Thoughts from Paul Rissmann about his new commission inspired by Alice in Wonderland for the London Symphony Orchestra
"True story. Some time ago. Rothesay, the Isle of Bute, Scotland. My grandfather arrives to collect me from playgroup. I bounce up to him holding a wee girl’s hand. “Who’s this?” he asks. “Alice” I reply. “Alice who?” he enquires. I smile and say “Alice in Wonderland”.
Alice has been with me all those years, and now I get to write music about her. I’m thrilled.
I guess I have always been drawn to narrative based music. The most treasured pieces in my CD collection all rest somewhere between ballet score and tone poem. Maybe it’s just that I love a good story – but I think the attraction is stronger. Music can be so abstract (and I appreciate that that is often a good thing) but in my experience, people want to know what they are listening to – children and adults alike need to know what a composer is trying to express.
Most of my major compositions have been narrative based and many have been born from a similar process: a commissioner gives me a picture book, I look at the brightly coloured images, I set the text to music and after a few months of hard graft I end up with a new work.
But now I have Alice and I have Wonderland to challenge me. Can I represent the wonder of Wonderland with just music – acoustic, orchestral music?
I plan to turn the motley crew Alice encounters into a suite of orchestral vignettes that are so vivid that the audience will immediately understand who each character is and what is happening in the music’s unspoken narrative. I aim to do this naked – well fully clothed of course - but without my usual box of tricks, such as digital imagery or by speaking the story over the music. For this commission, my music must express all dimensions of Carroll’s colourful characters without uttering a single word.
I am so fortunate to be able to work with Dr Kiera Vaclavik of Queen Mary, University of London. Kiera is an expert in all things Alice. Rather than default to my solo working routine, I now have a brilliant writing and research partner, to question and to bounce ideas across. Together we will explore Wonderland, and Kiera’s vast knowledge will help me shape a vivid 20-minute concert suite, full of character for the LSO.
Is it possible to engage our aural senses so we feel as if we are falling down the rabbit hole, or arriving at a zany tea party? Without any prompting, will you know when the orchestra play the music for the Cheshire Cat?
Let’s find out."
Paul's Wonderland Suite will be premiered by the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican, London on Sunday 8th November 2015.