Elaine Agnew


Type of Work: Orchestra
Instrumentation: fl. ob. cl. bass cl. bn. 2 hns. tpt. trb. tu. timp. perc. (cym, bass drum, vib). strings
Length: 12 minutes
Commissioned by: BBC Radio 3
Premiere: 2 May 2003, Ulster Hall, Belfast. Ulster Orchestra, conductor David Porcelijn.


The word Slasp comes from a poem which was written by children from St Brigid's Primary School in County Derry.   What language does the Sea and the Skimming Stones speak to each other?  They speak stonish, seastone, Estonian....lots of responses from the children, but the one which stood out  was They speak slasp.  Slasp found its genesis in all kinds of other words: slap, crash, splash, rasp, gasp, slash...visual images began to emerge.

Slasp is a single movement work, divided into six sections of equal length, each with its own "stone" connection.  In The sinking stone, stuttering brass and long held strings create a world of thickening texture.  Let he that hath no sin cast the first stone uses the full orchestral palette, where swirling relentless lines eventually settle on the intense stillness of a high violin note.  Wandering aimlessly in Between a rock and a hard place, low strings rotate under pillars of wind and brass.  In Stoned, the full orchestra embarks on a relentless rhythmical trip.  Hearts turn to stone leads to Stepping stones, an orchestral fanfare which, in the words of one of the children, "yells into the future".  The piece ends with the earlier heard intense high violin note.

In 2006 Elaine was a featured composer during the RTÉ Horizons Series where Slasp was performed by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Brian MacKay.  Later this year a CD of all Elaine’s orchestral works will be released on the RTÉ lyric fm label featuring the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Gavin Maloney, as part of the Composers of Ireland series.

With Slasp, Elaine was nominated as one of the finalists for the 2004 British Composers Award, presented by the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters in association with BBC Radio 3.

Jacqui McIntosh, Journal of Music Ireland:

“In Slasp, language between the sea and skimming stones is imagined.  Agnew makes use of the bass clarinet and vibraphone to effect...weaving the instruments’ voices through textured layers of orchestration.  Slasp is characterised by stuttering trumpet fanfares and frenzied rhythmical passages that stop suddenly to reveal held notes in the upper strings which slide down and disappear to silence.”