This work was for me the end of a musical phase, being the last of a series of works in which I have been exploring the expressive territory of simple, chorale-like materials; these have spread through my works from The Hilliard Songbook (1995), whose vocal-ensemble scoring directed me to these clearcut harmonic objects. At the same time the work is a beginning, being the first of three planned 'double concerto' works.
The Nċjd ( pronounced 'Noyd') was a shaman, a spiritual healer, among the the nomadic Sami population of the Northern Nordic countries. In a folk museum in Northern Sweden, I saw a small drum used by a shaman to assist his healing; this was achieved by the pulses that induced the trance state needed for his healing process. If the percussion here represents a route to healing, then the recorder - monodic, melodic - is more a symbol of the healing itself, a state of stillness and resolution that has to be achieved. The solo relationship between active percussion and lyrical recorder is thus one of struggle and cooperation.
There are five movements, preceded by a short 'invocation'. Then the short first movement - fast - introduces orchestral families, decorated by various solo colours. The slow (second) movement is the recorder's solo, as partner to both wind and string groups. The third section is really a scherzo, and presents recorder and marimba in opposition, almost in a duel of speed. This is followed by the main percussion solo movement. Finally, the percussive power is resolved in the final movement, in which the two solo elements sing in fusion.
The work's opening recorder song (the invocation) is based on a Swedish cattle-call, transcribed with her permission from the beautiful singing of Swedish-Estonian folksinger Sofia Joons. This melody recurs occasionally in the rest of the work. Appropriately, Sofia Joons says that in the recording on which this is based, her words - which would originally have been directed to other lonely shepherds - are: ' Here I am; if you hear me, please sing back to me.'
Drum of The Nċjd was commissioned by the Northern Sinfonia, and premiered by them with Michala Petri (recorders) and Evelyn Glennie (percussion) during the Autumn tour of their 1997-98 season.
c Piers Hellawell 1997