Work in Progress (2005)

Fourteen Site-Visits for Piano and Orchestra with Film   40 minutes

1. The Plan; 2. Empty Ground; 3. Earth-movers; 4. Waiting Materials; 5. Work begins; 6. Look up!; 7. Men at Work; 8. The Uses of Metal; 9. Jagged Edges and Silhouettes; 10. Ballet of the Cranes; 11. Hard Hat Area; 12. Nocturne; 13. Dawn Climb; 14. A New Day.

Building-sites have a personal significance for me.  When I was nine, my architect parents started building a house for our family, and the following year included blissful experiences clambering over joists still waiting to hold floors; the smell of wet cement and sawdust are among my most exciting early memories.  Since then I have repeatedly been drawn to the theme of building, and so I leapt at the chance to write a work that would combine music with film, showing the building of The Sage, Gateshead.

Donning a hard hat, I first came to visit the site in July 2000, and have been back many times.  I was expecting to see vast teams of workmen covering the site with ant-like orchestrated activity, like something out of Metropolis.  But the modern building-site is a very different place.  Huge prefabricated elements are lifted into place by crane: instead of an infernal machine, I saw a graceful ballet.  I realized that, instead of a collage of hammering and banging, a lot of this score would be a kind of dance-music.

During this time I also visited FilmNova, who were filming the site as archive for Gateshead Council.  The original concept had been to shoot the film entirely from a single camera-position, creating a ‘time-lapse’ sequence which could be which could be stretched to fit the music.  But I found that Peter Brown, the cameraman, had also been getting closer to the action.  I got excited about certain dramatic silhouettes and close-ups, and Peter started to include more of them in his regular visits.

Looking at the hours of film he had already shot, I saw many striking images.  I was starting to create the score for a film that didn’t yet exist, and these images suggested a possible narrative, focussing on different aspects of the building process, and sometimes suggesting a microcosm of human history, from the primaeval swamp to the modern technological era.  The music follows this sequence in fourteen short movements, and director Philip Shotton has created a film from several sources that essentially follows the same ‘story’.

After a fanfare, the ‘prehistory’ of the site; ‘dinosaur’ earthmovers; an ‘Ice Age’ of materials waiting; the appearance of the first humans.  A serene version of the fanfare intersperses images of some manual tasks; an ominous martial rhythm is suggested by pictures of torpedo-like metal supports; silhouettes of giant ‘nails’ conjure up moments of violence, with religious overtones. Cranes dance a graceful ballet, lifting giant window-panes through the air…. A frenzy of last-minute activity…. A serene nocturne…A crane-driver makes his solitary ascent, silhouetted against a dawn sky…  finally the building is finished, and the whole quayside comes to life as The Sage is filled with music.

Commissioned by the North Music Trust to celebrate the opening of The Sage Gateshead

First performance: 26th January 2005, Rolf Hind (piano), Northern Sinfonia, Nicholas Kraemer (conductor), The Sage, Gateshead.


Piano Solo———2Perc—Str(min – optional forces in last movement: Childrens Choir, Folk Orchestra, Jazz Orchestra, Steel pans