"Highlight of the day is the world premiere of Angus MacRae’s Through Shadows, specially commissioned by the Barbican for Piano Day and written to utilize the possibilities afforded by six pianos. It's a quiet, delicate piece, moments of silence demanding as much attention as the restrained melodies and soft peaks. Both performances have a purity and poise, the intricate interplay between the six truly mesmerising. Its subtlety is key; as fragile as a flower, the piece draws its power not from drama or crescendos but a gentle tension that threatens to break but never does."
Drowned in Sound
Commissioned by The Barbican Centre, Through Shadows is written for 6 grand pianos and was given its world premiere on March 29th, the 2017 global Piano Day, in a celebration for hundreds of piano lovers at The Barbican, in partnership with Spotify. It was performed by the 12-handed ensemble Piano Circus, alongside music by Terry Riley, Nils Frahm and Steve Reich. This studio recording is played by me through 6 layered performances, at Retreat Studios in Brighton, mastered by Alchemy studios.
The starting point for Through Shadows was to treat it as a kind of ongoing dialogue between the 6 pianos, where motifs are shared and developed between the different instruments, and each piano constantly switches role between leading the music and providing accompaniment.
Structurally, the piece begins with a simple, questioning motif that is then shared and developed between all the pianos. In these opening stages I wanted just a hint of variation between the parts - like each piano is proposing an alternate direction for the music to go, but all unsure of the ultimate course. The idea is that in performance the melodic ideas are constantly moving in the space and each player is taking it in turn to ‘grab hold’ of the music and drive it forwards.
The challenges of writing the piece were considerable, and because grand pianos are such a powerful instrument, the main difficulty was teasing out and giving focus to melodies when all the pianos are playing simultaneously. I was constantly needing to evaluate which instruments were leading the melody and which were providing accompaniment at any given moment.
When writing the piece I was often struck by the feeling that whilst the individual piano parts are usually made up of very simple building blocks, altogether they create a piece that is far richer and more detailed than its component parts, and often the effect of the whole is very different to the individual. Ultimately I hope the piece is exciting to experience in the space - at times bold and powerful and at others very understated - almost meditative.
Written & performed by Angus MacRae
Released by Cognitive Shift
Recorded by Chris Blakey at Retreat Recording Studios
Mixed by Angus MacRae
Mastered by Barry Grint at Alchemy Mastering
Artwork & design by Hara Katsiki
Release Date 29 March 2017