TOURNAMENT OF SHADOWS
For chamber ensemble, flute, oboe, clarinet, trumpet, two violins, viola, 'cello, double-bass
At night, in the historic heart of Bukhara, down a narrow street so dark that a hand passed in front of the face was invisible, I was grabbed by someone, obviously smelling a tourist, who demanded cigarettes and money. Though I freed myself quickly, the only impression I got of my attacker was a rush of air and a half-imagined shadow.
This incident was the catalyst for 'Tournament of Shadows', the second piece of mine inspired by an encounter with Central Asia. The title is a phrase the Russians used to describe the secret hostilities between the Victorian British Raj and Tsarist Russia that attempted to colonize the huge and inhospitable region region between Russia and British India. At this time the mountains and deserts of this area were regarded as "a vast adventure playground for ambitious young officers and explorers of both sides" *. The more familiar British term for this pre-cold war was the 'Great Game', a term coined by Lieutenant Arthur Conolly of the 6th Bengal Light Cavalry, who met a grisly death when his disguise as an Indian merchant was penetrated while spying in Bukhara. He was half devoured in the Emir of Bukhara's 'Bug Pit' and then executed in the town square.
By day, Bukhara, with its baked khaki streets, beautiful ruined madrasas, teeming bazaars full of spices, nuts, sweetmeats and packs of friendly children eager for pens and English practice, exudes a magical charm. But my night time brush with the towns underbelly coloured my impressions, and the more I discovered of its cruel history, its bloodthirsty despotic Emirs, its poisoned waters that were only cleansed (at the cost of the fast-disappearing Aral Sea) in the 1930's, its horrific tales of resistance to the Soviets, and the tit-for-tat from the newly independent Uzbeks, the more I perceived this charm to be a mask. Thus 'Tournament of Shadows' conveys adventures and places, it embraces contradictory impressions and fleeting sensations, encompassing bazaars, shadows, mystical solitude and real danger.
© Julian Grant 1995
* PETER HOPKIRK 'The Great Game' Oxford University Press 1990
First performed 12 May 1995 by Continuum Ensemble c. Philip Headlam. Regent Hall, London W1
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