… the improbable ordered dance …


For full orchestra

I wrote … the improbable ordered dance … in 2000 for the Auckland Philharmonia, when I was composer-in-residence with the orchestra. They gave the first performance conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya in the Auckland Town Hall on 31 May 2001.

About the work

The title comes from a fascinating essay entitled ‘The Music of this Sphere’ in Dr Lewis Thomas’s The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher.

Thomas believes that the urge to make music is as much a characteristic of biology as our other fundamental functions, and wonders what we might hear if we could experience the whole range of sound, most of which is inaudible to us, created by most living things. Thomas believes that the rhythmic sounds might be the recapitulation of something else — an earliest memory, a score for the transformation of inanimate random matter in chaos into the improbable ordered dance of living forms.

The piece grows from a quiet beginning, introducing first a cor anglais melody, contained within a close range, then a wider-ranging cello melody. A section suggesting birdsong leads into a chorale, and these ideas evolve and develop around the central energetic dance-like section before the piece moves back to silence.


… the improbable ordered dance … is scored for 3334; 4331; harp, piano, timpani, 3 percussion and strings.

Scores and recordings

Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ.

… the improbable ordered dance … — SOUNZ

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has released this work on CD.

Alice — CD

Listen to and watch the Auckland Philharmonia’s 2016 performance.

… the improbable ordered dance … — video

RNZ Concert recorded an NZSO performance in 2006.

… the improbable ordered dance … — audio

Kenneth Young recorded an introduction to the work for RNZ Concert.

… the improbable ordered dance ..: introduction — talk


… the improbable ordered dance … won the 2001 SOUNZ Contemporary Award.

SOUNZ Contemporary Award