus Press for their graciousness in allowing me to set these words which are just one part of the expression of Etel Adnan’s (1925-2021) extraordinary light as an artist and poet. ‘Fatimah/ Jubilation of Flowers’ is dedicated to her memory.

She moved through crowds
like a bunch of flowers
breathless was I like a young
she was a light-wave through 
my hands
nations were at war
and men falling faster than
leaves on that Indian
but she was the beginning of 
the day
flowers do not grow on rifles
believe me they rise and never
they use colours as we use words
they recite poems in my ears
they never die, oh no!
we only cease to see them…
                                               as I stopped seeing her in my dreams.

Excerpt from The Spring Flowers Own & The Manifestations of the Voyage (The Post-Apollo Press 1990) is used with permission granted by The Estate of Etel Adnan. All rights reserved.

Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin workspace, November 2021

big acknowledgements

Writing an orchestral cycle requires a ridiculous amount of support: time, resources, money, intellectual and artistic interlocutors, space for mental and emotional journeying.

I am grateful to so many people and institutions for their support during the period of the composition of this cycle. I thank the orchestras, festivals/concert series and their artistic directors for the support of commissions and for the trust they’ve shown in my work: BBCSSO/ Andrew Trinnick/ Tectonics Festival/ Ilan Volkov; WDR Orchestra/ Musik der Zeit/ Harry Vogt; BRSO/ Musica Viva Munich/ Winrich Hopp. I thank my publisher Casa Ricordi with whom I celebrate a 30-year publishing association this year and the team of people across its offices that have supported my work — some over that entire 30 years such as Marco Mazzolini in Milano (!) heading the production & editorial team that includes Martha Agostini and especially to Pete Readman to whom I owe an enormous debt of gratitude for typesetting every large score of mine since 2005; as well as the wonderful Ricordi & Co. team in Berlin: Silke Hilger, Maximillian von Auloch, Daniela Brendel, Jascha Zube, Henrik Almon, Lasse Mueller, Verena Berger. a village…

I want to thank my ‘home’ institution, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music at the University of Sydney, and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin who have been hosting me with a miraculously privileged fellowship and residency in these past months. With thanks to old and new colleagues especially my fellow Fellows at Wiko with whom I’ve had so many surprising conversations, to close composer and performer friends, and not forgetting students too.

and then my eternal thanks to my family and friends…and to my closest, Daryl and Raph.

  1. […] orchestral work: ‘Mary/ Transcendence after Trauma’, the middle part of a large cycle of works, Annunciation Triptych (2019-22). I saw that the ending I had was too passive and too sure of itself, and so I opened up […]

Comments are closed.