Agnes Wisley's chillout fantasy

for 2 flutes, piccolo, alto flute; 2 clarinets in B flat, E flat piccolo clarinet, bass clarinet; 4 saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets in B flat, 2 cornets in B flat, 3 trombones, 2 tubas (tenor, bass), timpani (doubling tom-toms in 3rd movt), percussion (3 players), 2 harps, piano/celesta, double bass.
14 mins.

Commissioned by the College Commission Consortium, which is made up of BASBWE Education Trust, Birmingham Conservatoire, Guildhall School of Music and Drama (principal commissioner for 2007), London College of Music and Media, Royal Northern College of Music, University of Warwick, and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. The first performance was given by the Guildhall Symphonic Wind Ensemble, conducted by Peter Gane, at the Barbican Hall, London on 18th March 2008.

Programme notes

Agnes Wisley is a fictional lady of solid build, fearsome aspect, and a name which is an anagram of my own; I originally invented her as an office front-woman in order to deal with awkward business letters. However, she has gradually taken on a life of her own, and now has her own theme-song. The touching truth is that beneath her substantial armour-plated bosom beats the heart of a shameless romantic: her bedside books are the publications of Messrs. Mills & Boon, with titles such as “Stormfire”, “Second Chance for Love” and “Angry Desire”. Ludicrous though such yarns may be, they fulfil our universal need – at whatever age – to dream of perfection in an imperfect world.

Agnes Wisley’s Chillout Fantasy is in three short movements, lasts about fourteen minutes, and is scored for wind orchestra with timpani, three percussion, two harps, piano doubling celesta, and double bass. It was commissioned by the Guildhall School of Music as part of the inter-college commissioning consortium programme, and premiered at the Barbican Hall, London by the Guildhall Symphonic Wind Ensemble, conducted by Peter Gane, on 18th March 2008.

Each movement is quicker than the one before. In DaydreamsAgnes dreams wistfully of the grey-eyed, chisel-jawed hunk (with a vast business empire and a name like Jake, Brad or Trent) who will whisk her from her drab life to an improbable paradise.  Bodice-ripper plays on that cliché of cheap romantic fiction, the sadomasochistic conversion of intense hostility into passionate love. The characters in such stories see-saw madly from one emotion to the other – usually as a result of absurd misunderstandings. In my piece the mood swings violently from bar to bar. In Disco nightmare, Agnes (in her dreams) is at a club or disco. Halfway through, during a break in the Ladies, she overhears girlie chatter revealing that Jake (or Brad or Trent) is two-timing her. She is, of course, “utterly devastated”, and her fantasies are rudely and terminally shattered. This, by the way, is not how the stories end in Mills & Boon novels . . .

Giles Swayne 2009