_Certain mysteries are relayed to me
Through the dark network of my mother’s body
While she sits sewing the white shrouds
Of my apotheosis.
From An Unborn Child by Derek Mahon (New Collected Poems, The Gallery Press, 2011)
When James Galway and I first spoke of working together towards the birth of a new flute concerto, we wanted to link our two native cities. Belfast and Limerick are renowned respectively for their linen and lace and it was a beautiful imagine in "An Unborn Child" by the Belfast poet Derek Mahon which lubricated my imagination. I pictured the mother of the child in the poem fingering the filigree of Limerick Lace and grasping the supple strength of Belfast Linen. Somehow this image, and the anticipatory life of the womb, became the affirmative force which inspired this piece.
While writing Linen and Lace, I was constantly conscious of that powerful human force that drives the cities of Belfast and Limerick – the working men and women. Both movements begin with quotes from two melodies associated with the cities – "My Lagan Love" for Belfast and "There is an Isle" for Limerick. The Belfast section comprises four parts – a sprightly march, a harp and flute duet (the harp being very much part of Belfast’s musical tradition), a fractured and energetic depiction of the industrial life of the city, and finally a lyrical and sombre reflection on Cave Hill.
The Limerick section begins with a evocation of trotting horses (so much part of life – even today), moves into the Lace section, where flute and orchestra weave in filigree around each other. Then a fanfare with the brass introduces a piece celebrating the nobility of Limerick’s working people which begins with the flute and is taken up by the orchestra in a rousing anthem which incidentally also incorporates the church bells so often heard in the city.
Finally we move back to the streets of both Belfast and Limerick with the march and the trotting themes, ending in a solo flute cadenza.
(c) Bill Whelan