Andy Eastwood's 2019 CD 'SpaceScape'


Andy Eastwood


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Andy's composition for ukulele and string quartet...

1. Out Of Orbit
2. Journey
3. Discovery

SpaceScape was born of a conversation with Mary Agnes Krell, Director of the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival. I had played the Festival a couple of times – it’s the biggest annual ukulele event in the UK – and Mary asked if I would come back again, but with some new and surprising music. This awoke a long-lost dream in my mind: the idea of combining the ukulele with a traditional string quartet.

The quartet (two violins, viola and cello) is a much-loved sound palette and there’s a long history of adding an 'extra' instrument to it, such as flute, clarinet or piano, to create new textures. I really felt it was time to explore the way a uke could blend with the orchestral bowed string instruments. As a violinist myself, I have long been aware how closely related the uke and violin are. Pluck the open A string on each and you’re hard pressed to hear much difference between them. In fact, alternating strums across the open strings passed between the uke and first violin became the basis of the piece’s middle movement. I wanted textures and colours to be as much part of the musical material as melodic motifs. It’s a new combination and I was excited to explore it.

Firstly I needed inspiration. Composers have always drawn ideas from their natural environments, and I think today we gain the most wonderment from looking out into the cosmos. Around the time that I started to work on the piece, I had been reading the late Stephen Hawking's amazing thoughts about interstellar travel and alien life. He said that when we attempt to reach another star system, it will be by a tiny, lightweight, probe packed with nanotechnology. I was fascinated to imagine that journey, and I decided to let the simple soprano uke represent that little craft on its voyage.
When Holst composed The Planets a century ago, he employed the most colossal forces he could muster: a symphony orchestra augmented with double winds and extra brasses, a pipe organ, two harps, a huge percussion section, and a choir... he created a musical rhetoric that pervades every cinematographic depiction of space travel to this day. But our actual sensory perception of space resembles a microscopic experience - all we can do is interpret specks of light from our own tiny locale within an endless universe. I liked the inevitable humanness of having to paint the infinite cosmos on a miniature canvas. With the basic premise in mind, I imagined myself on the GNUF stage, and started to write.

I was determined that this would not be ‘ukulele with string quartet accompaniment’; it had to be a true ensemble concept. I had originally expected to start by sketching fragments and ideas which I could work together and develop afterwards, but actually once I began, the piece took shape in a linear fashion. I’m glad it flowed this way, because depicting a journey, this was a very natural way for it to grow. I had a rough outline in mind: first leaving Earth’s influence, then speeding through the mysterious emptiness of deep space, and eventually some kind of arrival at a destination. These corners of the framework became the three movements. The opening Out Of Orbit sets an eerie, other-worldly tone, then Journey is the most colourful and complex, suggesting that it will be quite a rough ride, and the finale, Discovery, is marked by a more nostalgic and sentimental feel, the suggestion being that despite all our imaginings of advanced technologies and civilisations, perhaps when we find this new world, it will be less ‘developed’ than our own, and perhaps we will rediscover something we have lost here on Earth: peace.

- Andy Eastwood, 2019

Andy Eastwood and the Didsbury String Quartet

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