Laphroaig – Symphony n° 5

Composed in

Large Orchestra with 2 Conductors and Live-electronics

3/2,EH/2,BCl./2,CBn. – 4/3/3/2 – 2 Timp. 5 Perc. – 2 H – P – Strings – 2 Bar. Sax. – in hall : 1/1/1/1 – 1/1/1/0 – 3 Perc. – H – P – String Quartet.


First performance
November 27, 1993 at the Queen Elisabeth Hall in Antwerp (B). Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Flanders conducted by Muhai TANG and Robert CASTEELS. Mixing console and informatics: Luc BREWAEYS assisted by Fons ADRIAENSEN.

Commissioned by

Credit Communal of Belgium, Paul Beusen

Dedicated to

Birgit Van Cleemput


Commercial recordings
Cyprès CYP 2609 (2cd)

Harry Halbreich on Laphroaig :

The scoring, involving 102 players, is the largest Brewaeys has used so far. Next to the relatively ‘normal’ main orchestra (which nevertheless includes two tubas, two harps, two timpanists and five percussion players), the composer requires a small group of sixteen players (seven winds, harp, piano, three percussions and solo string quartet) to be placed on a balcony, as well as two baritone saxophone players in the hall (right and left) The piece needs two conductors, since the two orchestras are notated with different bar-lines, the reason why the composer had to give up continuous numbering of the bars. Then, there is a very elaborate electro-acoustic installation, whose function is both to produce electronic sounds and to transform live instrumental sounds in real time (in particular the first oboe playing off-stage during the fourth of the work’s five sections), by modulating them with the help of contact microphones. A ring modulator receives sine waves from a synthesizer placed on stage through one input, the other one bringing in instrumental sounds, for instance from piano, harp and vibraphone. Through adding and subtracting some of the frequencies, the instrumental sounds are “‘coloured’ accordingly. To those processes of live electronics two ways of obtaining resonance and echo are added: a normal one, and another one, which by blocking the machine on ‘infinite’ or on ‘freeze’ can prolong a sound without any time limit, store it, and then release it again at any chosen moment. Four loudspeakers in the hall gather all these sounds and then spread them out.


The Symphony consist in five sections of (various) length, played without a break.

Section 1. The work begins with powerful sound blocks of spectral harmonies, as an antiphony of various instrumental groups from both orchestras, underlined by shattering explosions of the percussion. Compared to the earlier works, the harmonies are much richer and more complex, less tonal and more dissonant. Suddenly a percussionist unleashes a spring, thus launching a microphone into space, which keeps rocking back and forth, and whose sounds are filtered. Simultaneously, the piece’s three opening chords are freed through the ‘endless’ resonance, acting as a reminiscence. The saxophones in the hall, which intervene now, are similarly ‘prolonged’. Then follow regular pulsating rhythms played by the Japanese drum, and after a short breathing rest, this sections ends with a kind of codetta.

Section 2. A solo cadenza of the English horn leads to a colossal unbridling of the percussionists from both orchestras (above all the ten timpanists) in thunderous antiphony.

Section 3. This is the real Allegro of the Symphony, a kind of Scherzo related to the fourth section of ‘Non lasciate ogni Speranza’. This bright and luminous music in ‘spectral’ D-major alternates lively figurations of woodwind and strings from both orchestras in an antiphonic dialogue. After a section with very shrill glockenspiel sounds (joined by other percussions in their highest register), the music gradually goes over into a ‘bell-like’ episode.

Section 4. This is the long solo of the first oboe playing backstage, whose sounds are ring-modulated and electronically transformed. Brief interventions of the English horn give the oboe player some rests and also allow for spatial contrasts. Gongs and synthetic sounds act as a background.

Section 5. This last part corresponds to the first, but it is much shorter. It recalls the great spectral chordal blocks of the beginning, but also the percussion outbursts from the second section and the lively dialogue between woodwind and strings from the third, giving this section the meaning of a synthetic coda of the whole Symphony. As so often with Brewaeys, the music suddenly stops in full tonal power.

Harry Halbreich, september 1995, CD Booklet Cyprès CYP 2609