Vic Hoyland - Hey Presto!… moon – flower – bat

Part One [Pierrot]
Part Two [Columbine]
Part Three [Harlequin]

It’s magic, of course. Out from his hat Hoyland pulls three bright, patterned and lively musical movements, scored for trios of woodwind and brass players with piano and a further trio of percussionists playing mostly keyed instruments: tubular bells and xylophone, marimba and crotales, vibraphone and glockenspiel. It is an extravert group, and gets extravert music: boldly sonorous, driving forward with a real harmonic-rhythmic urgency, yet also capable of sudden shifts of mood. In a work of threesomes, the three movements have three levels of poetic connotation. The composer associates them with three stock figures from the old Italian pantomimes – Pierrot, Columbine and Harlequin – and with three fundamental images: moon, star and bat. At the end of each he also places the name of a composer, from among those who were the leading figures of his youth: Pierre Boulez, Bruno Maderna and Karlheinz Stockhausen. We could understand the movements as portraits of these composers or of their music: ‘Pierrot’ Boulez mostly quick, unpredictable and inclined to explosive outburst, the music expanded from a short tribute Hoyland wrote for Boulez’s visit to BCMG last year; Maderna generally lyrical; Stockhausen full of strangeness, character and variety. The Maderna movement has admiring quotations from the work of his just heard; the telling use of woodwind multiphonics and other non-standard effects (brass players singing into their instruments while playing) is another connection with the Italian master. But perhaps it is enough just to listen to how the music disports itself. The first movement builds toward a culmination in which flute, trumpet and vibraphone together carry the solo line with extreme speed and agility. Though much slower, the centrepiece is hardly less capricious. The finale starts out from a pianissimo ‘refrain’ that more or less repeats music heard in each of the preceding movements, after which the clarinettist moves into dominant position, though at the end we encounter the cor anglais again. Hoyland completed the fifteen-minute score in July in Sicily, which may partly account for this music having such Mediterranean warmth and light.

Paul Griffiths

First performed by BCMG conducted by Diego Masson on 16 October 2009 at CBSO Centre, Birmingham.