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Polar Opposites: Midori on Huw Watkins's Coruscation and Reflection

In the final part of Midori's series of blog posts in advance of her March 23 Zankel Hall concert, she turns her attention to Huw Watkins's Coruscation and Reflection, which opens the concert.

Coruscation and Reflection (1999)

Coruscation and Reflection by Huw Watkins demonstrate moods that are polar opposites. However, as with Yin and Yang, the two works are also complementary in enhancing both the excitement and tranquility in the atmosphere. After the premiere of Coruscation in 1998, performed by violinist Daniel Bell of the Petersen Quartet, the composer decided that it needed a companion work, hence the birth of Reflection. Each can be performed separately, but they are usually presented as a pair, which is also the composer's preference. Both works are characterized by the use of the pentatonic scale—five pitches per octave.

In Coruscation, the two opening notes on the violin are D and B, Daniel Bell's initials. The general mood of the movement is jubilant; a sprinkling of hemiolas adds spice. While the forward motion conveys suspense, it has a sense of humor, rather than mystery. The continuous series of escalating patterns, mostly in the violin part, imparts the sensation of non-stop climbing. The piano often serves to put a break in the ascending violin line by being a festive drum-like presence. The drum-beat sounds are alternately humorous, powerful, and adamant in varying degrees, depending on their position in the movement, ultimately ending Coruscation with strength and finality.

Reflection, whose title could signify both its mood and style, is largely in reference to the mood. Elements of compositional technique and ideas are clearly taken from Coruscation, but the central characteristic of this movement is a feeling of contemplation. The violin part is almost a monologue and definitely rhetorical. Recurring many times is a rhythmic figure of quick quintuplets of which only the first two notes are expressed—It sounds like ta-ta-a-a-a. The arpeggiated chords in the piano part sound like an exotic lyre; most of these come across as open-ended sentiments, perhaps contributing to the feeling of slow motion which permeates the majority of the movement. In the climax, the feeling is that of maximized expansion and emotional intensity, with the violin playing in extremely high register. At the end of the work, the semi-long notes on both instruments—violin plays pizzicato—are reminiscent of the sound of quiet droplets of water falling and then disappearing.

In Coruscation and Reflection, both parts are challenging for the players. Nonetheless, they are idiomatic to the instruments and, with due practice, are effective and fun to play. The sound textures are rather disparate, lending to the complementary nature of the two instruments. I first came to know of Huw Watkins' works at the suggestion of Alexander Goehr, one of Watkins' teachers, whose work, Suite, I was preparing for the first installment of my New Music Recital Series. Mr. Goehr spoke highly of his protégé, and after listening to Watkins' music, I knew I wanted to include one of his works in a recit,al program. Trained as a pianist, Huw Watkins keeps a regular performance schedule, mainly in the UK, and has given premieres of new music written by his colleagues. For such a young composer, he already has a prolific output and a rigorous schedule of commissioned works. His music speaks to and reflects the world we live in, and it has always been my philosophy that music should be heard in the time in which it was written.

© 2008 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co. Ltd.