Rivers to the Sea

In 2010 I was approached by Esa-Pekka Salonen to write a work for the Philharmonia's 2012 season. This came as a great surprise, and I leapt at the opportunity of writing for this renowned orchestra and conductor. I began planning a symphonic structure in four movements, each to contrast sharply in terms of its sound-world and expressive quality. Movements 1 and 2, and 3 and 4 were to be played continuously, and an interlude for strings and clarinet was then added, placed between the second and third movements as a central 'pivot point'. I then started to sketch the main ideas, using a combination of graphic notation, melodic/harmonic fragments, and words. During this time I visited New York, a city I got to know while studying in the US, and the evocation of aspects of Manhattan (the lights, the infectious energy, the diversity of cultures) found expression in the final movement, 'Neon with Sunrise'. Over the course of the following year the piece gradually took shape, and was completed in early 2012.

The work's title is taken from an anthology of poems by the New York writer Sara Teasdale, and although not a conventional seascape, the metaphorical resonances of 'rivers' and 'the sea' permeated many of my ideas: 'currents' of sound, gaining momentum, and finally arriving at (and becoming part of) something much larger.

It is a great honour to be the recipient of a 2013 British Composer Award for this work, and I'm indebted to Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra for approaching my music with such enthusiasm, and for giving the piece five superb performances.

Joseph Phibbs
ISM member and composer