Concert 2: Impressions in Wood

November 19, 8PM – Central United Methodist
Pre-Concert talk at 7:15

WoodOrnament

Program:

Rocking Mirror Daybreak – Toru Takemitsu
For an Actor  – Shulamit Ran
Trumpets – Oliver Knussen
Anthèmes 1 – Pierre Boulez
light years – Scott Unrein

Program Notes:

Toru Takemitsu grew up in post‐WWII Japan during the Allied occupation. He would cite Debussy, Messiaen, and Cage as the greatest influences on his own music, also crediting Cage for exposing Takemitsu to Zen Buddhism. The reintroduction of Buddhism into his life helped shape important musical‐philosophical concepts for Takemitsu. His output is permeated with balance. Pieces reflect on the passing of time and focus on developing sounds throughout a work.

Rocking Mirror Daybreak is a three‐part work that exemplifies the balance found in Takemitsu’s music. In the first movement, Autumn, both violins are layered in a tenuous coexistence. Melodies and phrases begin and pause together, but each line remains independent. In the second movement, Passing Bird, graceful tremolos and sweeping figures evoke the bird’s passage. These flittering figures converge into exuberant chords played by both violins. The movement alternates between these two ideas twice before beginning the rocking ostinato that marks the third movement, Rocking Mirror Daybreak. In this movement both violins play a cyclic figure that accelerates and slows before breaking into a fantasy‐like set of variations, ultimately returning to the ostinato.

Of her piece For an Actor: Monologue for Clarinet, Ran writes “[The work] owes its inspiration in large part to the intensely personal ethos with which the clarinet is associated in my mind. To me, the instrument in its contemporary usage suggests an incredible gamut of gestures, dynamics and emotions. Accordingly, in Monologue, the player assumes the role of a virtuoso actor who, by purely musical means, goes through a kind of wordless ‘monodrama.’ Though not literally in sonata form, the parts of monologue nevertheless roughly parallel that form, consisting of exposition or unfolding in two stages: development‐ disintegration including a cadenza; coda echoing the opening materials.”

Boulez. The opening motives serve a microcosm for the piece at large. As the violinist maneuvers through work, the gestures that constitute the opening reappear in varying, longer, and more elaborate iterations. The overall succession of these events is retained. The first section is primarily fixated on quick, scalar runs and trills corresponding to the very beginning of the work, and likewise the subsequent sections investigate the inner workings of the initial gestures one‐by‐one. This effect gives the impression that the listener has magnified the beginning of the piece, and an abundance of formerly unheard, intricate details are now readily discernible. Laura Flax commissioned the piece for the Da Capo Chamber Players and premiered it on May 10, 1978 in Carnegie Recital Hall in New York City.

Oliver Knussen has emerged as one of England’s most prominent composer‐conductors in the latter half of the 20th century. His music features a characteristically rich harmonies saturated by layered polyrhythms, the overall effect of which is at times dense and frenetic.

Knussen’s mature output is an extension of serialism that exploits particular collections of notes and sounds in a highly controlled manner. In Knussen’s case, serialism and its 12‐ tone rows merely serve as source material for individualistic transformations that differ between pieces. Trumpets is characteristic of this approach, taking as its source material clarinet fanfares from his Third Symphony. The work develops a layered polyphony through the manipulation of sub‐sets to highlight harmonies and pitch combinations.

Trumpets

Under trimmed willows, where tanned children are playing

And leaves are blowing, trumpets sound.

A churchyard shudder.

Scarlet banners crash through the maple’s sorrow,

Riders along fields of rye, empty mills.

Or shepherds sing by night and stags tread In the circle of their fire, the grove’s age-old sorrow,

Dancers spring up from a black wall; Banners of scarlet, laughter, madness, trumpets.

-poem by Georg Trakl, English translation by Oliver Knussen (from fabermusic.com)

Anthèmes 1 was commissioned by the City of Paris for the Yehudi Menuhin Competition and dedicated to Alfred Schlee, director of Universal Edition, on the occasion of his 90th birthday. The piece is derived from a fragment of …explosante‐fixe…, an earlier work by Boulez. The opening motives serve a microcosm for the piece at large. As the violinist maneuvers through work, the gestures that constitute the opening reappear in varying, longer, and more elaborate iterations. The first section is primarily fixated on quick, scalar runs and trills corresponding to the very beginning of the work, and likewise the subsequent sections investigate the inner workings of the initial gestures one‐by‐one. This effect gives the impression that the listener has magnified the beginning of the piece, and an abundance of formerly unheard, intricate details are now readily discernible.

Born and currently based in Oregon, Scott Unrein studied at the University of Puget Sound, the University of Oregon, and the University of Missouri‐Kansas City. From 2005‐2011, Unrein hosted the NonPop podcast, and his music can be heard on the Kansas City‐based Irritable Hedgehog label. His music is often associated with the postminimalist movement and the ambient‐West Coast composers. Tending towards slow and quiet, Unrein frequently utilizes a process‐driven approach in the construction of his works.

The instrumentation of Unrein’s light years reflects the composer’s inclination towards small ensembles of unusual instrument combinations. The work is consists of three sections, and small, motivic cells are introduced at the outset of each section. The first and last sections suspend the listener in a sea of familiarity as individual instrumental parts repeat specific motives, but their alignment inside the ensemble slowly changes. The middle section slowly builds to a dynamic zenith that feels as cosmic and monumental as it does intimate; it is, as if, gazing light years back into the night sky.

light years was commissioned by newEar Contemporary Music Ensemble.

‐ All program notes by Daniel Morel

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