‘No Man’s Land’ follows on from my very positive collaboration with Christopher Reid on ‘Alphabicycle Order’ several years ago. The origin of the work was a phone call from Richard Hickox in November 2008, full of his usual bubbly enthusiasm and proposing a Proms commission to celebrate the City of London Sinfonia’s 40th birthday. Like everyone, I was shocked to learn of his sudden death 3 days later. Richard conducted my first ever Proms perfomance, in 1983, and clearly the work had to be written in his memory.
I have been obsessed with the First World War for some while (my grandfather died on the Somme) but it’s a difficult subject to treat musically. When I asked Christopher Reid to provide the text for this work, I suggested the concept of a soldier in the midst of war, almost unaware of what he’s found himself in. In the event his sequence of poems provided something different : the ghosts of two soldiers hang on barbed wire in no man’s land. ‘To pass the time, we let the wind/rummage in the hollows of our skulls/for memories and scraps of song and whisps of rhyme’.
The work is divided into two parts, and last approximately 25 minutes.