Degrees of Separation (Orchestral)
This orchestral piece is the central item of a set of pieces, designed for various spaces and ensembles, that was commissioned by THE SAGE, GATESHEAD for its opening festivities in December 2004, and premiered by the Northern Sinfonia, conducted by Peter Weigold. In the context of my orchestral music of the last decade, this piece marks an exercise in restraint - a characteristic not associated, by me or maybe more generally, with the modern orchestral project. Firstly the chamber orchestra imposed upon me boundaries of instrumental colour: it demanded a concentration on direction and syntax from which it is too easy to be distracted by the coloristic possibilities of the symphony orchestra, with its extreme register possibilities and its alluring mixtures. Secondly, this piece and all the pieces of Degrees of Separation were written for highly specific venues and acoustics, of which THE SAGE is justly proud: when I was in the hall for rehearsals, the acousticians were still testing their work and asking for feedback, the resulting hall a masterpiece of clarity that encourages exposure of lines and layers. In anticipation of such a building, this piece was driven by marked forward momentum and surface line: it also exposes various sub-groups from within the full ensemble. The form of the piece follows a favourite principle of mine, the gradual slowing down from an initial shove in the back so that the latter part of the piece, following a central riot, is a long, spacey passage that gradually yields all momentum as it moves into a coda, the orchestra finally pared down to a pair of horns and double basses playing harmonics.

c Piers Hellawell 2009