Daniel Pioro performing  Horror Vacui  at the Royal Albert Hall

Daniel Pioro performing Horror Vacui at the Royal Albert Hall


jonny greenwood -

horror vacui

sympathetic strings / pen / chroma I / alice / echoes / chroma II / k16

Scored for solo violin and 68 strings, Horror Vacui is a violin concerto in seven movements that Jonny Greenwood wrote for Daniel Pioro, a culmination of years of talking about what a violin concerto could be, and how to approach such a compositional institution with a fresh mind.

The world premiere of this work was performed by Pioro, with Hugh Brunt conducting, and the massed strings of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the BBC Proms Youth Ensemble.

Horror vacui is the fear of empty space, usually in paintings. Children, and outsider artists generally, are liable to feel that a picture is unfinished if there’s any space left unfilled. For this music, I’ve focused on all the different ways there are to electronically create reverb and echoes, and translated them into the complexities of a string orchestra. Daniel Pioro’s solo violin treats the orchestra like a big reverb chamber, triggering resonances, echoes and granular-style stretching of time that emulate how artificial reverbs work. Reverbs that range from the early 20th century, with amplified resonating strings, though tape echoes and analogue delays, to today’s latest digital treatments that stretch and compress time.

Perhaps this comes across as an attempt to copy electronic music – in fact it’s meant to be better. Only meant to be – I get to find out at the same time as everyone else which parts of it, if any, work (the only full rehearsal happened yesterday, and it’s too late to change it now …) so it’s a wide-open goal for hubris. But that’s alright. I love these sounds. I feel lucky and honoured to be given access to the musicians who can make them.

—Jonny Greenwood (extract from BBC Proms programme notes)

Horror Vacui was commissioned by the BBC Proms and is published by Faber Music


photography by Mark Allan, courtesy of the BBC