Commissioned by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra
First performance by Teddy Tahu Rhodes and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Daniel, Perth Concert Hall, 12 March 2010
A Dream of Drowning (2009) for baritone and orchestra
words by Tim Winton from his novel Breath
A Dream of Drowning was commissioned by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra for Teddy Tahu Rhodes to sing in the opening concert of the orchestra’s 2010 season. It is scored for baritone voice, vibraphone, harmonium, celesta, harp and strings.
For the text, I chose a passage from Tim Winton’s Breath describing a post-traumatic dream experienced by the central character, Bruce ‘Pikelet’ Pike.
I only remember the dream.
I was deep. The whole sea boiled overhead. White streaks of turbulence drove down like tracer fire and rocket trails, a free-fire zone in dim and shuddering green.
And I’m plummeting, a projectile. When it comes rushing at me, black as death, the reef is shot full of holes and I slam into one, headlong.
Next, I see myself, from outside my flailing, panicked body. Headfirst. Wedged in the rock. While my lungs turn to sponge and the ocean inside me flickers with cruel light.
Tim Winton, Breath
Breath © Tim Winton 2008, published by Hamish Hamilton. Reproduced with the permission of Penguin Group (Australia).
Under the baton of principal conductor Paul Daniel, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra opened its 2010 season with the premiere of Andrew Ford's orchestral song A Dream of Drowning, a setting of a short passage from Tim Winton's novel Breath. Ford describes the passage as a post-traumatic dream, but in the novel it is also a premonition of danger for the central character, Bruce Pike. Ford deftly captures its sense of quiet menace. Ford's Icarus Drowning (1998) was scored for strings, celesta, harp, percussion and clarinet. Apart from the switch from clarinet to baritone, this new 'drowning' piece is for similar forces.
The work opens with an evocation of slow breathing, before the vibraphone marks the transition to sleep and the start of the dream. Here the vocal line, sung with great intensity by Teddy Tahu Rhodes, is strongly etched against a wash of string colour. In a powerful wordless conclusion, the vibraphone assumes the leading role, hammering out an increasingly desperate warning. If I have a criticism of the work, it is that its taut and tense six-minute span feels very much like an episode in a larger drama. Perhaps - hopefully - Ford will find a place for it in a longer cycle. Fittingly, Ford brought Winton with him to the stage to acknowledge the applause.
Paul Hopwood, The Australian
From Tim Winton's novel Breath, Ford has taken a section of text describing the sensation of drowning and set it for baritone, strings, vibraphone, harmonium, celesta and harp. The contrast between the strings and the variegated colours of the other instruments evokes the darkness and multiple hues of the ocean depths, while the writing, which includes such devices as overlapping ascending scales and tightly-controlled crescendos, perfectly complements the poetry of the text. New Zealand baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes was as always a commanding presence, his baritone rich and resonant . . . [T]his was a wholly satisfying listening experience, and when Ford and Winton came on stage to take their bows the audience showed its appreciation in no uncertain terms.
William Yeoman, The West Australian