Sinfonia No. 4 (Strands) (2012)
George Walker (b. 1922)
The Sinfonia No. 4 (Strands) is a concise work in one movement. Strands refers to the interplay of several melodic and motivic elements that are fused into a mosaic-like texture. An introduction is divided into two sections. The first contains a motive of four notes, two of which are rapidly repeated in the bass clarinet, bassoons, cellos and contrabasses. After the introduction, the principal theme appears in the violins. Transitional material leads to a modified re-statement in the violins.
A contrasting section with a steady eighth note pulse in an arching melodic line in bassoons and violas with cellos and contrabasses playing pizzicato is punctuated with outbursts in the winds and percussion. Another transition leads to a fragment of the wonderfully placid spiritual, There Is A Balm In Gilead. Dovetailed to this is the affirmation of a second spiritual, Roll, Jordan Roll in a brass fanfare. The quote is repeated in the piano and combined with a similarly stated rising bass line played by trombones and tuba. The piano repeats its fragment against an agitated passage in triplets played by the violins and marked by powerful repetitions of a single note by the timpani alternating with a bass drum. The final sections of the work contain fragments combined from the principal theme and the opening motive from the introduction.
The Sinfonia No. 4 (Strands) was commissioned by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and the National Symphony Orchestra. It premiered on March 30, 2012 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ, with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jacques Lacombe.
Clarinet Concerto (2002)
Magnus Lindberg (b. 1958)
Magnus Lindberg was born in Helsinki in 1958. His composition teachers, including Paavo Heininen and Einojuhani Rautavaara, encouraged him to study avant-garde music around Europe so as not to be hemmed in by the traditional, nationalist music that was dominant in Finland at the time. He was also part of an informal group of younger Finnish composers, the “Ears Open Society,” which included Esa-Pekka Salonen and Kaija Saariaho. In 1980, Lindberg, Salonen and others founded the new music ensemble Toimii (“It works”), an experimental laboratory of sorts that included many of Finland’s most notable instrumentalists. From the Toimii Ensemble arose many of Lindberg’s most important early works, in particular Kraft (1983-85), which famously features a percussion battery of found objects culled from local junkyards. Members of the Ensemble inspired Lindberg to write concertos, first for his own instrument, the piano (1991-94), then for cello (1999), and in 2002, for clarinet.
The Clarinet Concerto was written for Toimii’s virtuoso clarinetist, Kari Kriikku. Lindberg relates that he wrote the piece in his family’s cottage on an island in the Gulf of Finland, and after completing each section he would take his boat to Kriikku’s neighborhood on the outskirts of Helsinki to deliver the drafts. One wonders if this bucolic setting did not partly inspire the concerto’s remarkably expansive, almost pastoral character, quite a departure from Lindberg’s early style, which Alex Ross has described as “punkish.”
The concerto opens with a plaintive, folk song-like melody reminiscent of The Rite of Spring. Much writing about Lindberg’s early career notes his deliberate avoidance of melody, but with this concerto a simple tune becomes almost an idée fixe and the composer develops it in extraordinary ways. From this opening gesture, the concerto proceeds in one sweeping movement with five sections. At first, the orchestra engages in a series of sparkling, rhythmic, harmonically complex variations on the opening melody. The second, slower section begins with a passage for the soloist that refers to Debussy’s First Rhapsody, and develops into a series of dissonant chords in the strings and brooding brass chorales.
The soloist sets a quick, dance-like pace for the third section, which builds to a dramatic orchestral climax sans clarinet. The fourth section begins with the soloist again playing the opening melody accompanied first by shimmering strings and then the full ensemble; Lindberg notes that one of Kriikku’s requests for the piece was that the clarinet occasionally be pitted against orchestral fortissimos, and here the soloist’s request is fulfilled. This long section is marked by a series of dialogues between the soloist and various other instruments and sections of the orchestra, leading to a demanding cadenza.
The final section begins with a sort of jazzy moto perpetuo that propels the concerto to a thrilling conclusion in which the clarinet melody is accompanied by the orchestra with Strauss-like lushness, coming to rest—after a dramatic glissando by the clarinet—on a major chord.
