Presence of Absence (2016)

for mezzo-soprano and ensemble
S, 2 sax, trbn, perc, pft, elec, string quartet

DURATION: 50 Minutes
FIRST PERFORMANCE: Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall, Baltimore, MD (29-Apr-2017)
Ensemble Klang

Composer's Notes
The story behind "The Presence of Absence" starts when I discovered, as a fourteen-year-old, the Anglo-Saxon poem "The Ruin". I was struck, even then. by its matter-of–fact tone in describing the decaying edifices of the Roman Empire, as well as the fact that the text itself, due to a fire some centuries ago, is itself fragmentary –in other words a ruin. In the many intervening years, I thought from time-to-time about setting this poem, but I could not find a context for it. Finally, when talking through a potential project with Ensemble Klang, almost a decade after our large-scale piece "O Death", I realised that a piece for voice(s) and an extended version of Ensemble Klang might be the perfect situation in which I could set this text. "The Presence of Absence", in this form, is a concert work for soprano and ten players. This version is a kind of "concert suite" from a larger, yet to be written, dramatic piece which deals with the subject of the weight of things unseen, not present, not heard. In this version, I have written four additional texts, two either side of "The Ruin" which serve to broaden out that poem’s subject matter to touch on these themes of absence. These parts (I don’t think of them as movements, and each runs into each other, so the piece is one continuous span) are entitled:

1) Shrines or Satellites

2) In Shards

3) The Ruin

4) Eigengrau

5) Lichtenberg Figures

I have set "The Ruin" in the original Anglo-Saxon. There is something in the nature of the original language which, in this case, I think cannot be divorced from its subject matter. "The Presence of Absence" is scored for Mezzo-Soprano, two saxophones, trombone, percussion, piano, two violins, viola and cello and lasts a little over fifty minutes.

— Oscar Bettison