Proms 2006 – Julian Anderson & James Dillon Premieres

Written by: Colin Anderson

The Proms hosts two significant world premieres over the next few days. August 6 brings Heaven is Shy of Earth by Julian Anderson. Using an orchestra “bigger than any I’ve used before”, Julian’s original plan was to set “entirely Emily Dickinson in the shape of the six movements in the normal High Mass sequence. Then I decided I’d like to set more of the Latin text – which is very familiar, so you can pull the words about more. So I reduced the Emily texts to only one poem! Psalm 84 takes the place of the Credo.”

Julian is a member of the London Philharmonic Choir – he sang at the Proms last year in Beethoven and Elgar. This has given him “a much greater sense of how to write idiomatically for chorus” although his new work is “not that easy to sing in places.” He describes Heaven is Shy of Earth as a “celebration of nature. It’s very exciting to write for a Proms audience. Nick Kenyon (Director of the BBC Proms) gave me fantastic conditions: who would I like to conduct, which soloist, and what else could be in the programme?” The answers: Sir Andrew Davis, Angelika Kirchschlager (“amazing in Handel’s Julius Caesar last year”), and Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé. Julian describes his commission as “a secular Mass. The Dickinson poem is about a bird soaring in flight and the beauties of earthly nature that are compared to those of heaven and saying they’re better. Very crazy, very Emily. She’s mad, wonderful, but ultimately nuts!” Two CDs devoted to Julian Anderson’s music are about to be issued; one on Ondine followed by one on NMC.

Also lasting about 35 minutes is James Dillon’s Andromeda, a piano concerto. “Andromeda is a rather oblique reference to Scriabin’s Prometheus, a work which seems to exist in the interstice between symphonic poem (with piano obbligato) and concerto. The Andromeda and Prometheus myths share certain features. However, here the attraction ends – there are no programmatic imports in my work. My concerns are purely musical. The invocation of the Andromeda myth serves only as an allegory to some protean theatre, whether it’s the uncanny cries of Andromeda or perhaps the echo of the shoreline. The rocks at the shoreline where Andromeda is tied (as punishment) contains an image of edginess, of boundaries – and herein lies a clue to the state of the work.”

Has the solo part been written with Noriko Kawai in mind? “Only in part, although Noriko has a marvellous and dynamic sense of colour in her playing and I’m acutely aware of this in the writing. The work is cyclic in structure and this is the result of a displacement and re-ordering of material. The relationship between piano and orchestra is in flux. Sometimes it’s a question of perspective, of orientation and space; at other times it’s clearly transactional between the two. I am concerned with a certain strange exchange and not in the display aspect of the concerto. The perpetual growth and decay, the vertiginous precision of the moment, and the spontaneous nature of sound is reflected in the form. The relationship of soloist and orchestra is always shifting. Is one a part of the other, does one accompany the other?” Find out on August 10 alongside Sibelius and Stravinsky.


  • Proms 2006
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 3 August 2006 and is reproduced here with permission

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