Ungrievable Lives

string quartet

Duration 22’
Instrumentation 2 violins, viola, cello
First Performance 7 April 2022, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Germany; Castalian Quartet
Commissioned by Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Wigmore Hall, Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival
Further Performances
21.10.22 Wigmore Hall, London; Castalian Quartet
09.01.23 Konzerthaus Wein, Vienna, Austria; Castalian Quartet
01.03.23 University of Oxford, UK; Castalian Quartet
13.07.23 Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival, Finnland; Castalian Quartet
04.08.23 Sante Fe Chamber Music Festival, US; Flux Quartet
6.11.23 Dallas Chamber Music Society, Dallas TX; Castalian Quartet
19.11.23 Chamber music Tulsa, OK; Castalian Quartet
24.2.24 National Concert Hall, Dublin; Solas Quartet
26.2.24 Louisville Chamber Music Society, KY; Castalian Quartet
22.11.24 Konzerthaus Berlin, Germany; Castalian Quartet
Charlotte has a worldwide, exclusive publishing agreement with Birdsong
Purchase Materials

I was deeply moved and motivated by the work of the British artist, Caroline Burraway. Since 2015 she has responded to the crisis through her art, having witnessed first-hand the situation and refugee camps in the Mediterranean. Burraway’s powerful installation, Ungrievable Lives comprises 13 dresses for children, handmade from refugee lifejackets gathered at the ‘Lifejacket Graveyard’ in Lesvos, Greece, hanging from iron and brass Salter scales, above small mounds of sand.

Each dress represents one million of the 13 million child-refugees there are worldwide. They signify ‘absence’, evoking memories of a former life, of family, of love and, ultimately, of loss. The work invites the viewer to meditate upon and contemplate the, often harrowing, journey of refugees as they try to reach the shores of Europe. The scales, an ancient symbol of justice, denote the weighing of the body and soul, prompting the difficult question: “Are the lives of some, more valuable than that of others?” The sand, stacked below each of the dresses, represents borders, physical, political and cultural, which – like sand – constantly shift and change over time.

This forms a large part of the stimulus behind my string quartet; the music explores it through the 13 highly-contrasting miniature movements.