Nina Reflects on St Petersburg

Posted on July 23, 2010

Composer Nina Whiteman is creating a new work which will be performed as part of Manchester Camerata’s new season concert on 23 October 2010 – Pictures from St Petersburg. Here she blogs the composing experience.

Composer Nina Whiteman   “I’m delighted to be composing a new piece for Manchester Camerata’s ‘Urban Symphonies’ series.

St. Petersburg was built by Peter the Great as a ‘Window to the West’, or a ‘Window through which the West will come’. The piece will invite listeners to step through this ‘window’ of grandeur and illusion, revealing what may lie beyond.

The city was constructed on a marsh and hundreds of thousands of workers died during the building work, leading to a local saying that ‘Every step you take, the dead take something from you’.

My work will consider the lives sacrificed to build this magnificent city as well as the hardships suffered by its inhabitants over the years.

The river Neva is a constant in the life of the city – it has witnessed the building of the city, carried disease, and engulfed the city in its waters many times. It freezes over every winter, changing the landscape of St. Petersburg with the seasons. The importance of the river in the city has led me to the idea of a constantly-evolving line that weaves its way through my piece. 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.

As well as reading a number of books on the history of St. Petersburg, I’ve been reading literary works created in the city. Many of these poems and short stories will also inform and shape the music I’m writing and will be presented as ‘windows’ that are juxtaposed against or interrupt the ‘river’ material. I’m particularly interested in the poetry of Anna Akhmatova, and her frequent reference to colour (of the sky, the river, the buildings) is providing me with ideas for orchestration and timbre in the music.

My provisional title is ‘Windows on the Neva’ and I’m very much looking forward to working with the orchestra in October.”

Nina Whiteman

Follow the Manchester Camerata Blog

Read more about the Pictures from St Petersburg Concert