Elaine Agnew


Type of Work: Orchestra
Instrumentation: 2 fl. 2obs. cl. bass cl. 2 bn. 4 hns. 2 tpts. 2 trbs. bass trb. tu. timp. 2 perc. (tri, guiro, tam-t, cym, bass drum, tamb, vib, cow bells, woodblocks, maracas, hanging metal). harp. strings.
Length: 10 minutes
Commissioned by: RTÉ lyric fm
Premiere: 3 May 2009, University Concert Hall, Limerick.
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, conductor Gerhard Markson.


Celebrating RTÉ lyric fm’s 10th Birthday Make A Wish is inspired by the custom of making a wish when you blow out the candles on a birthday cake. Traditionally the birthday person makes one private wish, which will come true if all the candles are extinguished in a single breath. This hope or desire is associated with seeing a shooting star or tossing a coin into a wishing well.

The history of placing candles on the cake can be traced to Kinderfest, an 18th century German birthday celebration for children. A letter by Goethe recounts: "...when it was time for dessert, the prince's entire livery...carried a generous-size torte with colourful flaming candles that began to melt and threatened to burn down..."  The tradition was to place candles, symbolic of the passage of time, for each of the individual's life with some added candles anticipating years to come.

A brief unison trio of bass clarinet and two bassoons heard near the start provides the key material for the work. Pizzicato strings, sustained brass, columns of hopping wind and restless percussion precedes this trio's statement, which then kicks the orchestra into motion, as it weaves in and out of the rhythmical interplay between the orchestral families.

The first wish sounds: full orchestra, clattering metal percussion, then fades. The strings explore an isorhythmic fragment of already heard material before leading to a waltz, with winds carrying the tune.
The second wish sounds: now shorter, with a different rhythmic emphasis, then fades away. Solo instruments highlighting harp and vibraphone underline a quietly soaring violin melody.
The final wish sounds: shorter again, more direct, then fades away as each player holds their last note as long as they can, the music extinguishing with the final players breath.

Make A Wish was recently performed at the RTÉ Horizons series where Elaine was a featured composer.  Later this year a CD of all Elaine’s orchestral works will be released on the lyric fm label featuring the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Gavin Maloney as part of the Composers of Ireland series, funded by RTÉ and The Arts Council of Ireland.

Andrew Johnstone, Irish Times:

“The third of this year’s RTÉ Horizons concerts generated a memorably bright and upbeat atmosphere. The selection of contemporary works by featured composer Elaine Agnew took in some challenging enough listening but what made it especially engaging was the range of colour and the zestful delivery.

Elena Kats-Chernin has become Agnew’s guiding spirit in recent years, and that might partly explain the eclectic approachability of Make a Wish, which Agnew composed last year to mark the 10th anniversary of RTÉ Lyric FM.  This work may be predicated on innocent thoughts of birthday cake, but more complex elements emerge from the systematic tonal language, the well-proportioned melodies and figurations, and the effective, economical orchestration.”