‘After The Storm’.
Kris Lennox spends a lot of his time playing in the mountains. One of his favourite pastimes is winter climbing. He also runs ultramarathons in the mountains.
Kris writes in his interview: „Much to the worry of friends and family, I do these solo. I like the challenge of knowing if something goes wrong, I die. It gives a certain focus that simply doesn’t exist in everyday life. It also means lots of intense physical preparation required to lessen the likelihood of death! As musicians, we spend a lot of time sitting, with our view being a sheet of music. I like to keep this in balance by visiting extreme wilderness areas. There is, however, one great contrast: if someone plays a wrong note during a Rachmaninoff concerto, they don’t die! But a wrong move when solo climbing can and normally does mean death. As does twisting an ankle when running solo ultramarathons over the mountains in winter. The focus of mind created by this is intense. I’m very much used to a highly intense, focused mindset. I’ll explain this in more detail when replying to your questionnaire.
I have some friends in the climbing world. One of my climbing friends had been waiting years for a climb to come into condition, to make the first ascent of the route. This climb is on the Isle of Arran, on the West Coast of Scotland. The person he was planning on climbing the route with (the climber’s name is Simon Richardson – he is a well-established figure in the Scottish winter climbing scene) lives in an area of Scotland known as Aberdeen. Aberdeen is a huge distance from Arran – in other words, a wasted journey if conditions aren’t good. Especially considering reaching Arran involves not only a drive, but also a boat.
Winter climbing requires specific conditions, and you have to know what you’re looking at – and be ‘up close & personal’. Many non-climbers think a cliff looking white means it is climbable in winter – but this isn’t necessarily the case i.e. there may be no ice on it, the turf under the snow may not be frozen etc.
I was free 2 days before their planned ascent, so to help out I walked into the base of the cliff to assess route conditions for them. By ‘walked’ I mean broke trail through waist-deep snow for hours on end! Very tiring.
I captured a lot of photos, and made some condition assessments. I sent the photos to my friend, he passed them to Simon, they both agreed everything was good to go, Simon travelled down, and they managed to get the first ascent of a stunning winter line – probably the finest on Arran. Certainly one of the most difficult.
The day before I walked in to the cliff, Arran had its biggest winter storm on record (…which explains the waist-deep snow!). The winter climb was named ‘After The Storm’ as it was climbed …after the storm!
To thank me for helping out, Simon sent me a copy of his book on Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain (as well as a climber, Simon is also an author). He signed the book for me and thanked me for my efforts.
I was very touched by this, as I was helping out and not expecting something in return. Simon’s sending me the book was the inspiration for my composing the work – which is dedicated to Simon. The above should also explain the title of the piece of music!
To the piece itself:
Think of icicles forming. They drip a little, freeze, drip a little more, freeze etc etc. The main accompanying phrase is representative of an icicle i.e. the highest note remains whilst the lower notes grow under it – very much like the highest point of an icicle remaining with the new sections growing.
You’ll probably notice each phrase is played twice? This is representative of how climbers move up a cliff. One person climbs whilst the other belays. Climber 1 travels a certain distance up the cliff, secures himself, then climber 2 repeats the process and joins climber 1. This process is repeated until the top of the cliff is reached. The melodic phrases are in ascent – representative of the upward movement of the climbers – and the playing of them twice is the movement of each climber in ascent of the cliff.
The central, very dynamic section: when I was standing at the bottom of the cliff, I was in awe of just how steep it was. It seems to loom over you, wanting to engulf you. I was very happy to be secure on the ground and not actually climbing the route! The low bass notes of the central section are the security of the ground, with the descending upper lines being the sense of the looming cliff wanting to engulf you.
At the end, the piece fades, and is very high. Again, this is the climbers high on the cliff – but from my perspective i.e. on the ground. Hence the sense of distance.
When a climb is complete, there’s always a sense of loss, as a project that so much energy has been invested in is now over. There’s almost a pathos to achieving what we want to achieve in life. Were do we go when we get what we want? This is why the end of the piece sounds almost ‘unfinished’ – I wouldn’t call it ‘sad’ – but there is certainly a sense of emptiness. ‘The loss of achievement’, if you will.”
Music on the subject of mountains is, of course, well-established in the Classical music world. But something that always bothered me was it was, in almost every instance, an imagining of the high mountains, and not something borne from experience. I refer here to Mahler/Grieg etc. Their pieces – whilst great in their own right – are almost an exaggeration of what it is like to be in the cold, high places. This is only natural, giving they were working from imagination. In general, being in the high mountains is cold – but very focused i.e. one is always thinking of route, where are feet being placed, where is north, how much daylight is left etc. I feel After The Storm has – whilst representative of the physical environment and the people within it – captured this sense of precision of action and thought. „