I – Nebula
II – Alnitak
III – Betelgeuse

Orion was commissioned by the 2004 Presteigne Festival, in association with the Arts Council of Wales, and is dedicated to Alison Balsom.

Orion is probably the most magnificent constellation in the northern hemisphere, dominating the sky on a clear winter’s night. It contains stars of all ages, from the newest, conceived in the primordial soup of the Great Nebula (no. 42 in Messier’s catalogue of deep-sky objects), to “supergiants” nearing the end of their lives. This work celebrates some of the features of this wondrous spectacle.

In the first movement, Nebula, various musical elements emerge from an amorphous opening and gradually coalesce into a definitive and dramatic statement.

The second movement, Alnitak, takes it name from the easternmost star in Orion’s belt (translated from the Arabic, its name means “The Girdle”). The outer sections of this movement are lyrical, dominated by the rich sound of the flügelhorn. These frame a very fast central section – a short hunting scene reflecting Orion’s mythological status as “The Mighty Hunter”.

The final movement, Betelgeuse, refers to the most celebrated of all “red giant” stars. It is a relatively cool star (a mere 3000°!) and reaching the end of its life. Eventually it will swell up and slough off its outer layer to form a ring ( a “planetary nebula”), dispersing into the infinite depths of space.

John Pickard

Performance note

The player should double flügelhorn in the outer sections of the second movement. In cases of absolute necessity, the flügelhorn part may be played on trumpet (preferably a Bb instrument).