The violin concerto »Tipping Points« will be premiered at Beethovenfest on Sat 9.9. The composer Rachel Portman wrote it as a musical reaction to the poem of the same name by Nick Drake – the poem is part of the concert as a tape recording. Here you can find the poem as well as Nick Drake’s and Rachel Portman’s explanations of the new work.
Things change, always. A book of mutability
written in dream time. All mortals know the story
as we become it, and are transformed
like bright leaves on a generation tree
through air, water, fire, then home to earth –
everything becoming something else,
a rock a tree, a child a bird, a wave
a long-lost song… But something’s wrong.
Rivers turn to stone. Air catches fire.
Heatwaves have names. The birds have disappeared.
Our spooked hearts beat now to a stranger drum.
A different sound sings through everything…
First breath, first cry. First song on the wing.
Conjurer of secret atmospheres, ghost
medium of light and shadows and dark.
Transmission of our signals and alerts,
are you receiving me, over, over…?
Silence of clouds and cloud forests.
A billion rush hour cars exhaust themselves,
gridlocked with music and the ceaseless news…
Some nights the air smells of chocolate.
Others of chemicals. It’s hard to breathe.
What we hold for now but not forever.
What we give away to set words free –
Simple spell conjuring a new green world.
Made of the mist. Rain forest’s dream.
Clouds in their own time. Ice holding slow time.
The charm of snow, here and now and gone.
Sea’s ebb and flow. River’s ever-running mirror.
The glass urn full. The necessary rain.
The vanished rain. Lakes wasted to dust
and dead bikes. Parched parks. Death Valley flooded.
An ice cube’s tiny arctic in your drink going,
going like the ancient shields of ice…
The enchantment of water still sings on
in its wavering wheel. In this planet’s perfect blue.
Air catches fire. Dark descends. Red light.
War music turned up beyond full volume.
Lawns ignite. Houses explode. Trees
scream like firecrackers, like banshees.
Anthracite in no time, not millennia.
The forest a mass grave. A requiem
of silence mourning for the ruined green.
Habitat. Sanctuary. Arcadia.
Family photos. Clothes. A place called home.
Past, present, future, all burned down.
Nothing to see here for a long, long time.
We’re losing the family of things.
Light wind in the wildwood conjuring
myriad hidden voices. Rings of time
recorded in every tree. In each still lake.
The secret wiring of mycelium
transmitting songs beneath the forest floor.
Old growth. Primeval. Taiga. Enchantment’s home
clear-cut to the geometry of mass-farms.
Plantations. Corporations. Extinctions. Blight.
The tipping point of the heart is when it breaks -
and then the disenchanted light that dawns.
Voices in the wildwood calling out:
The time is now to make peace with the earth.
Change things. The book of mutability,
of time and mystery, is never-ending.
Light a candle, let each bud of grief
illuminate the dark. But then look up.
A sign in a shop reads: If you break it,
you fix it. Sing the future’s story.
Chant the oceans back to their deep pulse.
Recall the broken rivers so they heal.
Hum the chimneys of the power plants to sleep.
Whisper the forests until they rise again.
It’s now or never. Re-enchant the earth.
Sing it back and forward. Raise your voice.
About the poem »Tipping Points«
These poems grew out of a conversation between Rachel and I about the classical elements. Earth, Water, Air, Fire. Many ancient and classical cultures explain the nature, complexity and interconnectedness of the universe, and of change (or metamorphosis), in similar terms. To us, the elements also now speak to the climate emergency.
‘Invocation’ starts with the words, “Things change”. The poem is about change - the perpetual change of mutability, but also the confronting, desperate changes happening in our time and in Nature.
‘Air’ is about the wonders of that element, from our own breathing to the atmosphere that holds us all. It’s also about the pollution of that wonder.
‘Water’ considers the absolute necessity of the element to all growth - and the massive water problems the world is experiencing as the climate heats and becomes more and more extreme.
‘Fire’ commemorates the devastation of the Australian bush fires of 2019-20. Even as I write, smog from the Canadian bush fires has turned the skies over NYC orange.
‘Earth’ celebrates the enchantment of nature, but also takes in the catastrophic destructions wreaked by agribusiness exploitation.
‘Epilogue’ turns the opening words of the Invocation on their head: “Change things”. This is the imperative challenge we face as individuals, as communities, and as a common humanity.
We are at multiple tipping points. How can we re-enchant the Earth? When things feel as if they’ve become catastrophically disconnected, how can we reconnect? I hope the poems find balances; grief and agency, fear and wonder, destruction and beauty, collapse and regeneration … what’s lost and what might yet be saved.
About the violin concerto »Tipping Points«
The work is in six movements, each written in response to the poems by Nick Drake. Some movements mirror the poems, others are inspired by a line or two from them which act as a springboard. The solo violin is the protagonist inviting us to engage with the four elements in an emotional response to our environmental situation. In the Invocation the violin urges us with concern and worry, like a bird trapped. Air, the first of the four elements, evokes a sense of weightless, a bird in flight through gentle air played throughout in upper registers. Water is inspired by the miracle of a gentle rainfall that brings joyous life, as the green world opens out. In Fire, the darkest of the movements, the terrifying nature of forest fires is expressed, the violin is engulfed, and we are left at the end with desolate charred destruction. Earth is inspired by the extraordinary beauty of interconnectedness that balances nature, a living breathing world. And finally, the Epilogue in which the violin delivers a prayer to ‘whisper the forests until they rise again.’