Elaine Agnew


Type of Work: Orchestral
Instrumentation: Double orchestra and solo flute
Length: 12 minutes
Commissioned by: BBC Proms

Ulster Youth Orchestra, Ulster Orchestra, Sir James Galway, conductor JoAnn Faletta, 4 August 2012, Royal Albert Hall, London.



The world première of Dark Hedges, a new work by the County Antrim composer Elaine Agnew, will be given on Saturday 4 August at the Royal Albert Hall in London as part of the world's biggest classical music festival in the world, the BBC Proms.

Performed by the Ulster Orchestra, Ulster Youth Orchestra and Sir James Galway, the concert is part of a weekend of performances by the national youth orchestras of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Here, Elaine writes about her inspiration for the piece and excitement of going to the Proms.

I am so excited about having a world première at the BBC Proms this summer. This is my first ever performance in the Royal Albert Hall and for it to be a the première of such a major work is massively thrilling!

The starting point for the piece and its title is an ancient avenue of mature beech trees near the village of Armoy in County Antrim. Over the past 250 years or so, the beech trees have guarded both sides of the road, reaching up and across to each other becoming heavily intertwined to create a mystical arched tunnel where shadows and light play through the branches.

The trees look totally different once you walk 'inside' and demonstrate just how thick the branches are, seemingly blocking the sky from view altogether. Ancient, twisted, gnarly trees with a distinctive character and soul of their own. A mysterious ghost, known as the Grey Lady, is said to weave her way silently along the roadside, vanishing as she glides past the last tree.

Working with the two orchestras and (the) Sir James has been a huge challenge, not only in terms of orchestration and balance, but the sheer energy that I needed to produce a score with 38 staves and a total of 160 separate orchestral parts!

My previous experience had been writing for only one orchestra, so the prospect of having two orchestras and a soloist (took quite a bit of thinking) was quite daunting. Normally a solo flute would be accompanied by a light orchestra of strings and a few woodwind so I had to be careful that, when playing, the soloist is always heard. But I was determined that the two orchestras would not only play as an accompaniment to Sir James but have an equally important role.

I also didn't want the two orchestras to merge and form one super orchestra so there are clear divisions both physically and visually between the brass, percussion and woodwind sections of the two orchestras. They are seated separately and each has its own set of parts. (The result is a larger palette of sound and colour to play with and endless possibilities) The resulting larger palette of sound and colour that you can play with gives endless musical possibilities.

The performers are positioned on both the main stage and in the arena area where the five Ulster Youth Orchestra percussionists are on a (purpose) specially built stage. Soloist James Galway will play in both the arena (area) and on the main stage, engaging in dialogue with different ensembles on both stages.

If you can't make it to London, you can listen in live on BBC Radio 3 and BBC iPlayer.