Patrick Nunn: Escape Velocity


Patrick Nunn was born in Kent, UK in 1969. He studied composition at Dartington College of Arts, Welsh College of Music and Drama and at the Royal Academy of Music, where he received his PhD in composition. Nunn has a large catalogue of music which has been performed both around the UK, and around the world. Nunn has subsequently won many awards for his services to music and composition including the Birmingham New Millennium Prize for his composition Sentiment of an Invisible Omniscience (2010), the Alan Bush Prize for Transilient Fragments (2008), a British Composers Award for Mercurial Sparks, Volatile Shadows (2006), and the BBC Radio 3 Composing for Children Prize for Songs of Our Generation (1995).

Nunn has also collaborated with a number of musicians, orchestras and festivals including IRCAM (Paris), the BBC Concert Orchestra, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Zubin Kanga, Piano Cicus and New London Children’s Choir. As well as a busy composer, Nunn is also an educator and currently holds the position of Lecturer in Composition at the Royal Academy of Music.


The Music

Escape Velocity is written for free-bass accordion and string quartet. Composed in 2005, Escape Velocity was commissioned by the Royal Academy of Music to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Hans Christian Anderson. In 2007, Escape Velocity was shortlisted for the chamber category in the British Composers Awards. Alongside the ‘unconventional’ pairing of the accordion and string quartet, Escape Velocity can be explained in part by the composer:

“Escape Velocity explores the conflict between integration and separation and the possibilities of transformation and individuality – a narrative that is borrowed from the story of ‘The Ugly Duckling.'”


For many accordion players, their instrument can be perceived as ‘the ugly duckling’ of the instrumental palette, yet the diversity of the modern-day free bass accordion has potentially rendered such a view as somewhat dated.

In this work, it is the accordion which initially attempts to integrate with the string quartet, shifting from a dark and awkward place, often hidden, transforming with increasing bursts of energy and ultimately freeing itself from the masking constraints of the quartet.”

Escape Velocity takes between 10-12 minutes to play, and as well as exploring themes of integration and separation, the work also explores the dominant musical features, such as tone and texture. The blend of sounds between the accordion and the string quartet are colourful, and add to the overall atmosphere of the work. There is a lot of call and response between the instruments, highlighting the struggle for the accordion to ‘break free’ from the constraints of the quartet. The sporadic interjections from the accordion set it apart from the quartet, often making it the focal point of the work.


Final Thoughts

With Hans Christian Anderson’s narrative in mind, Escape Velocity can be seen as very evocative of certain emotions and states, such as distress, anger, sadness and heroic. An incredibly intricate, atmospheric and complex work – Escape Velocity is a not-to-be-missed work by Patrick Nunn.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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