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Crossing the Border

for string ensemble
string ensemble
Edition: Performance material

Product Details


Music does not easily lend itself to verbal description. However, a vague and general outline of the compositional aims of this piece is worth a shot if it’s of interest or help to the listener.

The string ensemble is divided into four groups of violins (two either side of the conductor), violas, cellos and basses. The music was originally written for pupils in two Scottish High schools and was therefore designed for practicality and intelligibility on the part of the players. Much of the music is repeated or echoed by various sections of the total ensemble ensuring everyone a turn at playing (more or less) the same music. Consequently the use of strict canon over a ground bass is a dominant feature. A canon is a many-voiced composition whereby the first voice (or part) is followed at fixed time intervals by another which imitates it exactly note for note.

In Crossing the Border the first canonic entries are full length quarter notes (crotchets) on open strings starting on the second beat to give the impression of three, rather than four beats per bar. These canons are progressively layered on top of each other in ever-shortening note values and make up the structure of the first half of the work. This increase in the number of notes per bar suggests the music is getting faster. It isn’t - the overall pulse is always the same. Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin has a direct bearing on this process. There, a ground bass anchors progressively increasing rhythmic activity (shorter notes values) which fill out equal length measures.

In Crossing the Border the second half is a vertical reflection of the horizontal process of the first. Simply put - instead of counterpoint, straightforward harmonic presentation of this principle applies. Great stamina is required of the performers as almost everyone plays all the time.

Programmatic music it is not! It’s as abstract as anything by Bach. But that doesn’t rule out energy, passion and emotional content or deny a metaphorical dimension. The title principally refers to the fact that it was written for performers north of the English border. The first performance never happened as planned and I gave the premiere in Poland then Moscow and subsequently in the UK with student musicians. The title also suggests crossing borders of various sorts - social, musical, political and cultural - ideals to make a better world.

Steve Martland 1993

Orchestral Cast

Minimum string strength: 8 (4+4).8 (4+4).4.4.2 (more strings can be used but should be proportioned for overall balance eg. 12-16.12-

More Information

Crossing the Border
for string ensemble
Performance material
Schott Music
Year of composition:
1990 - 1991
25 ′
World Premiere:
October 10, 1991 · Gdańsk (PL)
Conductor: Steve Martland · Warsaw Academy Symphony Orchestra


Technical Details

Product number:
LSL 2898-01


Set Ascending Direction
  • Crossing the Border
    Conductor: Gustavo Dudamel
    Orchestra: Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group
    April 17, 2018 | Los Angeles, CA (United States of America) , Walt Disney Concert Hall
  • Crossing the Border
    Conductor: Edwin Outwater
    Orchestra: BBC National Orchestra of Wales
    February 3, 2017 | Cardiff (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) , BBC Hoddinott Hall
  • Crossing the Border
    Conductor: Robert Ziegler
    Orchestra: BBC Concert Orchestra
    November 24, 2006 | London (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) , Queen Elizabeth Hall
    19.30 h
  • Crossing the Border
    Conductor: Carlo Boccadoro
    Orchestra: Transition Classic Orchestra
    October 17, 2006 | Torino (Italy) , Piccolo Regio — National Premiere
  • Crossing the Border
    Orchestra: Scottish Ensemble
    January 21, 2006 | Glasgow (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) , Centre for Contemporary Arts
    19.15 h
  • Set Ascending Direction

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