Originally a duet for cello and piano (and subtle, subliminal audio) and arranged here for piano and percussion, Halo was commissioned by Ian Graham and Agi Lehar-Graham for Katherine Austin and James Tennant. Incorporating subtle and subliminal audio elements, the first movement, titled "Red Halo," creates an atmospheric soundscape where the resonance of the piano intertwines with electronic textures. This serves as a mesmerizing backdrop for the cello, allowing it to deliver moody and improvisation-like statements that evoke a range of emotions. As the music progresses into the second movement, "Stacia," the piano takes on a flowing ostinato, providing a foundation for the cello to express itself through melodic lines that sing with grace. Throughout this movement, subtle shifts in texture and mood unfold, enhancing the depth and complexity of the composition. The final movement, "Angelus," intensifies the sonic journey with a manic energy. Dissonant chords collide with bursts of frenzied melodicism, creating a climactic and exhilarating finale. This movement explores the extremes of musical expression, engaging the listener with its powerful dynamics and intricate interplay between piano and cello.
Watch and Listen
Halo (piano and mallet percussion)
for Piano and Percussion and Electronics
Instrumentation: Piano & Marimba/Vibraphone
1. Red Halo
Duration: 20 minutes
The piece requires a small audio speaker to be placed, unseen, inside the piano. Once in the first movement, and twice in the third movement, audio is subtly heard through this speaker - intentionally being perceptible as an unnatural extension of the piano’s resonance at the time. The audio is sent to the speaker (through a cable or via bluetooth) from a discrete phone or mp3 player, to be handled by the pianist.
Christopher’s Classics – 27 August 2020
Tennant-Austin Duo plays Beethoven, Psathas and Chopin
Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd
As the lifeblood slowly starts to trickle back into our cultural scene, the proclamation on the programme that, “The busiest lives deserve beautiful music,” had even more meaning for a city starved of live music for nearly six months. In the strange times that we find ourselves, this concert was like pouring water onto the parched earth. James Tennant and Katherine Austin were the ideal tonic we all needed to reconnect to the music we love so much, even if we were all socially distancing, seated well apart. It was also a fitting acknowledgement to the years of generous sponsorship that Christopher and Jilly Marshall have given to the Arts, helping chamber music thrive in the region.
Call me biased but I was always going to be hanging out for John Psathas’ Halo. Having not seen him in ages I was sad to hear the backstory of this work (the decline and death of his mother) but so delighted to hear what was a profound piece of writing. The first movement (Red Halo) had strong meditative elements, heightened by electronic augmentation and the players created a wonderfully warm sense of space, while always keeping that sense of pulse somewhere in the mix, that trademark that pervades much of Psathas’ work. Tennant made the most of the sonorous cello line in the second movement (Stacia) while Austin provided the minimalist rhythmic framework, that rippling ostinato helping create so many subtle textures that I found myself not discriminating between the two players at all. Of course, no Psathas work would be complete without the intense busy that he lives his life by, and the third movement (Angelus) was all of that and more. The Duo never let up in this emotionally-charged and exciting piece, one of the most glorious effects coming with Tennant shimmering away on tremolandi while Austin provided a backdrop of dissonant chords. The Duo brought the whole thing to a powerful and chaotic climax but the mesmeric aftermath was a thing of real beauty and resolution.