Blog

CONCERTO BLOG, VOL. 2: SHAPES IN MOTION

In the great ‘inspiration vs. perspiration’ debate I must admit that I’ve always been more inclined towards the latter. How exactly the creative process unfolds, with its multitudes of tiny deductions and trial-and-error calculations, remains mysterious to me, to be sure. But I tend to think that ideas are mined through hard work; active attention, not passive reverie, is the path to productivity in my view.

Every so often, however, lightning strikes and shifts your thinking in a direction it would not have otherwise gone. Shortly after receiving the concerto commission I came across the following tweet by Kathryn Schulz, an American author and staff writer for The New Yorker:

A lovely grouping indeed! Social media is usually the death of inspiration, but here it had delivered a small miracle. Something in this conceptual triad of reflections, echoes and rainbows really spoke to me. So I did some digging and discovered that the passage being referenced was from Posterior Analytics, a text that deals with demonstration, definition and scientific knowledge:

Some connections that require proof are identical in that they possess an identical ‘middle’ e.g. a whole group might be proved through ‘reciprocal replacement’ – and of these one class are identical in genus, namely all those whose difference consists in their concerning different subjects or in their mode of manifestation. This latter class may be exemplified by the questions as to the causes respectively of echo, or reflection, and of the rainbow: the connections to be proved which these questions embody are identical generically, because all three are forms of repercussion; but specifically they are different.

It had been the connecting metaphor of repercussion that had resonated with me so powerfully. As a pianist, and especially one focused on new music, much of my time is spent around the instrument’s repercussive action – it is the sonic space to which most of my musical thinking ultimately refers. Could such a generic concept inspire a whole piece? I started to consider how, specifically, the idea of reflections, echoes, and rainbows could be rendered musically. That Aristotle’s connection was archaic and scientifically flawed ­(the concept of refraction was not understood until relatively recently) did not dissuade me; in fact I welcomed this bit of logical fuzziness. Art is meant to be ambiguous, after all…

I settled on a three-part structure, with each movement bearing the name of one of Aristotle’s repercussive phenomena. For the first movement Reflections I envisioned a music in which sounds heard in one region of the pitch continuum (imagine the low-to-high range of a piano keyboard) are ‘reflected’ onto the opposite region around a hidden axis. Exact symmetry was not my goal, however, and I took steps to deliberately ‘blur’ the reflected image (consider by way of analogy the reflection produced by a disturbed water surface vs. one produced by a mirror).

In the following passage, drawn from the opening pages of the work, you’ll hear clangorous harmonies in the piano’s high register in counterpoint with low, thudding chords in the orchestra accompaniment:

 

Another passage showcases a purer sort of reflection, with gossamer scales rising and falling and zigzagging over each other in a delicate string texture:

 

The prior section is reimagined several minutes later, near the end of the movement, altered to be more stretched out in duration and sensuous in character:

 

Echoes (Movement II) brings the reflections idea into the temporal domain. Here the literal concept evoked by the title is enacted musically through the re-sounding of music quickly after its initial ringing. At times this takes the form of a single note struck by the solo piano that ‘ricochets’ back from the orchestra, as though the initial attack is being played in reverse:

 

Elsewhere, small melodic fragments are echoed throughout the orchestra to simulate a broad, cavernous space with sounds reverberating throughout:

 

In Rainbows (Movement III) I wanted to simulate the bending of light by creating a slanted, vertiginous sound world that in effect synthesizes the two ‘rebounding’ modes of the earlier movements. Musically this takes the form of cascading piano patterns that are enhanced in the orchestra by sliding glissandi and percussive exclamations:

 

The preceding audio samples are but glimpses into a larger musical arc of nearly 25 minutes duration. It has been such a thrill bringing this work to life with the awesome musicians of Esprit Orchestra, and we do hope you’ll join us to experience the whole thing at the exciting world premiere on April 3 in Koerner Hall!