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Letters from Burma


The oboe quintet Letters from Burma was written in 2004, commissioned by the Summer Music Society of Dorset for the Vellinger String Quartet and Dougie Boyd. Noting that the concert would contain Janáček’s string quartet Intimate Letters, Panufnik devised a similarly epistolary work. 'I came across Letters from Burma'a book of 52 letters written by Aung San Suu Kyi to a Japanese newspaper between November 1995 and December 1996', she says. 'They describe every aspect of Burma—its culture, scenery, religion, politics, etc—copious inspiration for a new composition!' Working with John O’Kell, an Oxford University expert on the country’s traditional music, Panufnik was able to assimilate elements of this with great care and devotion.

The first movement is based on a folksong of laudatory benediction about the power and valour of the king, 'Aung-ze Paing-ze'. The whole piece is influenced by this melody and its details, including appoggiaturas, portamentos and quarter-tones. Next, 'Young birds outside cages', is inspired by Suu Kyi’s harrowing depiction (of the same title) of children trying to touch their parents who are political prisoners behind bars: '… young birds fluttering helplessly outside the cages that shut their parents away from them.' The string quartet represents the cold, relentless bars of a cage; the oboe is the child/bird trying to get through. Third, 'Thazin' is a Burmese orchid: here Panufnik evokes the 'tiny exquisite blooms' described by Suu Kyi. Finally, 'Kintha dance' is suggested by images of dance in Suu Kyi’s writing. Chordal interruptions represent the oppressive regime that imprisoned her, 'trying and failing to quench the vivid and irrepressible Burmese spirit', Panufnik says. The military coup in Myanmar in 2021 has now cast the piece in a new and poignant light.

from notes by Jessica Duchen © 2021


Panufnik (R): Heartfelt & other works
Studio Master: SIGCD673Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Movement 1: Aung-ze Paing-ze
Movement 2: Young birds outside cages
Movement 3: Thazin
Movement 4: Kintha dance

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