Greymatter (1997)

Duration 33’50”
For string orchestra, piano, harpsichord and tuned percussion
Choreography: Didy Veldman for Rambert Dance Company
First performed at St.John’s Smith in September 1997, by the London Musici, conducted by Paul Hoskins.
First stage performance at the Victoria Theatre, Woking, October 1997

Greymatter was Philip Feeney’s first collaboration with choreographer, Didy Veldman, who at this time was still dancing with Rambert Dance Company. She chose to base her choreography on the story of Momo by Michael Ende, a subject she was later to return to with a full length work for Bern Ballet. In her piece for Rambert, the speed and alienation of modern life is contrasted to the natural air (aria) of the duet.

Greymatter is in four movements: Concerto, Chacconny, Ricercare (Aria) and Gigue, and as these titles imply the principal musical vernacular is of an earlier period, a kind of de-constructed classical and baroque. Certainly the relentless pace of the grey men is evoked by the insistent drive of the first movement, and the urban loneliness is apparent in the disconnected and structurally diffuse Chacconny.

In contrast, the peaceful duet (its title can be translated as “searching for air”) is a neo-baroque aria – perhaps, given its serenity, it is significant that it was the first composition after the death of the composer’s mother.

The fourth movement is a whirring gigue, including an insane harpsichord cadenza and a sudden end, the music disappearing into the buffers without any rit whatsoever. It was, however, never to be used by the choreographer, who preferred to finish the work with the gentle closing notes of the aria.

This postmodern technique of de-construction, using fragmentation, repetition, unusual scoring and arresting anachronisms, has been a recurrent characteristic of Philip Feeney’s music; it was used in the Red Ball scene in Christopher Gable’s Cinderella, and was one which he was to return to frequently, most notably, in his score for Adam Cooper’s ballet Les Liaisons Dangereueses.