High up on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia, under the snowy peaks and overlooking the Caribbean Sea, live the Kogi Indians. Contrary to the fate of many indigenous people in South America, the Kogis have managed to maintain their cultural identity and traditional way of life. Their geographical isolation has certainly helped, but the main reason is the unusually articulated, profound and interconnected set of beliefs and rituals that govern their life. Mythic thought and everyday life are so intertwined that many anthropologists have recognized the exceptionality of the Kogis among other Indian tribes of Central and Southern America.

The Kogi universe is based on a creation myth centred on the figure of the Great Mother. Originally she was alúna, pure thought. This word has multiple meanings in the Kogi language: memory, spirit, imagination. This mythological narrative has been the main source of inspiration for Alúna. The role of the Great Mother, and how she spins the world into existence from the dark primeval waters, has determined the form of the piece and the interaction between the soloist and the ensemble. The music of the ensemble is always derived from the solo viola part. Technology is used in the piece to project the viola sound in space and to allow the soloist to control and transform the sounds of the ensemble in real time.

When dealing with different cultures, I am always very interested in a kind of reverse ethnology, whereby we use concepts and knowledge from “primitive” people to try and shed light on our own culture. Alúna sets out to recreate a musical equivalent of the incredibly rich and profound creation myth of the Kogis. No musical tourism and no exotic flavours then, rather the attempt to transcend cultural differences by marrying Western compositional techniques with a world view from a remote culture.

Written in 2005 for Rivka Golani, the renowned virtuoso viola player, Alúna is dedicated to the memory of my mother. Alúna was first performed on 24 June 2005 with Rivka Golani, solo viola, and the Thallein Ensemble conducted by Lionel Friend in the Recital Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire.

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INSTRUMENTATION

Viola

Flute (doubling Piccolo)
Oboe
Clarinet in Bb (doubling Bass Clarinet in Bb)
Bassoon
Horn in F
Trumpet in Bb
Trombone
Percussion (Marimba, Glockenspiel)
Piano
Live Electronics (one performer)
2 Violins
Viola
Cello
Double Bass