Portrait of Mark Bowden under some lights
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(2011) 20’
for solo cello and orchestra


The title Lyra refers to a constellation of stars, a bass viol from the seventeenth century and a class of Russian nuclear-powered submarines. It is also the name of the wild protagonist — a young girl who becomes caught up in a cosmic war — in His Dark Materials, a trilogy of fantasy novels by Philip Pullman. These different elements influenced the music in various ways. There are three main types of material juxtaposed and intertwined throughout the whole work creating a single movement structure. The first type of material reflects the luminosity of stars and is characterised by high, rapid writing for upper woodwinds, strings and bright metallic percussion. The second type of material is song-like and was created using sonorities drawn from the particular tunings employed in lyra viol practice from the seventeenth century, whilst the third type of material is fast, sometimes violent and often low in register. Even though Lyra is cast in a single movement it is still possible to detect three broad sections plus a coda in the work. The first section opens with a fast, high and bright texture featuring the soloist, high woodwinds, percussion and divisi strings. The second section begins with a piccolo duet over a murmuring harp and string chord and leads into various melodic passages featuring the soloist, cor anglais and bassoon. A cadenza-like passage for the soloist and orchestral cellos follows. The third section begins with a brief, transformed return of the very opening material before launching into a pair of energetic orchestral tuttis. The coda features an extreme example of scordatura for the soloist who is required to de-tune the C-string down almost a full octave, as if crushed by the force of the material that has gone before. MB

Articles & reviews

★★★★ Mark Bowden: Lyra; Heartland; Sudden Light – power, invention and subtlety / Andrew Clements / Guardian
★★★★½ ‘The first movement has a lyrical incantation from the solo cello, with interruptions from a glittering, Britten-esque orchestra. Gradually these coalesce, with a vibrantly lyrical cello part and busy orchestra, full of lovely textures and colours… A cadenza-like passage leads to the intense Adagio e lontano, with a passionate soloist over spare yet magical orchestral colours, becoming richer and more passionate at climaxes.This is a big bold work, with some brilliant detail in the orchestra’ / Robert Hugill / Planet Hugill
★★★★ ‘The playful and energetic Lyra, inspired by Philip Pullman’s bold protagonist in His Dark Materials, is a particular highlight’ / Elinor Cooper / BBC Music Magazine
‘His aptitude for orchestral writing shows in the cello concerto Lyra. The orchestration glitters and glows while the solo line roams and soars; the interaction is playful, adventuresome, intricate’ / Kate Molleson / Gramophone
A work of considerable scope and ambition / Glyn Pursglove / Seen and Heard International
Review: BBC National Orchestra of Wales / Peter Collins / Wales Online
Composer Mark Bowden prepares for premiere at Vale of Glamorgan Festival / Karen Price / Wales Online
BBC World Premiere for new Resident Composer / Arts Council of Wales

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