This is the Foreword to the CD Homage - chamber music by Philip Grange
by Gemini's Director, Ian Mitchell
Gemini and Philip Grange have had an association going back nearly 30 years from the early 1990s developing more closely when Grange and I were both on the staff at the University of Exeter, from the mid-1990s, and where Gemini became Ensemble-in-Association for eleven years. The association has included three commissions: Des fins sont des commencements (1994) written for a national tour to mark the 60th birthday of Grange’s teacher and close friend, Peter Maxwell Davies; A Puzzle of Shadows (1997) and Shifting Thresholds originally discussed in the early two thousands, which came to fruition when both the composer and I had space for it, spurred on by Gemini’s desire to mark Grange’s 60th birthday in 2016. We have also recorded two CDs of his chamber music before this one: Dark Labyrinths released by Black Box in 2000 and Darkness Visible in 2006 on the Metier label. Both were a Critic’s Choice of the Year in Gramophone magazine. In addition, Gemini has given around thirty performances of various works, toured the UK and, memorably, Taiwan with the composer. So, it was with enormous pleasure that I said yes when Philip said he would like to record Shifting Thresholds – the major chamber work of just over 30 minutes in length that he wrote for Gemini to premiere in his 60th birthday concert at the University of Manchester in December 2016.
It is a fascinating work that includes elements new to his compositional palette, and perhaps surprising for others to discover. The work is inspired by Samuel Becket’s extraordinary novel Malone Dies and, as I have written elsewhere, familiarity with the score shows things absorbed: passing moments of absolute stillness found in Beckett and in music by Morton Feldman, a close friend of Beckett; there often appears to be less of a sense of narrative driving the music forward in a typical Grange way, and more of a Beckettian reflective exploration of material in different contexts or from different angles, sometimes as if half forgotten, perhaps – at times the music revolving more than marching onwards towards a goal. Indeed, there is in essence no goal, the music apparently heading to a climax only to distort and fall apart, struggling to continue and finally expiring … There are also some novel (for Grange) instrumental techniques used in passing such as multiphonics for the bass clarinet (multiple sounds produced simultaneously), and quarter tones for strings.
All four works on the disc pay homage not just in name, but more deeply through Grange exploring and assimilating elements of each artist’s work, shining his own light on them by absorbing these elements into his own language.
As ever with Phil, it was a highly stimulating project to work on, the fruits of which we are pleased and eager to share widely.