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Portraits of Immortal Love - Percussion Concerto

World Premiere - Tacoma Symphony Orchestra
Maestra Sarah Ioannides; Dame Evelyn Glennie
25th October 2014

Program Notes – Portraits of Immortal Love


My inspiration is that of the desperate hope of the world 100 years ago when Mothers, Fathers. Daughters, Sons, Wives, Husbands, Girlfriends, Boyfriends & Lovers waited for news of their special person and the love stories that have endured. The Great War separated many lovers, where the only means of communication was the written word.  


The concerto begins with a unison D in the strings and distant church bells calling. The first theme “Love’s first awakening” is stated with the bells still interweaved. The solo oboe soars to its final “A” with the orchestra weaving a chromatic tapestry to a final chord of D major.   The mood continues with “Church Bells before the gathering storm” with the solo bells and crotales mimicked by the orchestral bells.


The oboe states a desolate them in "Love's first loss" with the dawning realization that the drums of war are beating and the time is drawing close to when the battalions march to war. 


Not all find the prospect of war daunting and dance "A Lumbering Treble Jig celebrating the onset of hostilities “.  The Tubular Bells join in with the woodwinds & strings; pealing single notes & flourishes until the virtuosic full melody is heard with the brass in bold counterpoint.  The tubular bells lead the orchestra into a reprise of  "Love's first loss" and the bells echo the church scene.  Scurrying strings lead to a parody of the melody taken up by solo winds until the soloist plays a cadenza with "The bells foretelling doom".


The mood changes to a dark place with "The terrible machine of war" with the snare drum providing distant machine gun fire and the soloist exploring the depths of the bass drum with distant cannon fire. 


The machine of war returns and from it arrives “a letter from the front” with soft machine gun fire accompanying the bittersweet love theme.  A solo French horn takes up the melody leading to a more urgent section with the stings in counterpoint providing tension for the insistent machine gun. The woodwinds play a haunting melody, which leads into the vibraphone feature "The winter comes and you are not here".  The inspiration for this melody comes from the composer’s poem:


Slowly with wonder so softly

Your light brings beauty in the Heavens

In the twilight and the dawning, I sit here

Waiting for my love, to come in, from the cold


The vibraphone fades away and we find ourselves in a different kind of cold, one with fear on the edges – “Winter at the front, your letter arrives" - Time is very elastic during this section and the creation of a desolate cold atmosphere is paramount.  The brass move to an off stage position and strange sounds emanate from the orchestra.  Groans, scrapes, squeaks, distant calls and snatches of falling melodies paint a bleak landscape of a pointless war having stalled in the mud.   The waterphone emerges with otherworldly resonances and unnerving sounds.  "The birds take up the cry of despair" and the off-stage brass parody the lumbering jig and then tease with the winter chorale..  The waterphone dies away and beauty returns.  The brass plays in the distance whilst "Bells remembered" is performed on a set of wind chimes – ‘Encore Chimes of Earth’.


The marimba plays the fresh joy of spring accompanied by a simple melody on the violins.  The opening theme is quoted on orchestral bells and the marimba launches a full dash “running through the woods”.  The trumpeting of warlike calls follows a short cadenza.  The solo snare drum and orchestral snare drum join in a devastating battle.


“The march of the headless chickens” ensues with instruments scurrying this way and that way to keep out of the way of the machine gun snare.  Bells return with a brief heavenly interlude based on the words “Christ Divine” and we continue the march. Visions of heaven reappear with the last glimpse of vibraphone. 


“Love’s reawakening” is performed by the Cor Anglais with the Oboe taking over.  Our lovers reunite. The tubular bells act like church bells in the village, and fade into the distance with ghostly echoes.


Sean O’Boyle

June 14, 2014

"Glennie swept through O’Boyle’s concerto like a graceful whirlwind" - News Tribune

"....a showcase of percussion colors – spooky waterphone, celestial bowed crotales, inhuman shell chimes – and as an emotional tribute to the love, courage and sacrifice of those who lived through World War I, it’s both brilliant and heartfelt."  - Rosemary Ponnekanti TNT

“The wonderful sound scape that Sean O’Boyle achieves in his percussion concerto ‘Portraits of Immortal Love’ constantly evolves into emotional sound stories depicting the power of love of all those involved in World War 1. Although this piece is a percussion concerto the composer writes beautifully for the orchestra allowing everything and everyone to shine thus creating air and balance in his music. The writing for percussion has great balance between exciting virtuosity and sheer beauty. This will certainly be a piece that will capture the imagination of performers and audiences alike.” 

Dame Evelyn Glennie

Portraits of Immortal Love - Download Score

This video is a recording of a performance of "Portraits of Immortal Love" on February 14th, 2015 with the Spartanburg Philharmonic, Dame Evelyn Glennie and conducted by Maestra Sarah Ioannides.


Many thanks to Sarah Ioannides for her courage in seeing this work from inception to the stage.


In the solo part, we decided to  replace the tubular bells for the aluphone in this performance

read the review on Dame Evelyn's website - ciick here

Click on the video below of the audio from the world premiere - October 25th, 2014

Click on the video below for a behind the scenes promotional video by the Spartanburg Philharmonic

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