Date(s) - 28/08/2020 - 28/12/2020
Zoë new piece “Salamander” for solo bassoon is premiered by Riot Ensemble bassoonist Ruth Rosales on Radio 3 New Music show
Starting about 43′ 07” in.
A mythical, lizard-like creature, the salamander was said to withstand the effects of fire. The word also means “Triton” in French, a Greek god of the sea usually depicted rising from the ocean floor with his seaweed-draped trident, blowing a conch shell. Or, in this case, bassoon.
On a particularly blustery morning on the beach just down the hill from where I live on the East Sussex coast, huge Hokusai-style waves roiling in the wind and brilliant sunlight, it wasn’t hard to imagine mermen frolicking in the surf, especially knowing a real one living round the corner in the form of an extraordinary sound healer called Russell Penn*. Originally trained at the Royal College of Music as a pianist and opera singer, later voice-training pop stars including Kylie and Dannii, Russell uses his almost superhumanly beautiful voice in a unique combination of melody, sustained pitch and overtone singing to work healing miracles in his studio overlooking the sea. It is his unforgettable sound that has inspired my own Triton.
In this mini triptych, the fire elements of the Salamander first burn within the sun, joining forces with wind and waves to summon Triton from the depths. Solfege pitches are encoded in the title – SA LA MA (F sharp, A and E flat) – which handily also contain a tritone. Conch in hand, Triton sings to the heavens, summoning the stars (fire) as he sinks back beneath the waves. A nineteen pitch figure begins and ends the piece, implying recurring cycles.
Rich in spiritual significance, the salamander is also said to symbolise transition, the ability to face challenges and flourish in adversity. It promises change and enlightenment. Which, let’s face it, makes it an excellent Covid mascot.
My profound thanks to Riot Ensemble and PRS for Music for commissioning this work during lockdown, and to Ruth for playing so beautifully while in isolation. I can’t quite let go of the working title of this piece, “Fag 19”, so have kept that up there as a little momento of this extraordinary time.
*Russell’s website is http://russellingaround.com/about/