Hayes, Morgan: Strip. Rental
Full score and instrumental material
Duration: 12 minutes
For two flutes (both doubling piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets in A (both doubling clarinet in E flat), two bassoons, double bassoon, four horns, two trumpets in C, three trombones, tuba, percussion (three players), cimbalom, piano, harmonium (doubles as 2nd pianist), harp and strings (minimum number of players: 184.108.40.206.6.)
Commissioned by the BBC for the BBC Promenade Concerts
1st perf: BBC Symphony Orchestra, Joseph Swensen (cond), Royal Albert Hall, London, 25 August 2005. Simultaneous broadcast on BBC Radio 3
Like his teacher Michael Finnissy, Morgan Hayes has long been fascinated by the idea of transcription. In one of his earliest published pieces, Weaving, Hayes takes as his starting point two famous ground basses by Purcell – from Dido’s Lament and the Chacony in G minor. This simple premise supports musical elaboration of great fantasy, and while the Purcell originals are clearly present, they are enfolded by Hayes’s music so convincingly that they no longer function as quotation or allusion but are fully possessed.
If this layering of musical material has been a constant means in Hayes’s work, the ends to which it has been put are remarkably varied, underpinning the densely textured Viscid (1995) as much as the Squarepusher arrangement Port Rhombus (2004). What has changed over the last ten years is the increasing transparency with which Hayes presents his musical ideas. The style of his early ensemble pieces is of great textural intricacy, teeming with irrational rhythms and quarter-tone inflected harmony and melody. Now, the music contains much more explicit repetition while the harmonic language happily embraces the (almost) diatonic and the (totally) chromatic.
Strip is Hayes’s first work for orchestra and the title refers not only to his layering of material but also his desire to strip down the music and its presentation to the simplest means. Thus, the opening presents a repeating rhythmic idea on various untuned percussion instruments, punctuated by a single chord founded on perfect and augmented fourths and major and minor seconds. Heard initially on harp and piano and arpeggiated by the cellos and basses, the chord is subsequently transposed and inverted and yields melodic figures for wind and brass. When the cellos and basses take over (and elaborate) the untuned percussion tattoo, two solo violins enter, playing the kind of athletic cantabile lines so characteristic of Hayes’s chamber music. Steadily increasing in intensity, the music reaches a brief hiatus before unleashing the full orchestra, appassionato, for the first sustained coalescence of melody and harmony.
With this stratified exposition of rhythm, pitch and timbre, from the bass upwards (broadly speaking), Strip can be heard as another disguised passacaglia, the idea that first entranced Hayes as a student and which, as always with this composer, supports a narrative of great poetry and invention.
© Christopher Austin 2005
The commissioned pieces at this year’s Proms have thus far been a mixed bag. But Strip, by the 32-year-old British composer Morgan Hayes, heard at last night’s BBC Symphony Orchestra Prom, was certainly among the more striking.
Hayes conjured some interesting sounds – splintered pizzicati, twanging cimbalom, chords that melted into licks of melody, the whole glittery mass bound together by the breathy reediness of the harmonium.
But the piece’s real fascination was its teasing suggestion that under all the variety lay just one thing, which was never said out loud. It made me want to hear the piece again, there and then.
Ivan Hewett, The Daily Telegraph, 26 August 2005
Finally, last night there was the first performance by the BBC Symphony and Joseph Swensen (filling in on short notice for an indisposed Sir Andrew Davis) of Strip, an orchestral piece by Morgan Hayes, which was a BBC Proms commission. Hayes is 32 years old, a former student of Michael Finnissy, Simon Bainbridge, and Robert Saxton. He’s a composer I had heard a lot about (good stuff), but I had not before now heard any of his music. It’s in a modernistic, not especially tonal style. Strip begins with a grid of non-tuned percussion music, over which is eventually suspended dissonant longish chords.
Eventually the percussion rhythms migrate into bass instruments and acquire pitches, and intense and active melodic lines flower, most memorably for two solo violins for a while. The building up of all that is really pretty impressive … I’d like to hear the piece again, and to hear more of Hayes’s music – soon.
Rodney Lister, www.sequenza21.com, 26 August 2005
Strip, Morgan Hayes’s first Proms commission, is also his first work for orchestra. Cutting your orchestral teeth at such a high-profile occasion should be daunting for any composer, but there is no trace of tentativeness in Hayes’s intricate and highly wrought piece, which lasts about 12 minutes.
Born in 1973 and a former pupil of Finnissy, Saxton and Bainbridge, Hayes has impeccable modernist credentials, but though his music has a modernist intensity of detail it is neither austere nor abstract. The starting point for Strip was the National Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Pericles, which made a big impression on Hayes. The piece is also studded with allusions to other composers (and previous Proms commissions) that he admires. It makes for an incident-packed musical trip.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 27 August 2005
Strip is the first work for orchestra that Morgan Hayes, still in his early thirties, has written. Its title apparently refers to the layering of the material and to the fact that it is intended to be stripped of everything unnecessary.
Such information might have led those who gathered for its world premiere at last night’s Prom, given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Joseph Swensen (replacing a sick Sir Andrew Davis) to expect a fashionably minimalist piece, where space is filled rather than created.
Far from it. Hayes is one of those rare, sacred animals who enjoys modernistic complexity and seeks to express his individuality within that world. His music is all the better for that. Not that Strip, on first hearing, sounded perfectly formed. For about half of its duration Hayes seemed to be groping his way into the medium, slightly bemused by the enormous box of tricks at his command, though perhaps the BBCSO’s rather tentative playing had something to do with that feeling. Yet little by little the music began to gel, the composer’s confidence – or maybe one’s confidence in him – growing with each bar.
Yes, this work did have substance, direction and a sense of destination, and when it ended one was left hungry for more.
Stephen Pettitt, Evening Standard, 26 August 2005