Bent Sørensen new work for accordion and strings

I felt very lucky when Bent Sørensen wrote his solo accordion piece ‘Looking on Darkness’ for me in 2000. It was for my official debut concert, the end of my studies in Copenhagen. I had a commission by the Norwegian composer Asbjørn Schaathun, and I wanted the best Danish composer to write a piece as well. I don’t know exactly how and why I succeeded in conveying Bent to write, well, I got some help I remember, but anyway I would say his piece is the most important commission in my entire career as a musician. Why?

In ‘Looking on Darkness’ Bent uses some quite uncommon techniques on the accordion, like the bending of tones, all though they feel completely natural and idiomatic when they enter his musical world. The use of bended notes goes through most of the piece. There are very few low notes at all. The bending creates not only glissandis, but together with vibrato, the micro-tonality and more it creates a ghost-like musical language. The piece gave the title to my first solo CD on ECM New Series, and I have played “Looking on Darkness” all over the world, and it inspired me to explore the ideas I got from Bent in improvisations and my own compositions.

This co-operatioen with Bent eventually led to a new commission: ‘It is Pain Flowing Slowly on a White Wall’ for accordion and string orchestra, composed in 2011 and premiered in September the same year on the Ultima Festival in Oslo together with the Telemark Chamber Orchestra. The day after I performed the work at the Gergiev Festival in Rotterdam with the Trondheim Soloists, and later at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, where Bent was the festival composer. I will perform the work several times autumn 2012, first at the Trondheim Chamber Music Festival in September with the Trondheim Soloists.

In the accordion part this piece explores some of the same playing techniques as in ‘Looking on Darkness’, but the composer has of course changed in ten years. I would still say that Bent has an astonishing ability in writing complicated but idiomatic for the accordion. I believe he has understood something about the soul of the instrument: The accordion is a living, breathing wind instrument, but with keys and virtuoso possibilities beyond most other keyboard instruments. And the combination accordion and strings fits his music perfectly, playing partly together, partly apart, and with a solo violin playing off-stage the entire piece.

Of course the music of Bent Sørensen is not virtuoso or showing-off in a traditional sense – it is very often tender, almost on the border to silence. In his new work he has incorporated some traditional elements – perhaps he has been inspired by the classical accordions cousin, the bandoneon in some tonal tango-like parts? Another cousin appears late in the work as well – but then played by the entire string orchestra, they all switch to melodicas!

The ending of the piece is very conceptual: As the music breaks down to almost nothing, with the strings humming or playing melodicas, the whole string section eventually picks up their instruments and walks out of the room while playing a folk-like melody. I believe the conceptual elements are much stronger in Sørensen’s music now then 10 years ago, perhaps things started to change after his big opera “Under the Sky” in 2004.

Bent Sørensen writes himself about the piece:

‘It is pain flowing down slowly on a white wall’ – The sentence – the title – was given to me by a Hungarian women in August 2008. She put a note with the sentence in my hand after a festival – Arcus Temporum in Pannonhalma, Hungary, and told me that my music reminded me of the sentence, written by a Hungarian poet. I immediately loved the sentence and decided one day to write a piece, which would remind me about the note and use the sentence as a tittle.

It is music full of slow motion – full of sorrow – full of tangos with no dancers. Maybe I imagined the tears of an Accordion player flowing down slowly on the bellows of the instrument.

‘It is Pain Flowing Down Slowly on a White Wall’ was commissioned by and dedicated to Frode Haltli.