Piccolo, alto flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, piano, organ (electric), 7 violins, 3 violas, 3 'celli, 1 double-bass

Concerto for Groups of Instruments, scored for five woodwind, six brass, fourteen strings, piano and organ, lasts about twenty minutes without a break, and was completed in February 1976.

It is a dense work, but constantly shifting in its inner detail. The 'groups' – wind, brass and strings – occupy their own musical area, and play their own type of music: the woodwind are soloistic with complex individual details making a fluid tapestry of sound; the brass, with less tiny detail, make a broader outline and phrase movement, often establishing specific harmonic areas; the strings fill out the musical space with sustained harmonies and washes of sound, acting as a backcloth to the wind. The piano and organ are used sparingly, and are mainly coloured by an unchanging six-note chord. The rôle of the organ is restricted to suggesting a new perspective.

There are two large sections and a coda. The first section consists of several blocks which balance around pivots, creating the impression of a large revolving cycle, and ending with the strings falling to a soft cluster, joined by the organ to begin the second section – moments of close-up detail and uneasy peace (mostly in woodwind and strings), a gradual growth of intensity and wildness (in brass), a return to dense polyphony and the climax. The coda, on piano and organ, slowly circles around with isorhythms and comes to rest on solo double-bass.

This work was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize 1977.

Programme note © Paul Keenan