Premiere of the Month: A matter of life and death


Giving birth to new life forms the basis of this British composer’s work

Programmed alongside its ‘sister piece’ Saffron Dusk, British composer Bushra El-Turk’s new commission Painting Secrets  for the Adelphi Quartet explores new life, as opposed to Saffron Dusk’s look at death. More specifically, the new work, commissioned by the Aldeburgh Festival and Britten Pears Arts, is based on El-Turk’s own experience of giving birth: ‘I’m questioning the pain one goes through when there is new life, as well as death.’ Breathing and sighing will be integrated into the work’s musical phrases, intertwined with the instrumental parts. ‘I don’t see the instrument as being separate to the person playing it. I see vocalisations as a continuation from the bow stroke.’

El-Turk has implemented her own five-step ‘spectrum’ of improvisation. ‘You start off with an idea, on which the performer develops and elaborates,’ she says. The spectrum is as follows: play the beginning material as written; then play it again with idiomatic decoration; improvise based on the given material; improvise based on the spirit of the given material; improvise freely. Parameters, based on an Arabic style of improvisation and modes, are given to guide the performers. ‘It puts less importance on the “holy” score,’ she says. ‘The right people can express that musical line better than anything I could have written.’..

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