Dogs and Wolves
This work was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s first season in City Hall, Glasgow.

Dogs and Wolves takes its title from the great poem of that name by the Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean, in his majesterial English version. His poem is a headlong hurtle through the mountainous landscape of the poet’s imagination, the traditional poetic image of the hunt expressing the search for the elusive beauty and truth of poetic expression - ‘the white deer of your beloved beauty’. With such imagery the poem can also be read as a love-poem, or rather as a poem about the impossibility of holding onto ‘eternal’ love.

For all that, it was this poem’s breathless curve - from the initial chase, through the brief glimpse of the idyllic quarry to the resumption of the tormenting restlessness of the hunt -that suggested to me a single-span orchestral piece, although at the same time this shape, while clearly suggested by the poem, was already with me from my earlier Cors de chasse - its attraction being the challenge of retaining dramatic impetus while controlling the gradual slackening of pace.

There are five phases to the Dogs and Wolves narrative: it begins with a restless babble of fanfares that climb towards a plateau, before the momentum yields to soloistic challenges from smaller groups. There follows a series of several ‘Blues’, brief sections in which small ensembles – initially just a pair of trombones - unwind improvisatory lines over a moving bass. An exuberant climax to the last of these yields to a long unwinding of tensions, overlapping harmonies that unfold downwards in different orchestral groupings. The ensuing glimpse of stillness is finally supplanted by a coda, which restores rapid pace and a kaleidoscope of colour.

c Piers Hellawell 2005