FRI JAN 13, 8 pm
MATTHIAS PINTSCHER conductor | LISA HANNIGAN | AARON DESSNER
ANDREW NORMAN (b.1979)
Winner of the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition
• Level 1
• Level 2
• Level 3
MATTHIAS PINTSCHER (b. 1971)
idyll for orchestra
Selections by Lisa Hannigan and Aaron Dessner to be announced from the stage
Born: October 31, 1979, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Work composed: 2013, on commission from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project
Premiere: May 17, 2013 by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose conducting; revised version Oct. 2016 with the LA Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel conducting
Instrumentation: 3 flutes (incl. 2 piccolos), 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets (incl. E-flat clarinet), 3 bassoons (incl. contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, bass drum, bongo drums, brake drum, cowbells, crotales, glockenspiel, guiro, kick drum, log drums, opera gongs, ratchet, sandpaper blocks, slapstick, tom-toms, splash cymbals, spring coil, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, temple blocks, tin cans, triangle, tubular bells, vibraphone, washboard, wood blocks, xylophone, piano, strings
CSO subscription performances: Premiere
Duration: approx. 47 mins.
Musical America recently chose Andrew Norman, who currently lives in Los Angeles, where he teaches composition at the University of Southern California, as “Composer of the Year 2017.” His orchestral work Play is, according to some critics, the best symphonic work the 21st century has produced so far. These accolades—and the fact that the California-based composer, not yet 40, has already had his work played by many major orchestras around the world—bear witness to an extraordinary success story, all the more remarkable since Norman does not follow recent trends toward reviving a traditional, tonal idiom but employs, instead, many non-conventional playing techniques and seeks out sounds and musical structures that had never been used before.
Norman has said of Play, his most extensive work to date, that it “weds traditional symphonic logic to the non-linear narrative techniques and exuberant tone of a video game.” To emphasize the video-game connection, Norman called the three sections of the composition “Level 1,” “Level 2,” and “Level 3.” And in fact, the relationship of the three sections is not that found in traditional symphony movements in contrasted tempos, with the attendant differences in mood and character. Rather, Norman takes his musical material into different “realms,” as it were, and as we get into “higher and higher” regions, the air becomes “thinner and thinner.” Level 1 has a relentless drive with continually hectic activity almost throughout. Level 2, which, after an initial trumpet signal, starts out with a quiet, almost inaudible rhythmic pulsation, maintains a looser organization, and in general prefers softer, more legato melodic lines. It is not until close to the end that a significant textural buildup occurs. Also, general rests, unmetered passages and aleatoric sections (where musicians repeat their motif without coordination) become more frequent at this level, as do passages where indefinite pitches predominate. At the end of this level, the whole orchestra “freezes,” and then “unfreezes” gradually, desk by desk, according to a fixed order indicated by the composer. The third level, which takes us to the highest “altitude,” completes the process of “rarefaction” and “disintegration.” Isolated solo gestures and unchanging ostinatos dominate the landscape, placing motifs heard in the earlier movements in new contexts. The various independent strands are reunited one last time before the texture thins out to single notes, reducing the sound world nearly to zero.
The composer has offered the following comments on Play:
I am fascinated by how instruments are played, and how the physical act of playing an instrument becomes potent theatrical material when we foreground it on stage at an orchestral concert. I’m also fascinated by how the orchestra, as a meta-instrument, is played, how its many moving parts and people can play with or against or apart from one another. While the word “play” certainly connotes fun and whimsy and a child-like exuberance, it can also hint at a darker side of interpersonal relationships, at manipulation, control, deceit, and the many forms of master-to-puppet dynamics one could possibly extrapolate from the composer-conductor-orchestra-audience chain of communication.
