A palindrome is a word, number, or phrase that reads the same backward as it does forward. Palindromes can be fun, or absurd, the product of children’s English lessons: Taco cat. Or they can be remarkably poetic: Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era? Palindromes can also be didactic, and historically grounded: A man, a plan, a canal: Panama. James Joyce rendered a knock on the door as the palindromic tattarrattat.

Music can be palindromic, too. In a simple twelve-tone composition, a row of notes may be played from start to finish and then in retrograde, from finish to start – and then it may be inverted, and then played backwards and upside down. Twentieth century composers such as Alban Berg and Anton Webern were fond of this sort of thing. Bela Bartok used the ‘arch form’ to varying degrees in many of his works. This compositional trick is not a modern invention, however: Bach made extensive use of complicated palindromes in his fugal writing, for example.

Pekka Kuusisto. Photo © Felix Broede

For its 2019 regional Australian tour, the ACO...