Vic Hoyland


for full orchestra

3 (2nd+afl, 3rd +picc), 3 (3rd+ca), 3 (3rd+bcl), 3(3rd +cbn) – 4,4, 3(2T 1B), 1 –2 hp, 4 perc – str

Commissioned by the BBC Symphony Orchestra

34’ 00” duration 1996
ISMN M 57020 180 8

Completed during a Rockefeller Foundation award/residency at Bellagio, Italy in July 1996

1st Performance

Cheltenham Festival, 1997, conducted by Marcus Stenz, live broadcast BBC Radio 3


Vixen, at 35 minutes, is twice the length of In transit, and is one of the most ambitious orchestral works written by a British composer in recent years. Although the language and preoccupations are familiar from In transit, there is a more expansive lyrical element throughout Vixen that was confined to the interludes in the earlier work. There is altogether a lighter touch here, notwithstanding the work’s basis in arcane mathematical and architectural principles.

There are five distinct sections, although elements in one section reappear in others and these have a sufficiently distinctive profile that can be noticed, not always the case with ‘reappearance’ in contemporary music. The first section features a beautifully crafted clarinet solo and ends with a magical sequence of twelve string chords. About this time one begins to feel the need for faster more focused music and the third section arrives in time to supply this, as a dance-like element enters and builds to another sonorous chorale. This dissolves into the fourth and inversely climactic section, a bewitching sound world of gently drifting strings, vibraphone and tinkling percussion, slowly turning until reaching a complete stand still. Out of this emerges a high, frozen melody on violins. If the work as a whole has the ghost of a symphonic structure lurking in the background, this is its rapt, entranced slow movement. The final section takes up and expands the dance-like material from the third and effects a fusion of this with the prevailing lyrical element. A gentle chiming forms the coda to the work (Hoyland was remembering the church-bells of Como where the work was completed). The final gesture, a kind of dominant seventh chord underpinning the rising scale, is as affecting as it is unexpected.

It is a powerful, intense piece.

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