Shadow Game

By composer Charlotte Bray, @composerbray,


Music in the Round approached me with a proposal of writing a new piece for four soloists from Ensemble 360 and chamber orchestra, a piece which was being commissioned to celebrate the opening of a new venue in Doncaster. Having recently heard the ensemble perform and been very impressed, I was naturally delighted to receive this invitation.

The instrumentation was fairly free; I decided to write for solo flute, clarinet, French horn, and cello. The chamber orchestra was going to be either a youth orchestra or an amateur orchestra from the local area. It is quite a challenge to write for an amateur or youth group as well as professionals as one needs to ensure that each part is at the right level, whilst balancing artistic integrity and not sacrificing one’s own style too much.

I wrote the work with a slightly different approach than I had used before, composing much of the material through improvisation; I used a computer program to record ideas, played in through a MIDI keyboard, and then manipulated and sculpted the sounds. I wrote the entire score by hand still – as I normally would have – but had a good impression of what the score will sound like and a knowledge of the individual lines, which in turn allowed me to ensure that the ensemble parts are of an appropriate level of difficulty.

Around 16 minutes in duration, the piece is in 3 movements, with parts 2 and 3 connected without a pause.

The title, Shadow Game, reflects musical ideas at play in the work- it’s a game of light and darkness; where is the shadow cast? There are parts of extreme lyrical intensity (sensuousness, loss, searching…), as well as parts of fiery zest and unstoppable passion, where sparks fly around between soloists and ensemble. Melodies are connected to each other; there is constant dialogue between the soloists, organically linked and often flowing as if one.

A sensuous cello melody opens the work, accompanied by chords that appear before vanishing into the dark. The cello line is taken over by solo flute, playfully shadowed by the ensemble flautist, a feature which continues throughout the piece between soloist and ensemble. The violins have a long melodic solo before riff-based passages push the pace forward. The horn solos over this, with flute counter-melody. A different riff appears with interlocking rhythms developing on top. Layers build heightening tension, and the work accelerates towards a climax that leaves the four soloists to finish it alone. A quiet lyrical clarinet appears out of nowhere, shadowed by flute.

Movement 2 begins with a dark chordal string accompaniment to a mysterious lyrical cello line. The flute takes over a solo role once again, while the strings become static on a series of extremely slow chords. Shadow games are seen between solo instruments and their pairing instrument in the ensemble. After a lyrical horn solo, the cello returns to its opening melody, over which the flute and clarinet are heard reiterating a version of the chordal accompaniment from the opening of the movement.

The third part opens with a pizzicato cello solo. Strings play long tremolo lines throughout. Basses, cellos, and bassoons enter with a playful pizzicato riff; stabbing chords are heard in the winds under a fast improvisatory clarinet solo. The pace and intensity builds; solo flute and horn sustain lines, while the cello continues pizzicato. Having reached the height of the movement, the horn sounds a triumphant melody with a flute countermelody. Accompanied by the string tremolo, the cello ends the movement, bringing us full circle.

I’m very much looking forward to the premiere of Shadow Game on the 8th of February 2014 in CAST, Doncaster. Book now!

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