Epitaphs was jointly
commissioned by three parties, and premiered at the 2010 Cheltenham Festival in
the UK. I saw in this commission the chance to explore the extended sonorities
and textural possibilities of the string-quartet-plus-one
formation, which so fascinated Mozart, Schubert and Brahms before me – and
led to some of their finest and most profound utterances in chamber music. The
work was especially informed by the very particular colouristic changes that arise
by doubling the viola section, with the pair of violas frequently operating as
a counterpart to the string quartet's regular pair of violins.
However, writing this work simultaneously offered me the opportunity to pay
homage to several people, both personal friends and professional colleagues,
who passed away during a relatively short space of time in the years 2008 and
Despite the sombre tone of the work's subject matter and purpose, it's intended
that this suite of five memorial pieces be heard as much as a celebration of
personal qualities, characteristics and achievements as it is also an
expression of loss and contemplation; of energetic lives fulfilled as well as
of lives cut short.
1. Dorothy Porter, Australian poet
the air. Test the weather. Smell the storm of burning feathers; smell the storm
of our last and final flight together.
we go; The place we go; Only I will know; Only I will know.
(Dorothy Porter, from “The Bluebird of Death”; Published in “The Bee Hut”,
Black Inc. Books, Melbourne, 2009)
2. Lyndal Holt, Australian solicitor,
academic, and author (1962–2008)
forces us to recognise what is important in this earthly world. And most people
come to believe that it is their relationships that matter most. I so
appreciate everyone who is willing to take my hand and walk a little way on my
cancer journey with me. Sometimes they have to hold me, a lot of the time we
(Lyndal Holt, from a newsletter of the Cancer Support Centre-Jacaranda Lodge,
Sydney Adventist Hospital, Autumn 2007)
3. Jan Diesselhorst, Berlin Philharmonic cellist, (1954–2008)
his colleagues of the famous “12 Cellists” he was respectfully and
affectionately known as “The Philosopher”: a highly educated humanist and
grappa connoisseur who never entered the warm-up room of the Philharmonie
without a cultured book in his hand.
(From obituary, Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten, 7/02/09)
4. Betty Freeman, American arts patron, philanthropist and photographer (1921–
2009) / György Ligeti, Hungarian-born Austrian composer (1923–2006)
On the business card that Betty Freeman gave me when we first met in 2000, she
endearingly referred to herself as Girl
Photographer. To have been a fly on the wall in Los Angeles in 1993 when
Betty photographed György Ligeti, overhearing the conversations between two
such irrepressible personalities, would have been truly fascinating.
5. Richard Hickox, British conductor and music director (1948–2008)
Former Artistic Director of Opera Australia, 2005–2008. Richard was to have
conducted the premiere of my first opera, “Bliss”.
touched me…I slid between the spaces in the sky
smelt things living and dying in the valleys of the forest.
(Amanda Holden, from the libretto for “Bliss”.)