Tuning In (1995)

For Saxophone Quartet   12 minutes

This is a conversation piece: a musical portrait of a conversation. I’ve noticed that there’s often a shape to the way a group of friends behave when they get together. First, there are the signals that bring about the meeting (a phone-call, perhaps, or a chance encounter). Once they’ve arrived, they celebrate a shared experience, something they have in common. In the next stage of ‘Tuning In’, different ideas are batted around for a while: the group hasn’t yet settled on the thing it really wants to talk about. Gradually the conversation settles around one subject, perhaps becoming heated. And then, often at the last moment, the most important thing, the deepest thing, gets said; sometimes this brings the moment of greatest harmony. Finally, with a little sadness that this communion is at an end, the group disperses.

…The real leavening was a new work, Tuning In, by British composer Jonathan Dove. From the four corners of the hall the performers assembled on stage, playing fragments of yodelling music that flowed together on a silvery background to an arching melody for Peter Davis’s soprano. The model was linguistic: the sequence of mixed emotions in a typical conversation. But the use of space added a genuine dimension, with plenty of fresh air in the scoring, and a ravishing episode where the Meridians, switching to altos only, held the notes of a simple major chord and slowly filled the spaces in between to unfold the second phrase of “Home, Sweet Home”.

Inspired writing without a trace of French polish, this sounded like an important new addition to the medium.

Nicholas Williams, The Independent October 1995

Commissioned by the Meridian Saxophone Quartet

First performance: 2nd October 1995, Meridian Quartet, St John's Smith Square, London.