1(=picc)-1-1(=bass cl)-1(=contrabsn) / 1-0-0-0 / pno / 1-1-1-1-1
Commissioned by Steven Alward for the Omega Ensemble to celebrate the 60th birthday of Mark Wakely
First performance by the Omega Ensemble, City Recital Hall, Sydney, 20 April 2016
A minor obsession in my music of the past 25 years has been superimposing different and sometimes conflicting dance rhythms and metres. One of the first pieces to explore this was the string octet Pastoral (1991), another was Dance Maze (1996) for 17 instruments, a third example was the string quintet Sad Jigs ( 2005). In all these pieces I also tried to create a sort of invented folk music.
Contradance is another such attempt, and I chose the title partly to point to the rhythmic and metrical oppositions in the music, and partly to underline its rather boisterous nature: the historical term ‘contradance’ is an English version of the French ‘contradanse’, which in turn was a corruption of the English ‘country dance’.
It was only after I had begun composing the piece, however, that I realised there was a further connection between title and music in the often galumphing tread of the instrumentation, featuring the bass clarinet, the bottom end of the piano and, in particular, the contrabassoon and contrabass.
Contradance was tight and gripping, and tantalisingly full of little shards of dance which could be echoes of an old song, or might be brand new.
Harriet Cunningham, Sydney Morning Herald
Often meter and rhythm are at odds and frequently there is a sort of demented dancing gait, with multiple contrasting dances happening at once. It reminded me of a Bruegel painting.
Daniel Kaan, classikON
A substantial work inspired by imaginary folk music (“Martian” folk, Ford called it in his witty introductory speech), it launched itself from the nether regions of the piano. hand-in-hand with rasping contrabassoon, bass clarinet and plucked bass, it's halting rhythmic ruckus brought to mind Bartók taking a turn on the dance floor with the lovechild of Malcolm Arnold and John Adams. From that lumbering start it soon picked up with nimble cross playing on piccolo and duetting violins. Omega generally offered a sure footed and disciplined contribution, before the almost bluesy postlude wound the work down with a lovely horn solo over gently lapping strings. .
Clive Paget, Limelight