Runcorn Bridge

Gary Carpenter, 2012

Commissioned by the North Cheshire Wind Orchestra through its commissioning scheme.

The through-arch bridge that is visible for miles across the Cheshire Gap is in fact one of two adjacent bridges that cross both the River Mersey and Manchester Ship Canal. Its formal name is the Silver Jubilee Bridge although it is more usually known as the Runcorn Bridge; it is virtually identical to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, if on a somewhat smaller scale. The Runcorn railway bridge which as you cross affords an excellent close-up view of the Silver Jubilee Bridge and a spectacularly vertiginous view downwards to the two waterways, has itself two names: Ethelfleda Bridge and Britannia Bridge.
The road bridge apparently carries some 80,000 vehicles a day and is frequently slow going either because of weight of traffic or routine maintenance. But it is beautiful and iconic and deserves memorialising every bit as much as those in say, London, Avignon or Brooklyn.

Runcorn Bridge lasts around 10 minutes. It begins with a brief, quiet introduction featuring an oboe solo. There follows a lively march at the end of which a reflective interlude (or bridge!) based upon the tune that climaxes the march leads to a lyrical, almost nocturnal section spotlighting the alto saxophone. A variant of the first interlude leads to a scherzo-like section commenced by the euphonium, followed by a ‘trio’ or middle section that is a Latin-inflected version of the oboe melody first heard in the introduction. A third interlude variant heralds a shimmering return of the nocturnal melody – firstly as a horn solo but subsequently returned to the alto saxophone. Previous melodic materials gradually combine as an extended crescendo leads to a majestic but short coda that in a gesture of symmetrical solidarity refers back to the earlier march/interlude tune.

I wouldn’t wish to impose a programme on the listener, but for me there are notional elements of rush hour traffic (on good and bad days), a photo of the bridges on a moonlit night as seen from Spike Island, the Mersey and Manchester Ship Canal’s maritime heritage, the imposing industrial beauty of the Stanlow Refinery and the Ineos (formerly ICI) chemical works; although which element refers to which and in what order I would be hard pushed to say…

© Gary Carpenter 2012


Recording of the world première performance featuring the North Cheshire Wind Orchestra conducted by Catherine Tackley in the Studio Theatre of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, Saturday 30th June 2012.

Recording © 2012 Gary Carpenter and used with permission.

Studio recording made by Mark Heron and the Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra. Recording released by Polyphonic on the album Bells Across the Atlantic.

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