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San (Octet)

'San' (/sän/) is Serbian for 'sleep' or 'dream'. 

This piece came about because I was travelling to Oslo to perform a violin and

piano recital with violinist Ole Bohn, former concertmaster of the Norwegian

Opera and now a Professor at the Sydney Conservatorium, where we met.

One of the works in that recital was my new piece for violin and piano,

'Extinction Rebellion'. As an octet concert was planned for the week after,

Ole asked whether I wanted to contribute a short work.

I thought long and hard about what type of work I wanted to write, and

eventually started forming an idea of a slow contrapuntal movement inspired

by Bach's concerto style, with the wind instruments playing the solo lines

and the strings functioning as the ripieno (I tend to be inspired by the music

I am practising on the piano at a particular time, and in this case I was in the

midst of learning the Bach D minor concerto, which I was smitten with).

Although I had the form, I still did not have the soul of the piece - that burst of

inspiration that would determine the spirit of the music. 

It finally came (and not a moment too soon), unexpectedly, after watching

a certain movie, which I will abstain from naming...

I juggled various names around when it came to the question of naming - most were too explicit. In the end, I chose a

simple name, but with a twist, as it is in my mother tongue, Serbian.


Though I think the title is enough to give an impression of the idea of the piece, I thought I'd also share with you this short poem I wrote, which I am still considering including in the score, as it offers more of a glimpse into the structural idea of the piece:

Dream! Do not fade -

let me cling a little longer

to nocturnal rays of sunlight.  

Yet with each waking blink,

further into darkness do you sink...

For the staging set-up, I have the string quintet arranged in a 

semi-circle in the background, with the three solo wind players

forming an intimate trio in the foreground. I experimented

with colourful, dazed harmonies in the opening, before

the soloists enter. I decided to include a theatrical element:

at the end of the piece, the wind players end their parts one by one,

and slowly walk offstage in different directions, like departing ghosts.

During this 'fading of memory', I experimented with a quarter-tone progression

in the strings, the diminished distances between chords creating a feeling akin to an

image slowly, painfully coming undone. I liked it so much that I should kick myself if I don't take these newfound colours further in future works. 

Now I'm sorry - I couldn't resist imposing my image of what the music meant to me as I was writing it onto your mind. Feel free to ignore it. Perhaps I'll retract it in five years (see the blog post I wrote about the extra-musical descriptions). But either way, I hope you enjoy listening to my Octet, San. Best listened to with headphones, in complete solitude, letting your imagination wander. 

With thanks to Ole Bohn for the commission, and the performers:
Ole Bohn and Odd Hannisdal, violin, Mark Tukh, viola, Ingvild Nesdal Sandnes, cello, Dan Styffe, contrabass, Andreas Sundén, clarinet, Leann Currie, bassoon and Maxim Semenov, horn.
Also thanks to the Gustav Vigeland Museum in Oslo for hosting the premiere performance.

Osloo 4.jpg

Image: sitting in on the final rehearsal of the Octet at the Gustav Vigeland Museum, just before the performance.

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