My piece is a setting of a poem by American poet Mark Strand, called Black Sea. I really love Strand’s poems – I remember when I got his book New Selected Poems, as usual I put in bits of paper to mark inspiring poems I might set, and at the end finding the book completely full of paper scraps with more poems marked than not! I’ve set several of his poems before, including his poem XXXV in my piece The Sickness of Angels: http://youtu.be/3A35ucEYIWA.
It’s hard to pin down exactly what in his work appeals to me. Certainly in XXXV and Black Sea there’s a profound and intense emotional sense, which is nuanced and detailed but still has a big impact. They both have a beautiful, lyrical flow and are full of colour and expression, with phrases like “…watching the slow swells of the sea / break on the shore and turn briefly into glass and disappear…” (Black Sea) and “the feel of kisses blown out of heaven, / Melting the moment they land” (XXXV).
There’s often a sense of loneliness too – in Black Sea the subject tells us how they went out into the night and gazed over a wide open empty sea, waiting and longing for someone (‘you’), before resigning themselves to disappointment and questioning why they could ever have expected the ‘you’ to come to them.
Read the whole poem at http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2012/05/01
Black Sea has a clear, powerful emotional theme which helps suggest musical atmospheres and ideas for the whole piece; those expressive colourful phrases – ‘sky strewn with stars’, ‘whispering night’, ‘hair mingling with the sea’ which give so much scope for expressive vocal lines and development of ideas from moment to moment; and a very clear build of expectation and hope and imagination through the piece before the resigned final section, which gives a clear structure for the piece.
When I picked this poem to set I was looking for something that I thought work really well for The Hermes Experiment line-up and the personalities of the performers. I’ve worked with them before and during the writing of the piece, discussing ways to realise my ideas, use the instruments and voice effectively, how to best express in sound what I see in poem, for example a very clearly defined, almost brittle harp sound used particularly around the opening lines about night and stars, and a rising, faltering sound on the bass which sounds almost as if it’s disappearing, slipping beyond reach.
Ed’s piece will be premiered on 5th June at the Shacklewell Arms, 8pm.