1(=picc)-1-alto sax (=sop sax)-0-1 / 1-1-0-0 / 1 perc / hp / strings* * String parts may be played by small sections (say, 5-5-3-3-2), or by soloists
Commissioned by the Adelaide Chamber Orchestra with financial assistance from the Performing Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts
First performance by Patricia Pollett and the Biennial Sinfonietta conducted by James MacMillan, Queensland Biennial Festival of Music, Queensland Art Gallery, 25 July 1999
The Unquiet Grave (1997 – 98) for viola and chamber orchestra
This viola concerto in all but name was composed in three concentrated bursts over more than a year. The opening page of the score was written in a New York hotel room in January 1997, the day after I had conducted the first performance of my large ensemble work, Dance Maze, in Pittsburgh. Because I spent most of 1997 working on the radio programs and book of Illegal Harmonies, I was unable to return to the first page of my concerto until near the end of that year. By now, I had re-read Cyril Connolly’s book, The Unquiet Grave, and I had looked up the English folk song from which it took its name. Both the title and the tune became attached to my concerto. The next ten minutes of the piece were composed in less than a week during a stay in Kangaroo Valley, NSW. After another break from the piece, it was finally put to bed in April 1998, by which time I was resident in the Peggy Glanville-Hicks composers’ house in Sydney’.
The Unquiet Grave was written for Patricia Pollett, to whom it is dedicated. It was commissioned, with the assistance of the Music Fund of the Australia Council, by the Adelaide Chamber Orchestra, but in the time it took to complete, they went out of business. Consequently Patricia Pollett gave the first performance at the Queensland Art Gallery, during the 1999 Queensland Biennial Festival of Music. The Biennial Sinfonietta was conducted by James MacMillan.
The piece plays for about 17 minutes and just before the end, the English folk song, “The Unquiet Grave”, is quoted in full. The final page of the score bears the inscription “in memoriam Michael Tippett 1905 – 1998”.
On Saturday the strongest impression was made by Andrew Ford’s Unquiet Grave for viola and chamber orchestra (1997-98), a contemporary recasting of a Scottish border ballad that filters strands of folk music through a lyrical, sweeping and dissonant sound language. Jocelin Pan played the solo part with great sensitivity to texture.
Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times
Andrew Ford has called his viola concerto The Unquiet Grave but it is not very unquiet, even for a grave. The work evokes a transparent world of soft reminiscences, which become clearer and calmer. It is based on a folk song of the same name, fragments of which appear throughout and in full at the end in a beautiful passage, where the solo viola plays the tune, delicately ornamented against calmly descending lines from the strings. The idea is comparable to that used in Richard Strauss's late work Metamorphosen, where the funeral march from Beethoven's Third Symphony makes an unvarnished appearance at the end, but the effect taps more into English mysticism than the German soul. . .
The work's appeal comes from the gentle translucency of its string and single-wind scoring, with gong and bells penetrating the texture like highlighted threads.
Peter McCallum, The Sydney Morning Herald
The Unquiet Grave [is] a compact viola concerto in one movement. The piece takes its title from an English folk song, which Ford deconstructs note by note, phrase by phrase, in a series of quasi-variations. The theme is hinted at throughout, amid the dissonances and fleeting tonality, and something of its modal flavour lingers constantly in the background, like a ghostly presence. It is only in the final bars, though, that the viola states the theme in full. Although Ford's idiom is quite distinct, this “variations and, only then, theme” approach to an old song reminded me of another work for solo viola – Britten's Lachrymae on Dowland's galliard of the same name. An unconscious reference, perhaps? Ford makes fascinating use of harmonics to generate much of the disquieting atmosphere of The Unquiet Grave. Though the orchestral forces are small – a bare minimum compliment of strings and a skeleton staff of winds and brass – Ford employs a large battery of percussion instruments, asking his sole percussionist to flit from tubular bells to tam-tam, from vibraphone to crotales, from bass drum to marimba. Each percussion instrument is allowed to ring out, with the harmonics emerging from the percussion and from the harp taken up by the strings to produce an eerie mist of sound. Roger Benedict, the Sydney Symphony's principal viola, navigated the fragmented solo part with skill. His warm, dark tone suited the uneasy questioning of Ford's writing and his intense concentration was especially impressive in the hushed cadenza at the very end of the piece. It was the aural equivalent of watching a single guttering candle in a pitch black room. Only after this did the theme of the folk song emerge, a fragile statement, before the music was allowed to die on Benedict's bow. That is how the concert ended
Tim Perry, MusicWeb International
It was, however, not [James] MacMillan but Andrew Ford and Patricia Pollett who brought the house down at Sunday's Biennial finale, with the premiere of Ford's The Unquiet Grave for viola and chamber ensemble . . . Here was a work specifically tailored to the strengths of the performer. And Pollett's strengths were everywhere apparent, from the snarling opening motives, through the fantastic, ultra-soft tremblings of her cadenza, to the poignancy of the concluding English folk song, 'Cold blows the wind to my true love', which had inspired Ford's work. Ford's writing was throughout expressive, varied, subtle and supple: a beautifully crafted score.
Malcolm Gillies, The Australian