The culmination of a long association with pianist Matthew Mills, Bagatelles represents some 30 years of piano music by British composer Bernard Hughes.
‘I’ve had a great time once again on LSO’s brilliant Soundhub Scheme. It has been a joy to work with LSO musicians for another year and a privilege to be able to try out new ideas with such patient and helpful players. I am looking forward very much to the final concert on 15 February at LSO St Luke’s!
My new commission, In Significance, is scored for seven musicians: two percussionists, oboe, horn, piano, violin and cello. The piece investigates the often uncomfortable balance between centres and ‘their’ peripheries, and attempts to imagine a different relationship. Whether in respect to post-colonial thought, environmental issues, or social structures, the implication is that those on the periphery – individuals, groups, nature – are marginalised, ignored, and at times forgotten. It is as if the centre is independent and self-sufficient whilst the periphery is somehow lesser… unimportant… insignificant…
And yet. By definition, the relationship between a ‘centre’ and a ‘periphery’ is in fact interdependent. One does not exist without the other and in the latter, there is always latent value and meaning.
In Significance meditates on these ideas and hopes to encourage a more holistic understanding of how communities, histories and beings interact with each other. The instruments are split into two groups, one positioned in the centre of the stage and the other around the edge of the performance space. Each group is ‘led’ by one of the percussionists and it is the various ways in which the two groups work with and against each other that convey the narrative arc.
There were several inspirations and personal experiences, both musical and non-musical, that led me to write this piece. One of them came last summer when I visited New Zealand for my sister’s lovely wedding. I had spent a week in Hong Kong before flying out, and so had been getting used to the crazy and at times overwhelming hustle and bustle of Hong Kong culture. (This is coming from a Londoner as well…!). It is striking to see how humans have cultivated and left their mark all over the region, to the extent that they are building artificial islands to combat the lack of space. Much like London, and at once impressive and worrying, humans have dominated and decimated the land to survive.
In stark contrast from the glimpse I had, the opposite could not be more true in the South Island of New Zealand. Cities and infrastructure are built only where made possible by the mountainous landscape – like nature relented in certain areas to allow humans to settle; routes across the island are only accessible if the conditions allow it; and tourist attractions (and outdoor weddings) are at the mercy of weather patterns. Here the balance between humans and the environment is quite different and I couldn’t help but feel quite viscerally how insignificant we are. It is nature that dictates and there is refreshingly little opportunity to change this.
With the performance happening so soon, I’m very excited to hear it come together with the wonderful conductor Jessica Cottis at the helm. I owe a huge thanks to the fantastic LSO team once again, not just the performers but also those who make rehearsals, logistics, and late instrument changes possible! Shout out as ever to the lovely Susie Thomson as well as my mentor, Vivian Fung, who made my Christmas that much less stressful.
I hope to see you at the performance!’
LSO musicians perform the premiere of Alex Ho’s In Significance on Saturday 15 February 7pm at LSO St Luke’s, alongside Sun Keting’s new work Now I will do nothing but Listen and music from other LSO Soundhub Members and Associates.
Alex Ho is a British-Chinese composer based in London. He is one of the London Symphony Orchestra’s Soundhub composers and has had pieces performed on platforms including SoundState Festival (Southbank Centre, London), Sound Unbound (Barbican Centre, London) and Hearing China (Shanghai Symphony Hall, Shanghai). Upcoming performances are commissions from the Royal Opera House, National Opera Studio and the Royal Academy of Dance. Alex is the co-director of Tangram, an artist collective opening up spaces beyond the China-West dichotomy.