Between the Skies,
the River and the Hills
For Piano and Orchestra
(2018) 26 minutes
Commissioned by South Bank Sinfonia and premiered by Ivana Gavric and the orchestra, conducted by Karin Hendrickson at St. John's Waterloo, London on the 7th June 2018.
Between the Skies, the River and the Hills takes its inspiration from three sources: Haydn's Keyboard Concerto no. 11 in D major, the Sarajevan folk-tune Kad ja pođoh na Bembašu (When I went to Bembasa), and the Nobel Prize-winning historical novel The Bridge Over the Drina by Ivo Andrić.
All three movements take quotes from Andrić's book as their starting points. The central Scherzando plays with an altered version of a Bosnian Round Dance (also featured by Haydn in his concerto), and is based on a chapter in which the town drunk dances across the icy bridge after too many plum brandies (when slipping would mean certain death). On the face of it, it is a silly story, but in Andrić's hands the tale of Corkan the One-Eyed becomes a complex and poetic tale about courage and faith, human relationships and potential.
The closing movement repeats the Sarajevan folk tune (widely considered to be the unofficial anthem of the town) over and over, until a fortissimo climax and closing piano cadenza.
I "..between the skies, the river and the hills, generation after generation learnt not to mourn overmuch what the troubled waters has borne away. They entered into the unconscious philosophy of the town; that life was an incomprehensible marvel, since it was incessantly wasted and spent, yet none the less it lasted and endured 'like the bridge on the Drina.'”
II "...for the rest of their lives they would remember, together with the lines of their own bridge, the
picture of Corkan the One-Eyed, that man so well known to them who now, transfigured and light,
danced daringly and joyously as if transported by magic, walked where it was forbidden to walk
and where no one ever dares to go."
III “Forgetfulness heals everything and song is the most beautiful manner of forgetting, for in man feels only what he loves.”
© Cheryl Frances-Hoad, 2018
"Frances-Hoad’s substantial piano concerto takes its title, Between the Skies, the River and the Hills, and much of its inspiration from Ivo Andrić’s Nobel Prize-winning novel The Bridge Over the Drina. The evocative opening movement often brings to mind Britten at his painterly best – listen starting around 4'00", where the music’s powerful waves are made woozy by woodwind glissandos – while the central Scherzando has a caustic, Prokofiev-like bite. In the finale, marked Lento lamentoso, the folk melody that was essential to Gavrić’s commision becomes the repeated bass line in a broad passacaglia; this gives solid structure to the movement while simultaneously conjuring an aural image of the tune wandering in search of its home.
The solo part is often quite spare, particularly in the first half of the finale, where it seems to go its own way until 8'32" when piano and orchestra suddenly come together – a stunning moment that packs an emotional punch, and that’s eloquently projected here. Indeed, this is a gripping performance, thanks in large part to Karin Hendrickson’s sure and sensitive conducting of the Southbank Sinfonia."
Andrew Farach-Colton, Gramophone Magazine
“The Haydn influence was clear from the start of the Andante first movement with its limpid textures, fine sense of balance and proportion and subtle discourse between soloist and orchestra. Over timpani rolls and glissandos, the piano unfolded an ardent, long-breathed theme to which first the bass clarinet, then oboe and flutes in turn added their songlike counterpoint. The material gained considerable intensity as it unfolded, the wind players at times offering textures lit with exotic tone colours.
The central Scherzando evokes a passage in the novel concerning a local town drunk who, dancing ‘daringly and joyously’, manages to cross the impassably ice bridge. This was a true scherzo, deft and droll, and driven by lightly-accompanied, crisply articulated piano writing. At the end of this knowing and spikily witty movement, there was a moment of unvarnished tenderness as the flutes’ lyrical lines ascended into the heights, hinting at the jolly drunkard’s transfiguration.
In the score the Lento finale is headed by the following illuminating quote from Ivo Andric’s novel: “Forgetfulness heals everything and song is the most beautiful manner of forgetting, for in song man feels only what he loves.” Muted lower strings gave out an expressive folk tune, regarded as the unofficial anthem of Sarajevo and this poignant melody was then taken up by diverse woodwind groupings in a series of increasingly richly-scored variants. At times, the passionate intensity of the material was reminiscent of Andrezej Panufnik’s anti-war Sinfonia Elegiaca. In the aftermath of a full orchestral climax the piano was allowed to take over the theme, quietly and simply. This lead into a compact by deeply felt cadenza, following which piano revisited its theme from the opening of the concerto, punctuated by enduring bowed vibraphone strokes. With these hushed, etherial sounds reverberating in the listeners’ memories, the piece drew to a close.
Cheryl Frances-Hoad has fashioned a concertante work that combines classical elegance with a warmly romantic sensibility and yet speaks eloquently for our own troubled times…it deserves to achieve many further performances.”
Paul Conway, Musical Opinion
Performance history (post-premiere)
15th August, 2018 - Ivana Gavric and Southbank Sinfornia, conducted by Simon Over at the Konzerthaus, Berlin (German Premiere)