Commissioned by Barbara Blackman for the Canberra International Music Festival.
First performance by the New Zealand String Quartet and Tinalley String Quartet, Canberra International Music Festival, Fitters' Workshop, Canberra, 9 May 2015
Performed by the New Zealand String Quartet and Tinalley String Quartet, Canberra International Music Festival, 2015
When Roland Peelman asked me if I’d write a new piece for the 2015 Canberra International Music Festival, he called it a ‘double string quartet’, and added ‘like the Mendelssohn’. In fact this is a slight contradiction. Mendelssohn’s astonishing Octet – astonishing, not least, because it’s the work of a boy – is generally played when two quartets come together, but actually it’s a piece for four violins, two violas and two cellos. The more I thought about my piece, the more I liked the notion of a ‘double string quartet’ – a piece in which each quartet retains its identity. In my mind’s eye, I even saw the two groups sitting separately on stage, a sort of musical ‘no man’s land’ between them. ‘No man’s land’, indeed, was my first idea for a title, but I had already used it as the title of a movement in another piece. Then I wondered about ‘Neutral Ground’, but there was something a little dispiriting about the word ‘neutral’ in a title. Finally, I hit on Common Ground, the title referring not only to the shared space between the two ensembles, but to a shared ground bass. This is the same ground bass that runs through my song A Pitch Dark Night, a setting of a passage from the Gallipoli diary of Arthur Taylor, and just before the end of Common Ground, the song itself appears, rearranged and passed back and forth between the two quartets.
Common Ground was commissioned for the Canberra International Music Festival by my generous friend, Barbara Blackman, and first performed by the New Zealand String Quartet and the Tinalley String Quartet at the Fitters’ Workshop, Canberra, on 9 May 2015.