Going South for the Winter (2001)

Duration 10’
For Piano and Cathedral Organ
Choreographed by Sara Matthews
First performed as part of the 2001 Ballet Central National tour at the Kenneth More Theatre, Ilford, subsequently revived in 2006.

The choreography of Going South for the Winter explores the mystery of the flocking instinct of birds. Against the blue cyc of the sky, the dancers weave intricate patterns, at first individually and in groups and then, in the tremendous last section, all together in flocks reproducing the amazing graphic images seen in a sky full of birds as dusk falls.

With the very clear brief to create what amounts to aural space, (a musical equivalent to the actual space of the stage and the imagined space of the sky where the flocks gather together), the composer opted for the sound of a Cathedral organ, which of all instruments has the capacity to create vast vistas of space. After all, Walt Disney’s Fantasia sees the portals of the skies through the monumental sound of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue.

The last movement, composed first, is indeed a toccata, (subtitled Sciroccata, after the southerly scirocco that blows in from the Sahara). Its melody appears over an organ continuum and is constantly interrupted by a sequence of jagged syncopated chords, perhaps symbolizing the sudden changes in direction of a flock of birds. The towering pedal notes of the full organ are supplemented by software trombone sounds, imitating the brass solo organ stops coupled with a full open diapason.

The piano and organ combination, probably not feasible in reality without amplification, in this mixing desk score works fabulously well, with the power of the full organ offset by the more percussive and indeed more pastel qualities of the piano. In the first section where it is the piano that leads, there is a click track, and atmospheric organ phrases appear and disappear as if on the currents of the breeze. In the central section the music is suspended in a very spatial passage, high like a lone lark. The powerful syncopations in the organ part during the last section led the dancers to wish that they too could hear the click track, as particularly in the theatre the beat was tricky to catch.

In 2006, the piece was revived at the suggestion of Aurora Bosch, and remounted by Sara Matthews and Elia Luyando.