This short piece is scored for the Pierrot Lunaire ensemble minus the piano and darkened with alto flute and an added viola. Each of the instruments has its own fragment of song and the piece is built from these broken melodies, punctuated by silence. The five almost come together in a soft unison towards the end. But, unlike the swan, this piece never unlocks “her silent throat”.
Swan Song is dedicated to Jackie and Stephen Newbould.
Commissioned by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group with financial assistance from Arts Council England and the following individuals through BCMG’s Sound Investment scheme: Kiaran Asthana, Viv and Hazel Astling, Alan S Carr, Christopher Carrier, Simon Collings, Alan B Cook, Kath England, Janet London, Stephen and Jackie Newbould, Maureen and William Scott, and Michael and Sandra Squires.
John Woolrich has a practical approach to music making—he founded a group (the Composers Ensemble), a festival (Hoxton New Music Days) and has been composer in association with both the Orchestra of St Johns’ and the Britten Sinfonia. His successful collaborations with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group led to his appointment in 2002 as Artist-in-Association. He was guest Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival in 2004 and Associate Artistic Director of the festival from 2005 to 2010. From 2010 to 2013 Woolrich was both Artistic Director of Dartington International Summer School and Professor of Music at Brunel University.
A number of preoccupations thread through his music: the art of creative transcription – Ulysses Awakes, for instance, is a re-composition of a Monteverdi aria, and The Theatre Represents a Garden: Night is based on fragments of Mozart—and a fascination with machinery and mechanical processes, heard in many pieces including The Ghost in the Machine and The Barber’s Timepiece.
Throughout the 1990s, Woolrich had a string of orchestral commissions, which resulted in some of his most significant works: his concertos for viola, oboe and cello. A CD of the viola and oboe concertos on the NMC label attracted particular attention and was ‘Record of the Week’ on BBC Radio 3. Other orchestral pieces written during this period include The Ghost in the Machine, premiered in Japan by Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and Si Va Facendo Notte which the Barbican Centre commissioned to celebrate the Mozart European Journey Project.
Recent pieces include Capriccio for violin and strings, commissioned by the Scottish Ensemble for the 2009 Proms, Between the Hammer and the Anvil for the London Sinfonietta, a violin concerto, for Carolin Widmann and the Northern Sinfonia, and Falling Down, a double bassoon concerto for Margaret Cookhorn and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.