Monday, 9 September 2013


Mauve, green, grey poems
Perform a conversation
In a theatre of movement

The Japanese influences that run through Elizabeth Blackadder’s (born 1931) Still Life, January 1972 resonate at various levels in Petra Vergunst’s composition Three. Throughout a large part of her career as a painter and printmaker, Blackadder has drawn on the composition and imagery characteristic for Japanese paintings. This culminates in her still lives, painted throughout her career, in which objects are scattered over a surface that is viewed from above. Still Life, January 1972 is no exception. In the composition Three, for solo alto flute, this image is compared with an amicable conversation between three friends, whose ideas deviate initially, but converge after a heated debate. In the conversation the three friends listen to each other, hesitate, interrupt, and finish each others sentences, all the time acknowledging differences whilst looking for - what artist Chu Chu Yuan calls - fields of convergence. To capture the essence of the artistic vision, the composer wrote the haiku-inspired poem quoted above to guide the process of musical composition. The flute is commonly used in Japanese music, and the dark mysterious tone colour of the lower ranges of the alto flute contribute to the atmosphere of the conversation. Three is based on the pentatonic Japanese mode, transposed at times, that consists of a major second, minor second, major third, minor second and major third.

The number three combines the elements of the creative process expressed in Three: the conversation between three friends portrayed in Blackadder’s still life, the three lines of the poem, and the three notes that constitute the field around which the conversation ultimately converges.

Alongside her work as a freelance community artist, Petra Vergunst studies advanced music composition with Patric Standford at the Open College of the Arts. Inspired by theatre, performance art and poetry, her compositions often combine music with narrated or sung texts to make the programme more explicit. To reinforce the narrative character of her music she likes to resemble musical utterances with spoken ones. Like thoughts, these utterances then develop organically and are arranged in the form of monologue or dialogue. Her composition Frozen River (for flute, trumpet and cello) was played by The Red Note Ensemble at Noisy Nights in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and came (in an arrangement for glockenspiel, piano and cello) runner-up in a competition by the Open College of the Arts Student Association. Her composition Pitcowdens (for flute, oboe, bassoon, horn in F and cello) was shortlisted in a competition by the St. Andrews New Music Ensemble and subsequently played by the ensemble in a workshop with Sally Beamish. 

Three will be performed by flautist Richard Craig during sound 2013, the festival of new music in Northeast Scotland. The performance will be part of Painting with Sound, that is to take place in Aberdeen Art Gallery on Tuesday 29 October at 1 pm.

Copyright words and music Petra Vergunst