NEW MUSIC: Windows on the Neva

Posted on October 23, 2010

Windows on the Neva

Composed by Nina Whiteman

Premiered on 23 October 2010

St. Petersburg was built in 1703 by Peter the Great as a ‘Window to the West/Window through which the West will come’.

Peter’s vision was that the new city would be a trading port and centre of naval power, and it was sited where the river Neva flows into the Gulf of Finland.

Transportation by boat was central to Peter’s idea of the way in which St. Petersburg would function and a number of canals were built to create a network of waterways for the city.

  Windows on the Neva by Nina Whiteman

Thus the river Neva is an essential part of St. Petersburg: it witnessed (and hampered) the building of the city, and carried disease through it; it freezes every winter, and has engulfed the city in its waters many times. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Neva features prominently in literary works that have emerged from this city built on marshes.

“Making a research trip to St. Petersburg was not within the scope of this project, so I have relied upon viewing the city through the experiences, views, and writings of others as well as exploring the physical realm of the city through internet maps. All of these ‘pathways’ into the city informed my approach to writing the music.” writes Nina.

“Part of my compositional process has been to trace the line of the Neva from a series of maps (dating from 1726 to the present), and to use these lines to create musical material (often correlating the date of the map with historical events/contemporary writers in order to characterise the music).”

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Windows on the Neva
Composed by Nina Whiteman
Premiered 23 October 2010

“In addition to responding to the physical shape of the river, I have drawn on a number of descriptions found in the enormous wealth of literature created by writers who lived in the city, particularly the poetry of Anna Akhmatova. I was drawn to Akhmatova’s poems because of her concise, poignant, and direct style, as well as her continual reference to her home city and its colours, which provided me with ideas for the timbral palette for the piece. “

“Poems such as White Night, How can you look at the Neva?, Poem without a Hero, and Requiem became constant sources of inspiration whilst composing this piece, and fragments of her poetry appear in the score. Works by other writers such as Bely, Gogol, Brodsky, and Dostoyevsky also informed and shaped the music, providing alternative windows through which I could view St. Petersburg. Personal thanks go to Michael Mayhew, whose first-hand experience of the city gave me a valuable point of departure for this piece.”

Find our more about Nina Whiteman
Visit Nina’s My Space page
Read Nina’s contributions to the Manchester Camerata Blog