We are delighted to have been able to commission a brand new work by composer Graham Fitkin for ‘The Art of Flight. ‘Wing’ receives its world premiere on Friday 25 November as part of our grand finale weekend of events for the series, presented in association with ‘Bristol800’. Here, Graham discusses the inspirations for his new work…
I remember as a boy designing and throwing paper planes out of high windows and trying to get them to go further, with more style, more grace and more reliability. And generally failing. I would alter both the design and the way I threw them, wondering whether a steeper or shallower angle of throw would mean greater or less distance covered. I still wonder about this, even after a life of throwing cricket balls and stones and frisbees and rubber bones. And then there’s the allure of propelling ridiculusly heavy things into the air for thousands of miles. Thrust and lift.
When I was asked to write a piece to commemmorate the 150th anniversary of the Royal Aeronautical Society I was both excited by dealing with those issues I’d experienced as a boy and daunted by the possibilities. But writing a piece of music is not dissimilar to taking a flight. Getting going is the first obstacle and quite a big one. Once you’re under way the next problem is keeping the whole thing going smoothly, before finally ending in a cogent and relevant manner.
I was invited to the Filton Airfield to look round, get a feel for it, look at early drawings and models, and learn about the huge Brabazon which was developed and ended its short life there. The sheer scale of the main building was so impressive. When a double decker bus looks like a toy car in the space you know it’s huge, but seeing aeroplanes also look small and insignificant was a real eyeopener. I went away from there and wrote reams of notes about how I could approach the piece. I viewed videos and was in constant contact with the very kind people at Filton who pointed me in the right direction for early films and audio from Bristol.
There had to be a feeling of space and size about the piece of music. There had to be an energy throughout but also a feeling of striving as so much of the history of flight has ‘endeavour’ and ‘attempt’ imbued into it. Even today there are continued attempts to propel oneself through the atmosphere in new and ways, whether it’s by balloon, glider or space shuttle, with accompanying failures and successes. I wanted to get some feel of this into it – the audacity of trying to master flight, the omnipresent feelingthat it could be done even when facing enormous setbacks and the sheer power that we now generate in order to shift large masses through the air.
I also wanted to get back to the idea of ‘winged’ flight, and so aside from human endeavour, bird flight also came into the mix.
I have collected recordings during this project and some of these are used within the piece. I have cut some of these up, looped them, used them as samples and generally involved them as if they were instruments. The live instruments sometimes mimic these sounds and sometimes steadfastly plough their own path regardless.
And finally the fragility of flight. How it can so easily not happen, or end in disaster. One thing remains with me from the Filton visit and that is seeing the cross-section of a large plane, seeing how thin the exterior wall is and how millimetres separate inside from outside. I often think about that.
‘Wing’ is premiered alongside other works by Graham Fitkin on Friday 25 November.
Tickets are £18, £15, £5 Students/U18s (limited availability) (plus fees)
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