My first encounter with Henry McPherson’s work was in a composer’s forum where his piece Sigil was performed by cellist Yi Yang Zhao. Sigil uses a graphic score reminiscent of Earle Brown’s scores. The cellist has to interpret a calligraphically notated tablature and determine how the piece will unfold from there. About a year after this forum, I found that a piece had been submitted to my call for solo cello scores and was delighted to find a newly written work by Henry McPherson titled Interlunar.
The composer defines Interlunar as ‘The period of time between the old and new moons.’ Personally, I have always been drawn to music related to the moon so I was immediately intrigued when I saw the title.
Interlunar opens with three chromatically descending major 6ths that provide much of the intervallic material for the piece. This careful presentation of chromatic material feels tonally ambiguous and really evokes the feeling of intergalactic mystery. The composer adds to this ambiguity by maintaining an ever evolving sense of metre. These metric changes can really help us understand the sometimes very long phrases.
As the piece progresses there are many instances of double-stops that swell and come back down. These are wonderful opportunities for expressive vibrato and legato playing. It’s important to remember that as we get higher and higher in the cello’s range, to keep the vibrato loose even though the music becomes very intense.
At the climax of the piece, the pitch selection becomes much less chromatic and easier to play in tune. This however doesn’t negate the need to practise this section as well as other sections with drone pitches for intonation. Throughout the piece the composer indicates different intensities of vibrato to coincide with the varying strengths of the musical line. Before we add this important nuance it is a must to practise these passages without vibrato so we can accurately hear the intended intervals in the phrases.
At first glance Interlunar isn’t a difficult piece to play, the double-stops all fit under the fingers nicely, the lyrical writing is very idiomatic for the instrument, and the musical impetus of the piece is easy to interpret. The challenge of the piece lies in two fundamental techniques. The first is that of bow sustain. The crux of the piece is in the long sustained phrases. Extra attention has to be spent working out how to maintain the composer’s phrasal intentions while bowing the piece in a conventional and easily manageable way. The second technical aspect that Interlunar presents is that of accurate finger spacing across all of the positions, and accurate shifting between these positions. If you like expressive, legato playing (who doesn’t!?) Interlunar is a great, and fairly brief (just 5 minutes) addition to any programme. Check out this wonderful new work by this fantastic young composer!