Matthew Taylor (b. 1964)
“The Old Man of Storr” (or “Storr”) is a collection of rock formations which lie high on the Totteridge peninsular on the Isle of Skye. It is one of the most impressive and best loved sights on the island noted particularly for its highly distinctive craggy outcrops, appearing like jagged, giant teeth protruding from the ground. But equally spectacular is the massive expanse of barren terrain just below these cliffs known as “The Sanctuary”.
I was so struck by the beauty, majesty and grandeur of Storr after my first ascent that I felt compelled to compose a symphonic poem on the subject, even if the precise character, scoring and overall architecture of the piece still remained unclear at this early stage.
When my old friend Tom Hammond approached me with the idea of commissioning a new work for the Essex Symphony Orchestra he suggested a piece which might provide a parallel, in a general sense, with two other works which conjure specific landscapes, The “Needles” Overture and “Blasket Dances” . The choice of “Storr” seemed obvious.
The work is cast in four continuous sections and last about 13 minutes. The opening is slow and spacious but becomes increasingly reflective and lyrical as it continues, suggesting the first impressions of Storr in the midst of ever- changing cloud formations seen from a distance and at ground level. It leads directly into a second fast section which evokes a steep ascent through forestry with sudden flickers of sunlight and occasional glimpses of bright sky. The texture of the music is very light and transparent but nonetheless highly charged and active, perhaps resembling something of the mood of a Mendelssohn scherzo. Eventually a climax is reached which marks the opening of the third part. There is a more deliberate, striding momentum here conveying large open spaces on a plateau which soon relaxes into an extended flute solo - distant bird song . The final section, another ascent, takes the form of a vigorous fugue introduced by cellos. This last climb is perhaps the most strenuous part of the journey, but there is nonetheless a great sense of expectancy as the summit of Storr is now very close, even if we are more fully exposed to the elements. But we are rewarded with magnificent vistas when reaching the peak where the music culminates on a huge string chord stretching over many octaves clearly outlining the tonal centre of E.
Storr was commissioned by the Essex Symphony Orchestra with funds provided by the PRS Foundation and The Britten Pears Foundation. It was first performed by the Essex Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tom Hammond in Christchurch , Chelmsford, Essex on Saturday 3 March 2012.
It is dedicated to Charles and Jo Warden, my wife’s parents who were the first to introduce me to the glories of Skye. The full score was composed between March and August 2011.
The performance tonight is the London premiere.
© Matthew Taylor 2011