Madonna of Silence

30th August 2020

Madonna of Silence
Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra by John Casken
By arrangement with Schott Music Ltd

Conductor: Jamie Phillips
Trombone: Katy Jones

On 28 February 2019, the Hallé performed the world premiere of John Casken’s Madonna of Silence at The Bridgewater Hall. The piece was commissioned by the Hallé’s Chief Executive, John Summers, and was written for Principal Trombone, Katy Jones.

Madonna of Silence is far from the quiet piece implied by the title. Indeed, it reflects the inner turbulence of Michelangelo’s extraordinary drawing The Holy Family (The Madonna of Silence) on which the work is based, and is on display in the Harley Gallery in Worksop.

Rather than the traditional ‘trombone concerto’ label, John Casken refers to the piece as ‘a drama for trombone and orchestra. Throughout the work, the trombone takes on many roles: the quiet inner voice of the Madonna as she gazes in contemplation at the child, later singing a hymn and towards the end of the work, lamentations. During the work, the soloist embodies the other figures from Michelangelo’s drawing and both the soloist and the orchestra are equally engaged in the unfolding drama of a scene brimming with unease and premonitions.

The work plays in one unbroken movement lasting 24 minutes and its structure reflects these aspects of the drawing:

The Madonna in contemplation
Premonitions (announced by the timpani)

The Madonna’s hymn (with quartets of solo cellos and violas)
Joseph the witness (ponderous rising bass line) and …
The distant figure (with solo violin and oboe in close cannon) – both increasingly present
The wounded child – The tortured child (extended scherzos)
The fallen child (climax)

The Madonna’s lamentations (echoes of melody)
The empty hour-glass (mechanically still)

For more information about the piece, watch Katy Jones talking to John Casken about The Madonna of Silence: