Heartland

(2012) 23’
for solo percussion and orchestra

Description

Heartland was created as both a standalone percussion concerto and a ballet score for National Dance Company Wales. With the choreographer Eleesha Drennan I explored the twin notions of utpoia and dystopia as a starting point for the work, looking in particular at Halford John Mackinder’s 1904 Royal Geographical Society article outlining his Heartland Theory. According to Mackinder the Heartland lies at the centre of the interlinked continents of Europe, Asia and Africa stretching from the Volga to the Yangtze and from the Himalayas to the Arctic. He declared that whoever ruled the Heartland could control the world. Mackinder’s theory focussed upon a prevailing fear at the time that a totalitarian regime might seek to seize control of the region as a prelude to world domination.
Heartland is cast in three main parts separated by two cadenza-like sections. In the first section the soloist and the orchestral percussionists open with an intricate texture for maracas against a very slow cantus that develops in the upper strings and woodwind. After a short interlude for celesta and muted trumpets the soloist moves to the marimba for a moto perpetuo section. Harmonic material develops from a single line as notes are continually caught and sustained by the orchestra. The music builds to a climax before receding into the first cadenza. In this senza misura section the soloist explores the myriad sonorities of the bass drum using a variety of beaters, a rute and hands.
The second section begins with a low melody in the lower woodwind and strings before the soloist re-enters on the aluphone, a new development in tuned percussion featuring hand-moulded aluminium bells, developing the material into a long, yearning melody. Later in this section the glockenspiel and four tuned gongs join the metallic timbres in the percussionist’s palette. The second cadenza features the aluphone and tuned gongs exploring some of the principle pitch material used in the work against an insistent B-flat pedal in the wind and strings before leading into the third part.
In the final allegro section a monody, first heard in strings and clarinets, begins to splinter into a polyphonic texture before the marimba returns with an aggressive, rhythmic motif. A fanfare-like passage in the horns and trumpets marks the entry of various drums and cymbals before the soloist employs the tuned percussion instruments in an increasingly busy rush towards the work’s conclusion. MB

Articles, reviews & media

✮✮✮✮ ‘the solo percussion writing in Heartland shows how subtle and inventive Bowden’s textural imagination can be’ / Andrew Clements / Guardian
✮✮✮✮½ ‘The opening Allegro con brio is a panoply of exotic sounds, it is often lightly but atmospherically scored with the marimba to the fore. The Andante con moto combines bell-like instruments with a magical web of sounds, a gentle meditation with occasional upsets. The final Allegro ritmico is as rhythmically structured as its marking suggests, over the top of which is a percussion obbligato creating shimmering textures’ / Robert Hugill / Planet Hugill
‘The thing that captures me most in his music is its subtle, supple sense of movement: there is always an interesting flux… Heartland is a percussion concerto and ballet score, fluid and alert with Julian Warburton as soloist’ / Kate Molleson / Gramophone
✮✮✮✮ ‘Excellent performances by all involved on the disc do contemporary composer Mark Bowden proud’ / Elinor Cooper / BBC Music Magazine
✮✮✮✮ Vale of Glamorgan Festival Review / Rian Evans / Guardian
✮✮✮✮ ‘A fascinating and thought-provoking work/ Peter Collins / Wales Online
‘Mark Bowden’s percussion concerto is an exceptional and absorbing pleasure/ Judith Mackrell / Guardian
full of violence and brio in its multi-layered harmonies and timbres / Steph Power / Wales Arts Review
‘The work’s greatest asset is Mark Bowden’s percussion score Heartland, a piece of music that bubbles with fluid, spicy rhythms and pretty celestial ruminations. And watching Julian Warburton play it was a fascinating show in itself’ / Debra Craine / Times