Title: Clear Night!

Year: 2007/08

Program note from the premiere:

Christian Mason has already built a strong relationship with the LSO over several projects, and his new work for the Pioneers programme is related to his previous piece for the orchestra. …from bursting suns escaping… was developed as part of the LSO’s Panufnik Young Composers Scheme, and has subsequently been played by the BBC Philharmonic under James MacMillan. Although standing on its own as a self-contained piece, Mason intends that Clear Night will also be seen as the second movement of a work in two parts.

Mason winningly describes the development of the material as ‘many of the old ideas being taken to exciting new places.’ Indeed, Clear Night begins where bursting suns left off, with a seven-note chord that in the previous piece created ‘a calm sense of stasis’, but which here inaugurates an extended chord progression into the main body of the piece. The short but dense-textured work also features cascading textures (descending or ascending), and pointillistic sequences (for example in harp, celeste and solo strings) that suggest the starry sky of the title. ‘The bursts of natural harmonics in the solo strings always emerge from the last attack in a constellation of “points”,’ Mason writes, ‘like emanations of starlight against the night sky.’

Mason has frequently been inspired by ideas around light and sound (as can be seen in several of his other titles, which he admits often arrive at the beginning of the composition process, and include Aspects of Radiance and Under Heaven: sometimes…). Clear Night draws its title from the poem ‘Tenebrae’ by David Gascoigne (1916-2001). Gascoigne was a rare British surrealist; he met the leading French surrealists while living in Paris before the war, and translated the work of several of them. ‘Tenebrae’ continually gestures to a strongly spiritual idea of radiance: ‘It is the endless night, whose every star/ Is in the spirit like the snow of dawn…’

Mason, born in 1984, has had a remarkable amount of success as a composer, even before he graduated from York University in 2006. His work with the LSO has also included a major project with the Japanese violinist Midori, composing the recital work Efflorescence, which she performed at St Luke’s earlier this year. His music may show the influence of the instruments he himself plays – the violin and the unearthly electronic theremin. Some of his pieces carefully build through luminescent textures, but he is also particularly interested in improvisation and the possibility of spinning into unexpected directions.

© David Jays (2008)

      Clear Night