Peter Meechan: Fragile Oasis
Peter Meechan’s Fragile Oasis for brass band was commissioned by Leyland band and Michael Bach. The work was first performed at the 2013 European Brass Band Championships, which were held in Oslo that year. The title of the work refers to:
“A collective who describe themselves as a grass-roots participatory initiative that connects the shared perspective of astronauts from different countries and cultures with people on Earth, encouraging all to work together so that our planet is not only visibly beautiful, but beautiful for all.”
This collective often posts photographs taken from the International Space Station, as well as from Earth. These images formed the basis of Meechan’s inspiration for this work. A time-lapse video accompanying Meechan’s music was made by astronaut Ron Garan. He describes the video as including:
“A couple of laps around our Fragile Oasis, before coming back down to Earth and featuring all kinds of amazing views from Space.”
Meechan bases five sections of Fragile Oasis to five different images found from this collective. The images might be literal, other more metaphorical, and these ideas are translated into music by Meechan to create a truly invigorating work.
Part I – The Lights from Above
The opening section, depicting the view of the Aurora Australis from above the lights, starts with a fluttering pattern from muted cornets. The lower band enters with drones that add some weight to the light cornets. As more instruments begin to join the mix, the richer the texture becomes. The soprano cornet emerges for a short reflective solo, with the rumblings of the rest of the band still ongoing. The trombones begin to unite the band together with a style that sees the soprano cornet take this initial theme forward and the cornets begin to un-mute. The lull between the middle band creates an interesting texture that the cornets sway around. This opening section is atmospheric and leans on the glorious lights of the Aurora Australis to carry it through.
Part II – The Storm from Above
The second section sees another image being portrayed from space. Much more dramatic in character, this section focuses on the thunder storms that can be seen from space. Meechan mentions “small bolts of electricity dancing through the clouds” in this part. The cornets lead with a syncopated theme, which the euphoniums and baritones soon take over. Again, the soprano has a reflective solo line that soars above the muted cornets and constantly-moving middle band. The dance-like theme represents the big bolts of lighting dancing around the clouds as the storm moves across Earth. Full band stabs bring this section to its big climax.
Part III – Freya
Meechan writes in his notes that this section has its roots in personal family tragedy: “The name Freya derives from a Norse goddess who was associated with both beauty and love, and in this central section I wanted to write music that not only acknowledged how fragile life itself is, but that every day of it counts and should be celebrated.”
Chiefly made up of small tutti sections and soloists, Freya showcases some of the principal seats in the band. The solo sections reflect each other, with fast runs and the constant lamenting feeling threaded through the music. Small sections unite to hit the main theme home, from the three trombones to the front row cornets. This delicate section is held together by a string of themes that could easily break down at any moment. As the cornets start a pulsating figure, a solo euphonium emerges and takes the melody forward.
Part IV – The Storm from Above
Similarly to the second part, The Storm from Above again references the lightning storms, but also hurricanes. The stark difference in contrast between the solemn and reflective central section creates quite the impact. Rolling cornet motifs reflect the hurricane movements, but in a different way stylistically to the second section. As the tempo pushes forward, the percussion uses a range of instruments to support and decorate the band sounds.
Part V – The Oasis from Above
The final section of Fragile Oasis describes the size and grandeur of Earth as seen from above. Meechan uses huge chords, bold percussion and loud dynamics to portray the final, fully-realised theme of Earth – our Fragile Oasis.
Peter Meechan’s Fragile Oasis for brass band is a bold work that uses a range of techniques to create desired effects. From the muted cornets in the first part to the cadenza-ridden central section, this work is an effective work that proposes a good challenge for any band.
Ⓒ Alex Burns