Commissioned by the Australian Chamber Orchestra to mark Richard Tognetti's 20th anniversary season
First performance by Pekka Kuusisto (violin) and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, City Hall, Newcastle, NSW, 12 March 2009
Andrew Ford: Bright Shiners (2009) for solo violin and string orchestra
When the Australian Chamber Orchestra first asked me to compose this piece to celebrate Richard Tognetti’s 20 years at the helm, I immediately heard a kind of sparkling music: high-pitched spiccato dots glittering in relief against slowly drifting harmonics.
This sound never went away, but I added to it a conceit learned from Berg’s Violin Concerto. Just before the end of that piece there is a magical passage in which the soloist alone begins to play a deeply lyrical plaint. It is not long before one, then two violins from the orchestra are inspired to join in. Next, the entire first violin section finds itself pulled into the action, then the second violins and finally the violas, all playing in one big unison. It is as though the solo violin has bewitched the other players, bending them effortlessly to its will.
The title Bright Shiners comes from that mysterious counting song ‘Green Grow the Rushes O’ with its arcane imagery of the two ‘lily-white boys’, six ‘proud walkers’ and eight ‘April rainers’. There are plenty of theories about the meaning of these references and also the identity of the nine ‘bright shiners’, but none that bears much scrutiny. I have no idea what the bright shiners are or were, but I’ve known the song since I was a small boy on the back seat of the family car and, 40-odd years later, the phrase nicely summed up the sparkling music I was imagining.