Agricolas, for clarinet and orchestra, was commissioned by Robert Plane with financial assistance from the Britten-Pears Foundation and Vaughan-Williams Trust, and was given its world premiere by him at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival, in Llandaff Cathedral, on 11 September 2008. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales was conducted by Michal Dworzynski.

Agricolas takes its title and concept of design from the work of the American sculptor David Smith, many of whose works were grouped into sets in terms of their shared titles – for example the Agricolas. The work avoids the typical long-range structures of a concerto; instead it reflects the modular structure of many of Smith’s pieces with a mosaic sequence of shorter sections, scored for ‘chamber’ ensembles; there are two sets of these sequences, forming two overall movements that are thus akin to ‘sculptures’. Each of these presents three main pieces, linked by brief connecting sections (‘Bridges’) that concentrate on unison lines - groups of instruments playing the same melody - and simple ostinati. These Bridge sections are analogous to rods and struts that connect the objects in many of Smith’s pieces.

Another connecting level between several of the main sections is a recurring harmonic series that I call an ‘escalator’; this is unrolled in a wide range of treatments, so that several pieces become variations on this musical skeleton – chorale preludes with separate identities. The last of these is heard at the end, a brief Epilogue. In Agricolas the solo clarinet is conceived in the role of a commentator: eschewing strident display and conflict, it is free to explore a variety of chamber associations around the orchestra. However, the relation between clarinet and its fellows is a deepening one, beginning in a ‘concertante’ fashion with an athletic accompanied work-out but becoming increasingly, in movement II, a lyrical partnership - although at the end of this movement the solo clarinet explodes into action.

Movement 1:
Recitative-Ensemble – Bridge 1 – Chorale Prelude (chaconne) – Bridge 2 – Recitative-Ensemble

Movement 2:
Chorale Prelude (Blues) – Bridge 3 - Chorale Prelude (canons) – Bridge 4 – Chorale Prelude (Sancta Maria)

Chorale Prelude (Epilogue)

c Piers Hellawell 2008