Up By The Roots was commissioned as part of a PRS for Music Foundation ‘Beyond Borders’ award to Fidelio Trio, poet Sinéad Morrissey and composer Piers Hellawell; the collaboration was initiated by Fidelio Trio, who have been shortlisted for the prestigious 2016 Royal Philharmonic Society Ensemble Award, following a long collaborative relationship with Piers Hellawell. In particular it seemed appropriate that, within the ‘Beyond Borders’ theme, the Irish musicians of Fidelio Trio based in London should collaborate with an English composer working in Belfast; the catalyst proved the involvement of Belfast poet, Sinéad Morrissey, whose words provide a meditation on migration itself.
This collaboration approaches the relation of music and text in a new way; the interaction of chamber music for trio and poetic texts respects, though it also later dissolves, the bounds between these separate territories. Three pieces for piano trio are interleaved with a sequence of three poems, delivered in performance by the author; however, such is the volatile chemistry of music and poetry that this seemly alternation later takes a more subversive turn. As music seeps into poem and poetry becomes sound, the latter stages of this spoken chamber music lie closer to an operatic scena…the three-part poetic sequence on the theme of migration and borders takes as its starting point the poetic transfiguration of a woman’s life in the metaphorical forest of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) - but re-locates it in a modern context. The migrants make landfall only to find that the forest sanctuary offers resistance -first human but then mythical, as the witch Baba Yaga, awoken from forest sleep by the tumult of social upheaval, threatens a mythological transfiguration of all the human forest-dwellers, old and new. The piece ends with their own transfigured night.
Piers Hellawell c 2016
"It was a delight for me to work on this project, liberated as I was from the constraint of having to write language which can be sung, and concentrating instead on words for the spoken voice (my own), placed in a context of music but not entirely meshed with it. However, the points at which music and poetry connected most closely quickly became the most exciting moments of the piece, as geographical, social, and generic breakdown (between the realistic and mythical modes) developed into the complex cross-contamination of language and sound. Form mirrors content as multiple borders are ruptured."
“The process of composing music around emergent poetic text, rather than setting it for voices, is unsettling and definitely comes without a manual. As our separate compositions of music and words unfolded, it became harder to compose without first knowing the latest turn of the poetry; what began as a distant civility to the poetry, an image of beached landings in my mind as I composed the opening piece, became positively claustrophobic in the later stages as music and poetry converged. Finally I found my head full of the expletives of Baba Yaga as I feverishly furnished them with their musical surround.”