I always think that the writing is the hardest part: so much energy required to conceive of the ideas, get the writing for the instruments working optimally for them to communicate with the audience, and so on, but then comes staring at the full score and the individual parts trying to make sure there are no errors, omissions, etc., and that requires a completely different brain. Lucky thing too, because my creative brain is pretty tired by the end of the piece! So the parts took four full days to complete. It's funny: the music notation software companies, like Sibelius and Finale, advertise that the parts are created (linked) as you write the piece, making everything sound so effortless. It sells the product, but in reality, there are cues to write in, page turns to calculate, formatting issues, etc. Maybe I should write fewer notes!
So in the end, I have written a five-movement concerto for chamber orchestra, in which the three sections of the orchestra – string, winds, and brass – compete with one another (one could say). I haven't designed or designated a "winner" of this competition. That would be a game the audience could play with the piece.
The plan for the music has not changed since my October 5, 2009 post to this blog in which I outlined five movements. The only change came in the feeling of the second movement, which had initially been inspired by the short-track speed skating. In the end I think it evokes the whole movement of speed skating, whether on the oval short track or on the long track. So, the movements are:
2. Speed Skating
4. Freestyle skiing
In that post, I spoke about "sonifying the actual rhythms of the winter sports." This has remained true through the completion of the remaining three movements.
|First reading of Five-ring Concerto; Owen Underhill conducting; |
at Seycove Secondary School, North Vancouver, BC
The short movement of my piece called "Skeleton," begins with a representation of the common pre-race tension with the use of low, sliding strings. Then the race is "announced" by brass and after the short run to get going, the athelete jumps on the sled and all hell breaks loose in the ensemble. All of the musicians work together to create a dense continuously moving – yet in a way static – texture that represents this "life of the microphone on the sled" experience. Then, in the only clear nod to camera techniques in the composition, there is a "jump-cut" to the audience-on-the-track perspective. This will strike many as the most "avant-garde" of the movements, drawing as it does from the kinds of textures found in the orchestral works of Xenakis, Penderecki and Ligeti from the 1960s.
(An aside for the techno geeks: the microphone, attached to the sled, actually gives us an entirely unique sonic experience of the Skeleton run that doesn't exist outside the "life of microphones" story. Certainly, the athelete does not have their ear attached to the sled!)
The fourth and fifth movements create the gestures and movements of freestyle skiing and hockey. The former features the bumpy ride to the bottom of the ski run with the two jumps in the middle that launch the skier into the air to a sudden slow turning motion – again a play of opposites, from extreme exersion to suspended animation. "Hockey" begins with a big canonic resonating chamber, a technique found in several of my other works (see Prismophony for guitar quartet, third movement, and the opening to Raven Steals the Light for orchestra, to give two examples.) Once the puck is dropped, a new kind of music ensues that is a different kind of resonating chamber: the entire music is constructed from dominant seventh chords, but this time the geometry of hockey is everywhere: curves, zigzags, straight-lines, deek moves. There are no random walks here or other mathematical tricks to create this type of music. I composed entirely from chromatic chord progressions using a common-tone technique found in music from Wagner through Debussy, Scriabin and Stravinsky, though the musical energy is much indebted to the rhythmic energy of the latter.
An invitation to the reader to attend.
The concert on which my new work will be performed for the first time is a fantastic, ideal concert program to hear my work. The program features Arnold Schoenberg's early Chamber Symphony Opus 9 for 15 solo instruments, and the Canadian premiere of Pulitzer-prize winning American composer
John Adams’ exhilarating Son of Chamber Symphony. John Adams and I share a connection that goes back to my student days at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where I studied with him and heard him conduct the premiere performance of his break-through work "Shaker Loops." But it's more than that. There is an energy in Adams personality and music that resonates with my own. He feels like a kindred spirit. Please come to the concert, hear the great Turning Point Ensemble, and come by to say hello after the concert, especially if you are a regular reader of this blog!
Learn more about the concert and buy tickets.