Having written five instrumental duets for members of the London Sinfonietta I wanted to find a context for their performance together. I was reminded of Pictures at an Exhibition where Mussorgsky creates something unique with his returning ‘Promenade’. The chorale which surrounds the duets functions like a frame for a painting, which can alter the perception of the artwork and even change its nature. The 10 duettists, who move in five pairs to solo positions at the front – wide or close – are joined by a cello and double bass that can’t move easily, and a side drum player who often acts as leader of the ritual and provides punctuation.
Harrison Birtwistle, 2016