BBC commmission for the 2019 BBC Proms Season. Performed at Cadogan Hall on 22nd July 2019 by VOCES8.
My music is often spacious, with an emphasis on misty harmonies and weaving melodic lines. My conceptual inspirations are often strongly rooted in contemporary crises, particularly climate change but also social disasters I see as closely related to it such as the refugee crisis and mental health. Literature is also a key source of inspiration for me and I have recently begun to use my own poetry as an extended performance direction in my scores as well as setting it as text. A strong sense of spirituality runs through much of both my musical and poetic work; Earthward is no exception. Inspired by the sacred themes of the rest of the programme, I wished to write my own piece of ‘sacred’ vocal music. As a Buddhist however, it felt most authentic to place the Earth at the centre of the work as the object of devotion. Of course, an intellectual approach is crucial to tackling ecological catastrophes; but in a time in which our intimate connection to the universe, our sense that, ‘what we do to nature, we do to ourselves’, is often stifled beneath cold statistics and dire predictions, it is also essential that we express our own love of and grief for the Earth. I hope this piece, with its returning, almost liturgical unisons which blossom into dense chords on important words and phrases in my text, and its main instruction to the ensemble to convey a ‘reverential’ feel, communicates my own closeness to nature and the strong sense of sacredness I find there.
“The premiere of Alexia Sloane’s Earthward [BBC commission], set to a text of her own, showed VOCES8’s virtuosic skills as an ensemble for the shifts of tonality and the mesmerising, almost playful, use of dissonance. The work starts with a thrice-repeated declamation of the words “Oh Earth”, each one ushering in a different sonic quality – awe, anxiety and sorrow could be some words used to describe the moods conjured. Original and exciting.” – Alexander Campbell (Classical source)
“This was a compelling, powerful and atmospheric piece. It gave me tingles! I particularly enjoyed the moments when the texture is reduced to two or three parts which almost seem to be pushing against one another at points and also the prism-like effect of the singers moving from unison to those rich, dispersed chords.” – Rebecca Burns (BBC Proms Learning team)
“Sloane’s musical language, as captured in Earthward, could hardly be more – in the best sense – strange. Its nature, on first contact at least, is disarmingly alien yet at the same time so abundantly personal as to feel instantly recognisable and familiar. Sloane’s articulation of her text consists of a kind of oscillation: short, somewhat chant-like undulating lines that continually erupt and explode at its key words. On the one hand, there’s something almost a little clunky about this, though the more time i’ve spent with the piece the less this seems like a compositional defect than a side effect of both the often uncomfortably vertiginous leaps required of the singers and also the music’s extreme emotional shift between the measured and the exquisite.
I use the word ‘exquisite’ deliberately, as it seems to me that the peculiar flavour of Sloane’s chords is infused as much by pain as pleasure. As such, they act not so much as functional but emotional harmony, communicating equal parts rapture and agony. This, in combination with the intimacy of its personality, lends Earthward an intensity that’s almost excruciatingly private, as if we were listening in on someone engaged in an act of private prayer. It is that, i think, but of course it’s a lot more than that; in making her deeply personal paean to the Earth public in this way, Sloane clearly yearns to create a kind of empathetic resonance in all of us. Personally, i won’t pretend that that resonance happened instantly, but it did happen: gradually, and with increasing fervour, such that now it feels as if the music, the words and i are entirely in accord.” – Simon Cummings (Composer, Writer and Researcher)
This recording of Earthward performed by VOCES8 is given with permission from the BBC