Sit, Stand, Walk is a brand new piece by composer Rolf Hind, commissioned by Spitalfields Music for performance by CHROMA on Monday 20 June. Hind is a major force as soloist, composer, recording artist, chamber musician, pedagogue, collaborator and concert planner and much of his music is inspired by a fascination with the culture, mythology, philosophy and music of India. Read on for an insight into his incredible new work premiering this June.
My new piece Sit, Stand, Walk is partly a personal response to the three most favoured positions in which one traditionally meditates. It is also a development of some musical ideas that I workshopped towards a music-theatre piece a couple of years ago. In that piece – set in a silent retreat! – a major character on stage is The Guru, who is played by a clarinettist (and voiced by his clarinet). Stuart King was part of that workshop process, so when I came to write this piece for CHROMA, I wanted to capitalise not just on his amazing abilities as a player, but his physical presence…
In the first movement – Sit – it is almost as if the concert stage represents the inside of the meditator’s head: there is a gong to start the sitting and then his thoughts proliferate in obsessive looping material which I’ve called “papancas” – a Buddhist term for those obsessive tricks of the mind that have you suddenly plunging down a rabbit-hole into Wonderland.
Stand begins as – in a kind of reverse Farewell Symphony – the other players come on stage. It’s really hard to isolate the inspiration for a piece sometimes. In this case, for example, there are two things happening: layers of background instruments (harp, piano, accordion) play roughly the same thing at different speeds. For me, this is the experience of standing for a long time, eyes shut, inhabiting my body and trying to sense the alignment of its various systems. At the same time, the solo (bass) clarinet grows more agitated and asks ever more insistent questions – in the music-theatre piece this scene sees The Guru asking the retreatants questions, but we don’t hear the answers.
Walk – which starts slowly after the build-up of energy in the previous movement – explores the idea of a group of people, all moving at different speeds, combining to form a unity. Player after player walks forward, isolating their different speed, until there is a wall of them facing the audience. I like to use these small elements of theatre, partly to provoke an audience out of the two-dimensional, us-and-them nature of some concert-going. For me, it can add a thrilling extra dimension of immediacy, a kind of vividness that meditation also brings to one’s life.
After a wild (and very difficult!) clarinet cadenza passage there is a final “secret” movement, called Open. It’s another “papanca”, now looping on a kind of ecstatic joy. Musically it’s based on a sketch from the music-theatre piece, where two sopranos sing wordless rising lines – the two cellos take their parts here. This kind of raucous happiness is something I’ve several times experienced: it’s not something you’re really meant to pursue in meditation, but it can certainly make up for some of the boredom and backache!
Sit, Stand, Walk will be performed by CHROMA on Monday 21 June. Book now!
Image Rolf Hind credit Alys Tomlinson