The Quintet is written in the form of a theme and variations, where the theme of the work is the Jewish people. Some sections of the piece are in themselves a micro-variation on this theme, whilst others in transmuting the source material more dramatically reach towards a universality that alleviates the music from the role of mere stonesetting and aspires to effect an alchemical reaction.
Correspondingly, the piece moves rapidly between movements; sometimes barely giving an a idea a chance to develop, whilst at other times allowing it to grow towards a natural conclusion. Gradually, although my thoughts during the composition process were initially concerned with telling the story of a specific people during a specific time, it became apparent that in truth this constant flight of people through time was in itself merely an analogy for the human race as a whole. All roads lead to Rome...
I am indebted to the Ukrainian cantor Zawel Kwartin (1874-1953), whose invocations provided the initial inspiration for this music, and also to the great masters Béla Bartók, György Ligeti and Olivier Messiaen for providing the bridge that gave to the twentieth century a way across the imaginary rivers that run through the common lands of secular and sacred music.
The Quintet for Bass Clarinet and String Quartet was commissioned by Music for Galway and premièred by Paul Roe and the Contempo Quartet in St. Nicholas’ Church, Galway on May 13th 2010 in a programme that also included Osvaldo Golijov’s ‘Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind’ and Jane O’Leary’s ‘Soundshapes II’.