Programme Notes – Diaspora (2002-2003) for eleven strings

A Diaspora is a dispersion or spreading of a people belonging to one nation or having a common culture. Most commonly now it refers to the scattering of the Jews originally from Palestine . Over the centuries the Jewish people have made their homes in all parts of the world; one of the most culturally important examples of Diaspora existence has been that of the Jews in Eastern Europe , particularly in and around Odessa in the Ukraine. This particular way of life proved fruitful and successful for many centuries before increasing Soviet anti-Semitism forced the Jews of Russia to either emigrate or face a life of persecution and economic hardship.

During the twentieth century many new Diaspora existences have been formed due to Soviet and Nazi persecution, particularly in parts of Western Europe , the USA and Israel . Many of my own family originate from the Ukraine , including both my grandfathers. Also some of the last century’s greatest violinists including Yehudi Menhuin, David Oistrach and Jascha Heifitz are from this part of the world; so it seemed appropriate to use this backdrop as the starting point for my work for the Goldberg ensemble.

In this single movement piece the ensemble is split up into two sections: two violins and double bass that personify the wandering ‘folk’ communities and a double string quartet that represents the land in which these new communities are entering. During the work a process of musical assimilation takes place, from the harsh opening section where the two groups are musically set starkly apart from each other through a more sympathetic passage where a mournful theme in the trio is offset against fleet footed pastoralism in the octet. This reaches a strenuous and violent climax, out of which emerges a soulful unison melody bringing the two opposing forces together. The mood becomes more tranquil with one, then two cellos playing in their highest registers. The pastoral music from earlier makes a return appearance, now reconciled with the folk inflections from the opening played by the trio. The work ends ambiguously in a sea of trills under which the double bass intones a warning from the past; six pizzicato bell notes symbolising the six million Jews whose particular Diaspora existences were brutally and tragically cut short.

Diaspora lasts about fifteen minutes and is dedicated to Malcolm Layfield and the Goldberg Ensemble.