BCMG oboist Melinda Maxwell

Melinda Maxwell

FRACTURES: Monk Unpacked

In the last few years two experiences have influenced my state of mind. The first was the completion of a Masters degree in Jazz in 2013 and the second was an untimely fall from a stage on January 1st 2014 when I broke my right leg. When I started thinking about this commission certain thoughts around these experiences began to come together.

During my jazz studies I inevitably explored the music of Thelonious Monk. His style and music beguiled me because of its exploitation of major/minor harmony beloved of the bebop jazz of the 1940s/50s. Then, jazz was the new music of America and its influence spread in all sorts of interesting ways. Monk also used daring shifts to a more diverse and colourful language that for me hinted at the new modern classical music of, for instance, Varese and Messiaen. These crossover connections between jazz and modern music induced a fertile musical mix in my mind. I became revitalized and tremendously excited by these links and relationships, not only in my jazz studies, but also in my own practice, playing, teaching and general music-making.

The alluring ballad by Monk ‘Round Midnight’ drew me into its world of a shifting chromaticism with an Eb minor/D major axis. I began my piece with this in mind by deconstructing and unpacking this ballad and adding modes on Eb and E to create my own harmony with a semitone pull. I improvised two contrasting melodies in each mode with the ballad in my ear, and with this gathered material I began my search and explorations. I set myself some limitations and the material led the way and revealed its course and direction. As I progressed a one movement structure developed.

The experience of my broken leg got me thinking about fracture and fissure, broken bones and broken lines hence the melodies in Fractures being interrupted and split up.

There are two sections within the single movement entitled Chase and Bone Waltz. The horn and percussion tend to signal events, and there are dialogues between duets of instruments and the piece resolves with a short Chorale. The double bass has the first and last word. The piece is a septet of oboe, clarinet/bass clarinet, horn, violin, cello, double bass and percussion. I decided to add an oboe, and therefore myself, to experience it from the inside.

I would like to thank Olly for inviting me to do this and believing I could do it (because its been a while since I last composed to this degree), and BCMG for commissioning the piece and supporting me all the way. I have dedicated the piece to Oliver Knussen, Jackie and Stephen Newbould.

Melinda Maxwell

Melinda Maxwell’s FRACTURES: Monk Unpacked was premiered Sunday 15 November at the CBSO Centre, Birmingham, conducted by Oliver Knussen.

Commissioned by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, with financial assistance from the following individuals through BCMG’s Sound Investment Scheme: Robert Adediran, Catherine and Derrick Archer, Paul and Jean Bacon, Samantha Bird, Paul Bond, John and Wendy Buckby, Alan S Carr, Christopher Carrier, David and Angela Carver, Simon Collings, Alan B Cook, Anne Fletcher, Elizabeth Hurr and Stephen Burrowes, Colin and Belinda Matthews, Frank and June North, Rosalyn and Philip Phillips, David Sawer, Michael B Squires, Stephen Saltaire, Gwendolyn Tietze and David Lewis, Dr Hannah Vlcek, Harry and Doreen Wright, Richard and Carolyn Sugden.

FRACTURES: Monk Unpacked is fascinatingly complex, in terms of its ebb and flow, the nature of its melodic tone of voice and its harmonic language…Maxwell broke free from the fetters of predictability and convention; in this respect the percussion was particularly striking (no pun intended), both in the way it wildly erupted when one least expected it, and also in its timbral qualities, Maxwell opting almost exclusively for dry, non-resonant sounds, sidestepping the usually ineluctable draw that metallic percussion seems to have on composers…overall its inherent spontaneity—no doubt a by-product of Maxwell’s recent explorations of jazz—and convoluted mode of expression were highly appealing; a piece that really needs further listens to grasp more fully the intricacies of what’s going on.” – Simon Cummings, 5against4.com