Instrumentation Viola solo
Commissioned by CBC Radio Music in partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts
World Premiere February 8, 2008, St. Peter’s United Church, Sudbury, Ontario. Jamie Arrowsmith, viola
I have been interested in astronomy for many years. As a child growing up in rural Ontario, Canada, I had many opportunities for star-gazing, and I voraciously studied both the constellations and the mythologies behind them. I was always excited when Orion, the Hunter, would first appear in the evening sky, because it heralded the advent of winter, bringing with it the many bright stars and favourite constellations of those long clear nights.
Bellatrix is the Latin name given to the star that marks Orion’s left shoulder. Traditionally, Orion is depicted as a man holding up a shield and brandishing a club. Bellatrix translates as “female warrior” and I find it cosmologically comforting that many years ago someone recognised the importance of acknowledging Orion’s feminine side. The Arabic name for Bellatrix is Al Najid (The Conqueror) while scientists give it much less interesting designations like Gamma Orionis. Always more interested in the story than the science, I find these popular names much more potent than the technical ones, and so the Female Warrior has provided the inspiration for this extroverted and dramatic work.
Bellatrix (the music) is a virtuosic tour de force for the soloist. Within an overall tone of aggression and emphatic outward energy there are moments of reflection and lyricism, and the integration of vocalisations and breath sounds into the soundworld of the piece draws on the full resources of the player’s performance skills, resulting in a work that demands a dramatic stage presence and a recognition of the concert experience as an act of theatre.
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