Aux Confins de L'Orage by Camille Pépin
Camille Pépin is a 31 year old French Composer. Although very young her output has been nothing if not prolific. She has composed many orchestral pieces, concertos and chamber works as well as numerous pieces for smaller combinations of instruments. I have listened to a few of these and they all bear the unmistakeable stamp of quality.
The piece about which I write here (the English translation is ‘At the Edge of the Storm’) is an orchestral work written in 2020. On one level, and as the title would indicate, it evokes the idea of particular events leading to a storm and the composer has written in detail about the ideas behind the piece. You can read her comments at planetpartitions.com. Essentially she explains that her inspiration was imagining the journey of light phenomena moving through the layers of the atmosphere on their way to Earth. This culminates in the first clap of thunder which is where the piece ends. Her commentary is well worth a read as it is written in a very striking narrative style pinpointing the use of particular instruments and shows how closely she has married her ideas to the music.
In terms of the basic structure of the piece, it can be viewed in one way as a series of climaxes each built up in a different manner. None of the climaxes are identical but they are all similar for not being sustained for any significant period: they tend to fade out relatively quickly before a fresh build-up begins. I find this very engaging as it helps to maintain intensity and tension. Dynamics and orchestration are of course relevant here too and I think they are both used superbly. Although the bedrock of the instrumentation is the strings, there are a welter of subtle and tasteful combinations with woodwind and brass as well as vibraphone, harp and celesta. Overall the sound is refined and evocative.
The piece runs to around 15 minutes and is in three parts although in the performances I have listened to the first two parts are played without a break. There are a number of performances on YouTube – it was played as part of the Besançon International Competition for Young Conductors in 2021 and the version with the French conductor Chloé Dufresne is certainly worth a watch. The conducting is very convincing as is the playing by the National Orchestra of Lyon – just a shame that the musicians of the orchestra are still wearing formal evening dress – something not designed to encourage people to listen to new orchestral music! But I don’t want to end on a sour note: this is a hugely impressive piece of music which repays repeated listening.