Programme Notes – Metropolis (1992)

I have long wanted to write a work reflecting the hectic pace of modern-day living. The invitation to compose a piece for the very urban combination of woodwind, saxophones, brass, piano and extensive percussion gave me this opportunity. The initial idea for Metropolis came from a radio play which was set in the near future and where the entire population of the country lived in their vehicles, driving forever round a circular motorway day and night, stopping only for food and petrol. In this piece I have tried to capture a mood of extreme tension together with the desperate exhilaration that the play conveyed to me.

The work is in one movement falling into four sections and lasting about fourteen minutes. The first section is by far the longest and is fast and agitated with much of the material deriving from the nervous opening figure on low clarinets. After a cacophonous climax the ‘human’ voice of the solo alto saxophone tries to introduce a mood of greater tranquility before music from the opening section returns, this time in a brash and vulgar style. The final section follows a doom-laden climax and features a soft chorale for all the winds over percussion playing in cross-rhythms. The work ends starkly and simply.

Metropolis is dedicated to Paul Patterson and was first performed by the Royal Academy of Music Wind Ensemble, conducted by Edward Gregson in 1993. It subsequently won the Walter Beeler Memorial Prize in the USA.