No 13 Comfort, for Orchestra (2001)
For Large Orchestra
Commissioned by: Holland Festival, with financial support from the Netherlands Fund for the Creation of Music
First Performance: Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Jun 6 2001, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. Cond. Micha Hamel
Instrumentation: Large Orchestra.
Special Features: large alarm bells for the percussion.
Comfort, for Orchestra was written in 2001 for the opening concert of the Holland Festival in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, where it was premiered by the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. The piece is an ‘exercise’ in strict note-to-note counterpoint on a line which was constructed in such a way that it seems to perpetuate itself infinitely. The title was derived from the 23rd Psalm ('thy rod and thy staff shall comfort me') and re-interpreted in the sense of 'judgment brings solace' (instead of the usual shepherdly connotations); a theme which recurred frequently throughout my earlier works. In orchestrating Comfort I sought to treat the orchestra as a single instrument - something akin to hammering on the piano with 100 separate hands - and specifically chose an extremely dissonant harmonic language, a dissonance which was further enhanced by the use of the musicians’ feet and a battery of very abrasive percussion instruments. The piece then proceeds as one grand build up of sound.
To my (perhaps naive) surprise, Comfort provoked an indescribable riot upon its first performance; a response which virtually outlasted the entire duration of the piece itself. Whether this response was due to a suddenly perceived lack of quality of the piece or due to misgivings about either the title, the use of the musicians’ feet or the entry of the alarm-bells, or due to the deconstruction of the orchestra in the manner I chose to orchestrate – or all of the above - is something which puzzled me for quite a while until it eventually became clear that title and execution alone were already perfectly sufficient to be perceived as an affront. Subsequent performances by other orchestras, in any case proceeded without any further ado.