‘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. It was first performed at the BBC proms in August 2011 by the Ian Bostridge/Roderick Williams/City of London Sinfonia under Stephen Layton with Ian Bostridge (tenor) and Roderick Williams (baritone).
View the score (published by Faber Music)