A Ballad (for Barry Berkman and Catherine Cawood)

Program Note

“I’m a good person. Starting… now.” – Barry Berkman, from Barry

“I’m just… Weighing up the pros and cons. Of what it would mean. To take the law into your own hands. The upside… would be the exquisite satisfaction you’d get. From grinding his severed scrotum into the mud. With your shittiest shoe.” – Catherine Cawood, from Happy Valley

If a ballad is a narrative text set to music, what’s a ballad without lyrics? Can music tell a story on its own? This Ballad may not have a definite narrative program like a 19th century tone poem, but I like to imagine it having a story structure. Inspired by the narrative devices and messy characters from two favorite TV shows—HBO’s Barry and BBC’s Happy Valley—the piece attempts to articulate dual narrative perspectives. One creates a sense of distance and omniscience through thorny and abstract sounds. The other probes the internal thoughts of the protagonist, featuring a balladic tune which reflects the protagonist’s construction of their own unreliable narrative. These dual perspectives gradually become suffused with each other, attempting to reconcile their conflicting realities with explosive results.

A Ballad (for Barry Berkman and Catherine Cawood) was commissioned by Shizuka Duo, Hannah Nicholas and Sam Kelder, violas, and premiered by the duo on the Bowerbird Concert Series, Philadelphia, PA, November 15, 2019.

Take a look at the score