Dr. David Vernon, author of Disturbing the Universe: Wagner’s Musikdrama wrote…
A day at the Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary
Angel’s Arc (with clarinettist Matthew Hunt) 1 October 2021
Stephen Johnson’s Angel’s Arc for clarinet and string quartet was written as a tribute to an area of the Pennine moors which he explored during his teenage years, though there are also music quotations which reference people who were important to him at that period. The Carducci Quartet were joined by clarinettist, Matthew Hunt (from the Orsini Ensemble). The worked opened with lovely rhapsodic moments for the clarinet over quietly sustained strings.
There were moments of dialogue, but the clarinet was very much to the fore and I kept thinking of Finzi’s writing for clarinet. The middle section was a sort of furiously intense scherzo, with fast movements between different emotions yet still with time for the clarinet to meander, despite some furious string playing. The world of the opening section returned, with a sense of unwinding. Despite moments of loveliness and some thoughtful clarinet playing, Johnson also created a feeling of unease in the music resulting in a strikingly complex piece.
Johnson, Carducci Quartet, Warwick Arts Centre review – new work with well-loved quintets
A beautiful contemplation by Stephen Johnson sits alongside Mozart and Brahms
By Miranda Heggie
There are those who say, somewhat cynically, that a way for new music to get an audience is to present it carefully packaged up with standard repertoire that will draw a larger crowd. How true that may be is open to debate, but composer Stephen Johnson did introduce his new piece – which was sandwiched between Brahms’s and Mozart’s clarinet quintets, as “the moment you’ve all been dreading”.
The work – Angel’s Arc – is a beautiful, contemplative piece of music that explores sorrow, loss and gratitude from memories of Johnson’s own life. It is named after an area of the West Pennine Moors called Anglezarke, which Johnson had been erroneously led to believe had been given its title from Protestant refugees fleeing the Spanish Netherlands. The fact this turned out not to be true didn’t stop the idea of a people finding sanctuary and being thankful for this place from dwelling in the composer’s mind, and as he says himself in his programme note “many of the most useful poetic ideas have their origins in a mistake”.