A conversation with Angela Elizabeth Slater

The Stafford Orchestra is proud to work alongside Stafford-based composer Angela Elizabeth Slater, who in 2021, composed a work especially for the orchestra, entitled ‘Dreams we forgot’.

The piece was written with support from the Ambache Charitable Trust and Stafford District Arts Council.

Here we speak to Angela, to explore the work further, and find out what audiences can expect when they hear it for the very first time, at the orchestra’s upcoming concert on Friday, November 18.

Describe your work, Dreams we forgot
The piece yearns for something we have lost, and explores this through impassioned melodic lines. These are expressed through sweeping and undulating string writing, and more delicate, fragile interweaved woodwind lines. The oboe opens and closes the work with a single note motif. The piece gradually builds through episodes of rich crescendos, before dying away to nothing.
What inspired you to write it?
I was inspired to write this piece Dreams we forgot for The Stafford Orchestra, to reflect the experience and events we had all gone through during the lockdown periods of the pandemic. It is a reflection on so many plans and ideas we all would have had before the pandemic that were either postponed, lost, or are now forgotten. Indeed what this piece might have been is lost, as it was originally meant to be written for Autumn 2020. The piece is a reflective meditation on the ideas and dreams we have lost or since forgotten about.
What feeling are you trying to evoke with the music?
The music is characterised by a reflective melody that we hear first across the oboes and strings, which then comes back over and over again. The music is full of interweaving lines that coalesce together to form an impassioned tutti melody that reflects and mourns the loss of times that were never had – ideas, plans and dreams that will never be – because of the pandemic.
Have you used particular musical elements, chords, motifs, or instructed certain techniques etc?
Probably the most distinctive aspect of the work regarding the musical elements I have used is how I have essentially only used the ‘white notes’ of the piano for the harmonic basis of the work. This allows the work to sit in an in-between space; not quite tonal, not modal, not fully atonal, with aspects of wholetone scales which themselves are broken.
Other distinctive features include the use of rising motifs that are passed across the orchestra, building up to create a dense interweaving of textures. Different sections of the melody appear through various orchestral colours before melting back into the orchestral texture.
Did you have to overcome any challenges in the process?
I was aware that the orchestra may not have the same instruments when we returned to full rehearsals after the lockdown periods of the pandemic. I was also aware even once we started rehearsing that our instrumentation still could change quite radically once we started back with new members joining us and existing members slowly returning and, in some cases, not re-joining us. This meant orchestrating this work was always going to be challenging. I needed to think how the piece may still be effective if portions of the brass or winds were missing but also if we had the full compliment it would still be effective.
Why compose for The Stafford Orchestra?
I really enjoy working with people who are passionate about music making regardless of whether they are professionals, beginners or dedicated amateurs. The Stafford Orchestra is made up of members who care deeply about music making, and work hard to bring live music to audiences in Staffordshire. I have also been a part of the orchestra as flute and piccolo player as well as covering the conducting at times, so I feel a particular connection to this group and personalities within it. There is always something special writing for a particular musician who you know, but it is even more unique when it is for a whole ensemble that you know really well.
How does this fit amongst your usual work? Is this characteristically ‘Angela Elizabeth Slater’, or have you taken it in a different direction?
This is a tricky one as each piece is unique and creates its own language and soundworld. This is due to many factors, who the piece is for, what it is for, when it was written and so on. However, there are aspects of this work that are very ‘Slater’, the impassioned melodic lines and interweaving textures are evocative of my string quartets such as Eye o da hurricane.
The delicate harmonics and timbral trill harmonics that I ask for at the end of the work in the strings are all sounds that I use in other works such as my orchestral piece The Louder the Birds Sing.
The white note harmony is a concept I last explored in my piano work Three Reflections for piano, giving it a soundworld that is closely related to this work, Dreams we forgot.
What’s next for you?
In the coming weeks before the world-premiere of Dreams we forgot on November 18, I have a very busy time ahead with the premieres of The Louder the Birds Sing for orchestra and my piano concerto Tautening skies at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire on November 4 at 7.30pm. Earlier that evening, I am also having two of my chambers works performed – Ways of Looking at a Blackbird for soprano and string quartet and Falling watercolours for string quartet.
After these performances and the one with The Stafford Orchestra, I will be looking ahead to the world-premiere of my City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra commission Unravelling the crimson sky for symphony orchestra. The premiere will take place on January 29, 2023 at 2.30pm, at Symphony Hall in Birmingham.
The premiere of Dreams we forgot is taking place on Friday November 18, at 7.45pm. For more information, visit our events page.