BBC Radio 3 / Wellcome Collection festival features Martin Suckling premiere

Posted on 12 October 2017

The world premiere of Martin Suckling’s String Quintet at 1pm on Sunday, 15 October at the Wellcome Collection will be broadcast live on Radio 3 as part of Why Music? The Key to Memory.

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Martin’s quintet, alongside poetry by Frances Leviston, was commissioned by Poet in the City and Aurora Orchestra, supported by Bio Nano Consulting Ltd for the dissemination of PETMEM (piezoelectronic Transduction Memory Device), an EU Horizon 2020-funded project exploring low-voltage memory technologies.

About the collaboration, Martin writes:

‘Among the many fascinating aspects of the PETMEM project that frequently arose in conversations between Frances and myself were the strange otherworldly landscapes revealed under the scanning electron microscope, and the piezoresistive effect, where a material under sufficiently high pressure changes state from a resistor to a conductor of electricity.

There are many ways in which the idea of pressure can be translated into music – squeezing material into shorter and shorter timeframes, squashing the pitch space around a given note, increasing the density of activity – and all of these have a role to play in my quintet. In the first section, a viola melody is surrounded by a filigree tapestry of echoes and fragments and distorting mirrors across a series of compressions until all that remains of the available space is a single trill. At this point of extreme pressure, the properties of the material suddenly change: bright, gleaming, sudden bursts of sound in a highly microtonal environment.

All of this is haunted by the ghost of Schubert, above all the incomparable Adagio from his String Quintet in C major. A memory of this music, perhaps my favourite piece by my favourite composer, increasingly asserts itself on the surface of my quintet until the final passages become as if hypnotised by Schubert’s harmonies, crystallising around them like frost on a fallen leaf.’