The Clarinet Concerto was commissioned by the Finnish Broadcasting Company, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, the Stockholm Concert Hall Foundation, and Radio France. It premiered on September 14, 2002, at Finlandia Hall in Helsinki with Kari Kriikku and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jukka-Pekka Saraste.
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo.
Night Ferry (2012)
Anna Clyne (b. 1980)
"I come to ferry you hence across the tide
To endless night, fierce fires and shramming cold.” —Dante
“To those who by the dint of glass and vapour,
Discover stars, and sail in the wind’s eye” —Byron
Night Ferry is music of voyages, from stormy darkness to enchanted worlds. It is music of the conjurer and setter of tides, the guide through the "ungovernable and dangerous". Exploring a winding path between explosive turbulent chaoticism and chamber lyricism, this piece weaves many threads of ideas and imagery. These stem from Riccardo Muti’s suggestion that I look to Schubert for inspiration as Night Ferry will be premiered with Entr'acte No. 3 from Rosamunde and his Symphony No. 9 (Great).
The title, Night Ferry, came from a passage in Seamus Heaney’s Elegy for Robert Lowell, an American poet who, like Schubert, suffered from manic depression:
"You were our Night Ferry
thudding in a big sea,
the whole craft ringing
with an armourer's music
the course set wilfully across
the ungovernable and dangerous"
More specifically, Schubert suffered from cyclothymia, a form of manic depression that is characterized by severe mood swings, ranging from agonizing depression to hypomania, a mild form of mania characterized by an elevated mood and often associated with lucid thoughts and heightened creativity. This illness sometimes manifests in rapid shifts between the two states and also in periods of mixed states whereby symptoms of both extremes are present. This illness shadowed Schubert throughout his adulthood, and it impacted and inspired his art dramatically. His friends report that in its most troublesome form, he suffered periods of “dark despair and violent anger”. Schubert asserted that whenever he wrote songs of love, he wrote songs of pain, and whenever he wrote songs of pain, he wrote songs of love. Extremes were an organic part of his make-up.
In its essence, Night Ferry is a sonic portrait of voyages; voyages within nature and of physical, mental and emotional states. I decided to try a new process in creating this work—simultaneously painting the music, whilst writing it. On my wall, I taped seven large canvasses, side-by-side, horizontally, each divided into three sub-sections. This became my visual timeline for the duration of the music. In correlation to composing the music, I painted from left to right, moving forward through time. I painted a section then composed a section, and vice versa, intertwining the two in the creative process.
The process of unraveling the music visually helped to spark ideas for musical motifs, development, orchestration, and, in particular, structure. Similarly, the music would also give direction to color, texture and form. Upon the canvas I layered paint, charcoal, pencil, pen, ribbon, gauze, snippets of text from Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, fragments of Gustav Doré’s illustrations for this wonderfully evocative poem, and a selection of quotes from artists afflicted with, and blessed by, this fascinating illness.
The first text written on the canvas, to the far left side, in the bottom left corner reads “from a slow and powerful root…somewhere on the sea floor”. These are a couple of lines, quoted out of order, from Rumi’s poem, Where Everything is Music. Copied below is a passage from this beautiful poem, in translation by Coleman Barks. His words unite the profound depth, power and parallels of nature and the human existence, as conveyed in Heaney’s image of Lowell as a “Night Ferry”.
“We have fallen into the place
where everything is music…
This singing art is sea foam.
The graceful movements come from a pearl
somewhere on the ocean floor.
Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge
of driftwood along the beach, wanting!
from a slow and powerful root
that we can't see”
In addition to the above, I also found inspiration from the extraordinary power of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Muti’s baton, and also the unique voices of the individual musicians within the orchestra. Writing for an orchestra is usually an anonymous endeavor, but I am in the fortunate position of knowing the musicians and their musical voices through this residency. I found myself not writing solely for the instruments, but for the specific musicians of the CSO. Thank you to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for this wonderful opportunity.
Night Ferry was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and premiered on February 9, 2012 at Symphony Center in Chicago, IL, conducted by Riccardo Muti.