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Joby Talbot

Publisher: Chester Music

Desolation Wilderness (2006)
Chester Music Ltd
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
23 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Programme Note
Joby Talbot Desolation Wilderness (2006)

In early November 2005 my family & some friends visited the high Sierra Nevada in Northern California. As on former trips to the area I was struck by the strange & disarming contrast between the bright sunshine, perfect blue sky, and warm mountain air of the sierran autumn; and the occasional icy chill ­– sudden drops of temperature when the sun vanished behind the mountains, momentary glimpses through the trees of distant snow clouds over the highest peaks. Nowhere was this dichotomy more apparent than in the vast area of forests, lakes & mountains known as Desolation Wilderness. Here the twisted shapes of the aspens are testament to the destructive power of winter. Sure enough, that night the first snows fell, & the high mountain passes we’d just crossed were closed till spring.

Joby Talbot. October 2006

Preview the score:

Joby Talbot's orchestral commission is by no means as frightening as it sounds. It is a lavish, panoramic piece of Americana inspired by a drive through the untamed expanses of the north Californian landscape, whose musical moods mirror the quicksilver changes of the desert climate. Talbot is in demand as a composer of film scores. So it is no surprise that Desolation Wilderness resembles the soundtrack to an imaginary road movie, conceived as a star vehicle for the scintillating young trumpet player, Alison Balsom. There is not a vast tradition of contemporary trumpet literature: but whereas Shostakovich's concerto utilises the instrument as an irritant, and James MacMillian as a means of browbeating an entire orchestra, Talbot conceives the soloist's role as a behind-the-wheel commentary on the blasted aspens and freezing lakes of the high mountain pass. The trumpet is rarely the most subtle of instruments, yet the suppleness and fluidity of Balsom's technique is astounding. The long, liquid lines she plays in the central slow movement defy conventional lung capacity, while the finale sees her swooping and fluttering through passages that even a flautist might find impossible to play. JoAnn Falletta, the vivacious director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, was an inspired choice to conduct, maintaining the hypnotic momentum without letting the work feel rhythmically unyielding.
Alfred Hickling, The Guardian,02/11/2006
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