2 (2dbl.picc.)2.1+bcl.1+cbn./18.104.22.168./2perc/ hp/pno/str**
Premiered in London, U.K. on 8 August 2021 at the Royal Albert Hall, Ryan Bancroft conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Duration: 13 minutes
** It is possible to perform with only 1 percussion and without the piano
Special thanks to the Sounds of Science Commissioning Club, and its founders and donors, for contributing support to this project
Audio reference recording is available for private listening. If you would like to review the recording please contact Augusta.
The words of Albert Einstein, spoken at the 1939 World’s Fair: “If science, like art, is to perform its mission truly and fully, its achievements must enter not only superficially but with their inner meaning into the consciousness of the people.”
To commission new musical compositions by outstanding contemporary composers that will be premiered and played by outstanding musical ensembles, in order to capture in music the sounds and emotions that scientists experience in medicine, the life sciences, the physical sciences, and engineering.
In celebration of the diversity and the mission statement of the Royal Albert Hall on the occasion of the venue’s 150th anniversary, the BBC Radio 3 commissioned DANCE FOLDINGS for orchestra for which the commission prompt was to reflect the arts and sciences as they are now. Composers were free to choose their own subject, so long as there was a clear link to the sciences or to other art forms.
The natural world, as explored by scientists, engineers, and physicians in their laboratories and clinics, offers a wealth of opportunities to explore resonance and balance through sound. Few orchestral works attempt to capture the kinetic and emotional content of scientific topics and convey these concepts through abstract, rather than descriptive, music.
The musical materials of DANCE FOLDINGS for orchestra take as their starting point the metaphors, pairings, counterpoints, foldings, forms, and images inspired by the biological "ballet" of proteins being assembled and folded in our bodies. Online, one can easily find many beautiful animations which show the process of protein folding. Some resemble assembly lines, and many look like ballets; both are extremely suggestive of musical possibilities. For example, proteins are made in cells by linking together amino acids one at a time to make a linear chain, i.e., the primary structure, or unfolded protein, which is akin to a wiggling chain of beads. These chains take musical form as animated, rhythmic, and forward-moving lines of music which unfold with kaleidoscopic sonic variety. An amino acid chain gradually self-organizes into nicely lined up shorter strands of beads forming pleated sheets or helices, nestled next to each other; interconnecting strands form loops crossing over in three dimensions. Musically speaking, those three-dimensional forms are affiliated to counterpoint, harmony, flow, flux, and form. Notated on the score are indications including: “Like Chains of Amino Acids”, “An Amino Acid Chain starting to fold and become a protein”, “Brass Protein Foldings #1, Like jazz big band meets Stravinsky”, and “Another Amino Acid Chain-making Machine”.
Protein folding is essential to life, and form dictates function. Proteins have primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary structures, and this make-up naturally falls into manifold musical possibilities with distinctive materials, sonorities, rhythms, counterpoint, and inner-life.
No matter what the external inspiration, Music must work as music. As such, I create music that is organic and, at every level, concerned with transformations and connections, which should be played so that the interconnectivity of the different rhythmic, timbral and pitch syntaxes are made explicit and are then organically allied to one another with characterized phrasing of rhythm, color, harmony, counterpoint, tempo, breath, keeping it alive — continuously sounding spontaneous. All of this, hopefully, working toward the fundamental goal: to compose a work in which every musical parameter is nuanced and allied in one holistic gestalt.
If I listen carefully, the piece I am composing has its own inner life and will tell me what it next needs. The music I create is passionate, involving risk and adventure, such that a given musical moment might seem like a surprise right when you hear it but, only a millisecond later, seems inevitable. One of my main artistic credos has been to examine small musical objects–a chord, a motive, a rhythm, a color, an energy field, a harmonic space–and explore them from every possible perspective. The different perspectives reveal new musical elements, which I then transform and which in turn become the musical development.
Although highly notated, precise, carefully structured, soundly proportioned, and while musicians are elegantly working from a nuanced, specific text, I like my music to have the feeling that it is organically being self-propelled - on the spot. As if we listeners are overhearing a captured improvisation.
DANCE FOLDINGS is an example of the many synergies between science (nature) and music. I previously composed HELIX SPIRALS for string quartet to commemorate the Meselson-Stahl DNA replication discovery of 1958. Since DNA is the blueprint for making the proteins of any organism, protein construction, folding and animation is a natural next project.
Commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and first performed by BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Ryan Bancroft on 8 August 2021 at the Royal Albert Hall as part of BBC Proms 2021. Dedicated with admiration and gratitude to BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Ryan Bancroft and Lisa Tregale. Special thanks to the Sounds of Science Commissioning Club for contributing support to this project.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian, London, August 10, 2021
“Four of the new works at this year’s Proms have been commissioned to mark the 150th anniversary of the Royal Albert Hall, the permanent home of the summer season since 1945. The pieces are intended to reflect the hall’s founding ambition to promote both the arts and science, and so the first of them is Augusta Read Thomas’s Dance Foldings.
It proved an excellent concert opener. Cast in the form of a scherzo, Dance Foldings is bound together by a web of motifs that ricochet off each other, combine to form longer lyrical lines and sometimes freeze into moments of stasis. It is cheerful, unpredictable and colourfully scored music, with explosive percussion punctuations, and BBCNOW seemed to relish playing every moment of it.”
Bernard Hughes, The Arts Desk, London, August 9, 2021 “The music is fast, active, skittery and spontaneous, as musical events – edgy pizzicato cellos, darting woodwind – trigger other events in a never-ending musical chain reaction. The transparent textures suggest line drawing rather than painting, although the orchestration was endlessly colourful. The pointillism of the scoring reminded me of Stravinsky’s late Movements, with a similar sparky wit.”
Richard Fairman, The Financial Times, London, August 10, 2021 “The lightly dancing rhythms of this effervescent score are indeed infectious.”
Geoff Brown, The Times, London, August 9, 2021 “The American concert opener, Augusta Read Thomas’s Dance Foldings, the first of four Prom commissions marking the 150th anniversary of the Royal Albert Hall, created as a temple to science as well as the arts. Sparky rhythms interwoven, darting about in multiple colours…”
Fiona Maddocks, The Observer, The Guardian, London, August 14, 2021 “The music’s airborne, kinetic energy – shiny beads of sound tossed aloft, caught by a taut, rhythmic structure of, especially, woodblock and plenty of pizzicato – was mirrored in her complex drawing. I understood the kaleidoscopic music, virtuosically played by BBC NOW.”
To obtain examination or performance material for this
Augusta Read Thomas work, please contact Nimbus Music Publishing.