(“Andante Moderato”)

by lylechan on October 23, 2017

Bid Time Return cover image

My dear friends the Acacia Quartet will give 4 performances of this new work over Oct and Nov 2017 in Sydney and Melbourne. You can see details here or in the Calendar.

Like nearly all my pieces that Acacia has premiered, it is an excerpt from my ongoing String Quartet and was sketched many years before and now only finished with their support and encouragement.

The title (“Andante Moderato”) – so innocuous and neutral – comes from Mahler.

I first learned Mahler’s name many years before I heard his music. As a young boy, captivated by Superman, I followed news about the handsome actor Christopher Reeve. I learned that he was to make a movie called Somewhere in Time, based on a novel by Richard Matheson. So I read the novel, originally named Bid Time Return – and thus was introduced to the music of Mahler. Or at least, descriptions of the music. In the novel, a man find a way to travel back in time to meet a woman he is besotted by, merely from looking at her photograph. Mahler’s ninth symphony makes the journey with him.

Just as I never did see the movie, I didn’t actually hear any Mahler until many years later, and it took me many more years to appreciate, even like, Mahler’s music. But the first time listening to any music is a special moment, especially if it’s music you will be returning to again and again. When I took my friend Colin to his first concert of Mahler’s 6th symphony, I realised I was hearing the piece afresh. Isn’t it interesting that when you play a familiar piece for a friend, it feels like you’re hearing it for the first time yourself. You listen with their ears. In the slow movement is a brief, glorious tune, appearing in full only once, arrived at by the culmination of hints and fragments. As I listened, I heard a version of the voluptuous melody that wasn’t fleeting, didn’t leave, but came to stay.

To be continued …


Michael Duke, John Woolford (Wulff Scherchen) and Lyle Chan. Photo by Paul Woolford.

Update August 2017: Serenade won the Orchestral Work of the Year category of the 2017 Art Music Awards. As a first-time nominee of these awards, words cannot describe my gratitude to the judging panel and to APRA and the Australian Music Centre.

Update July 2017: Serenade is one of 4 Finalists, together with works by Ross Edwards, Elena Kats-Chernin and Andrew Ford, for Orchestral Work of the Year, 2017 Art Music Awards.

Update Mar 2017: you can now listen online to the world-premiere performance of Serenade here.

Update Jan 2017: ABC Classic FM has broadcast this work for the second time. The replay can be heard here until Feb 14, 2017.

Update Nov 2016: The broadcast of the entire concert can be heard on ABC Classic FM’s website until Dec 22. Click here to listen.

On September 22, 2016, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and Brisbane Festival present the world-premiere of an orchestral song cycle called Serenade for Tenor, Saxophone and Orchestra (“My Dear Benjamin”). The respective booking pages are here and here.

I am tremendously grateful to not just the orchestra and festival but also the soloists and conductor – Andrew Goodwin (tenor), Michael Duke (saxophone) and Paul Kildea (conductor) – for their belief in this work and the commitment and all that it takes to learn a major new work lasting nearly 40 minutes.

I am also indebted to the Britten-Pears Foundation for their approval to proceed with the work and the Woolford family for their trust, support and assistance.

During January of 2015 – summer vacation in Australia – I read a book that had been sitting on my book shelf for about 10 years. It was John Bridcut’s Britten’s Children. I had bought it because I’d been collecting books on Britten. Like Shostakovich, Britten was one of these composers whose music I was curious about because I did not automatically like it, and I wondered if it could be an acquired taste.

So I read this brilliant book and discovered there were in fact two significant romances in Britten’s life. His relationship with Peter Pears is very well known, even held up as an early example of an openly gay couple when being gay was illegal in the United Kingdom. But just about no one knew of his first relationship, with a young German man named Wulff Scherchen.

Wulff was the son of the conductor Hermann Scherchen, who had premiered so many masterpieces of his time like the Violin Concerto of Alban Berg. In June 1934 they were all at the festival in Florence of the International Society for Contemporary Music, little Wulff, 13 (nearly 14), tagging along his father. Britten, 21, and Wulff became fast friends, even sharing a macintosh raincoat one day in Siena when rain started.
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