Henri Hill, Scordatura’s violist, has written this post about Rhiannon Randle’s Rhapsody for Solo Viola.
Randle’s Rhapsody for Solo Viola (2013) holds a special place in my heart. I’ve known Rhiannon for the best part of my life, we’ve grown up performing together and were lucky enough to go to the same university together too. It was in our second year of our Bachelors that Rhiannon wrote this wonderful piece. At the time I had no inkling of her decision to write it until she asked me to record it for her coursework, and her dedication ‘for HEH’ really overwhelmed me then (and still does now)! It’s not every day that you can truly say a piece was written with you in mind by such a wonderful and talented friend! As such, I always reminisce about that time whenever I revisit and perform this piece. And every time I do, I find something new in it, like the many faceted gem that it is. I think for me this is why I love to perform it as often as I can! On hearing that Rachel was setting up her amazing Scordatura: Women’s Collective concert series, Rhiannon was the first person I thought of whose work should be included. She is absolutely an ambassador, not only for women in music, but for the future of composition. Her extraordinary choral work Like a Singing Bird, a BBC commission for International Women’s Day 2015, was premiered live on BBC Radio 3’s The Choir by Sarah Connolly and the Girls’ Choir of St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge; Rhiannon is published by Stainer & Bell; the Ligeti Quartet are due to perform her latest string quartet and her operas are being performed as far as the USA! (Read more about Rhiannon at http://www.rhiannonrandle.com).
Even though I have been fortunate enough to have performed Rhiannon’s Rhapsody several times now since 2013, it never remains the same for me. As we both get older and Rhiannon continues to go on to great things, her style evolves and hopefully so does my playing, and I get a new perspective. What I really value is being able to take the Rhapsody to her to work on together, which is an extremely rare thing we have the opportunity to do as performers! Every time we look at it I learn something! What remains unchanged, and which I love, is the strong gestures and true all-out-there-for-you-to-feel emotion that Rhiannon’s compositions always so strongly feature. I can remember Rhiannon talking to me about her experience of composing a little time after a quartet coaching session we had together with the wonderful violist James Boyd “it’s like James said (about playing), it shouldn’t feel easy – you have to put everything into it”. This work showcases Rhiannon being true to her word. The sound-world itself hints fleetingly of Benjamin Britten (whom Rhiannon was researching at the time) and of Shostakovich, but while still being completely Rhiannon in style. Rhiannon uses the wonderful extremes of colour that the viola can give, making the opening Elegy sound as a sighing song-without-words. Her ability to incorporate gestures of emotional outbursts maintains this feeling that the viola is really singing or speaking to you, opening up to a close friend about something that is happening in their life. The second movement Moto Perpetuo is a dance on the edge of spinning out of control, with emotions bubbling to massive highs only to be subdued until it builds to breaking point, where suddenly fury is unleashed. The massive energy is gradually spent, to wistfully remember the opening Elegy. From this, the last movement Monologue – Conclusion emerges as an innate prayer whereby Rhiannon looks back almost nostalgically on the emotions of the Elegy, only to be interrupted periodically by emotional outbursts which now draw solely from the relentless middle movement. Rhiannon poses a question of which emotion shall resolve the piece. The final answer, begins seemingly with a last rush of extended feeling, wildly relinquishing all restraints. Only the chillingly dark closing chord leaves both performer and audience alike disturbed as to what it was they truly witnessed, as the raw emotion is contained, but is neither subdued nor resolved.