Ann Southam: Webster’s Spin
After years of writing electronic music, Canadian composer Ann Southam abandoned the tapes and tracks and focused on more classically-inclined pieces. Webster’s Spin, a composition for string orchestra, was composed in 1993 after a commission came from the CBC. The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra premiered the piece a year later. Much like her style throughout the years, Southam’s approach to Webster’s Spin lies in the genre of minimalism. Small bites of music repeated and staggered to create varying effects sits at the core of this hypnotising work.
Starting with some solo voices in the upper strings, very much like a chamber piece, the small kernels of music are planted. As more instruments enter the more obvious the repeated melodies become. With subtle changes to the accompaniment parts the beats slowly move around, with different parts of the ensemble taking the strong beats. The orchestra move as one unit as the fluctuating introduction fully takes hold.
The hypnotic spin of the music keeps the ear interested in what’s going to happen next, because the subtle changes far outweigh any big dramatic changes in this piece. Southam’s exploration of dynamics is also significant in Webster’s Spin as the orchestral swells add to the ever-developing character of the music. There is always a constant state of movement in this piece, with all sections of the ensembles playing their part to create an overriding full-bodied sound. As the music begins to wind down, Webster’s Spin concludes how it opened – quietly, like a chamber piece.
Ⓒ Alex Burns