Much of the piece is concerned with who is playing whom. The percussionists, for instance, spend a lot of their time and energy “playing” the rest of the orchestra (just as they themselves are “played” by the conductor, who in turn is “played” by the score). Specific percussion instruments act as triggers, turning on and off various players, making them (sometimes in a spirit of jest, sometimes not) play louder or softer, forwards or backwards, faster or slower. They cause the music to rewind and retry things, to jump back and forth in its own narrative structure, and to change channels entirely, all with an eye and ear toward finding a way out of the labyrinth and on to some higher level.
idyll for orchestra
Born: January 29, 1971, Marl, Germany
Work composed: 2014, on commission from The Cleveland Orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Orchestra and the Melbourne Symphony
Premiere: October 9, 2014 by The Cleveland Orchestra, Franz Welser-Möst conducting
Instrumentation: 4 flutes (incl. alto flute, piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, bongo drums, chimes, crotales, cymbals, glockenspiel, guiro, marimba, metal blocks, plate bells, sandpaper blocks, spring coil, Styrofoam blocks, suspended cymbals, tam-tams, thunder sheet, tom-toms, triangles, tubular bells, vibraphone, celeste, piano, 2 harps, strings
CSO subscription performances: Premiere
Duration: approx. 23 mins.
At 45, Matthias Pintscher is one of the most prominent composers on the international scene. Also in high demand as a conductor, he is the music director of the Ensemble Intercontemporain, the famous new-music ensemble in Paris founded by Pierre Boulez; he also serves as the music director of the Lucerne Festival Academy. His compositions—stage works, orchestral, chamber and vocal music—have been performed all over the world. He possesses a unique musical imagination and a virtually boundless ability to create new sounds. Those sounds, one hastens to add, are never mere “sound effects” but are endowed with dramatic meaning both in and of themselves and through the contexts in which they are placed. Pintscher often approaches musical composition as a kind of “imaginary theater,” where musical gestures and their interrelationships are treated like characters and situations in a drama. Pintscher took over this notion from Hans Werner Henze, from whom he received valuable advice at the beginning of his career. Yet his language is less traditional than Henze’s; his unconventional use of the orchestral instruments owes a great deal to another German composer, Helmut Lachenmann, whose aesthetic is very far removed from Henze’s (their public debate became famous in Germany). Pintscher has thus created a synthesis between various trends of German music that were often considered to be antithetical. His output shows that uncompromising modernity in the means is not incompatible with expression and dramatic meaning.
idyll started life as a work for solo piano, on a clear day, written for the 80th birthday of a friend and mentor in 2004. When the friend passed away, Pintscher expanded the birthday tribute into a vast tombeau or commemorative work, in which he incorporated a recomposed version of the original piano piece—hence the long piano solo about two-thirds of the way through.
Speaking about the larger theme of idyll, Pintscher said:
The piece is about the breathing of resonances, about fading away—with the whole sense of longing associated with this. Each sound dies away because it is dependent upon the breath, and then you have to breathe in anew....
[It is] as if we are striding through the garden of memory where we apparently come to a clearing, but turn away from this and take another path. The orchestra describes a large soundscape with inner emotional landscapes which outline it.
Soft and slow almost for its entire duration, idyll starts almost inaudibly with some mysterious percussion sounds, over which a series of sinuous instrumental lines (alto flute, violin, clarinet, oboe) unfold. Eventually, the texture begins to intensify, yet the fundamental mood of contemplation is never broken except for very brief intervals, with the music immediately returning to the initial “idyllic” state. An unaccompanied horn solo, continued by the clarinet and a solo violin, provides another magical moment, before a massive orchestral buildup that in its turn collapses into the above-mentioned piano solo. The orchestra re-enters to a varied recapitulation of the mysterious opening, leading to a second tutti surge, powerful but short-lived as it soon evaporates, fading away, as the composer said, “with the whole sense of longing associated with this.”
SAT JAN 14, 8 pm
MATTHIAS PINTSCHER conductor | BRYCE DESSNER guitar | PEKKA KUUSISTO violin | TIMO ANDRES piano
ANNA THORVALDSDOTTIR (b.1977)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
• Vivace luminoso
• Aria, Hoquetus, Choral. Andante
• Passacaglia. Lento intenso
• Appassionato. Agitato molto
TIMO ANDRES (b.1977)
The Blind Banister
BRYCE DESSNER (b. 1971)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
Born: May 28, 1923, Târnava-Sânmărtin [now Târnăveni], Romania | Died: June 12, 2006, Vienna
Work composed: 1990–1992
Premiere: Final version, October 8, 1992 in Vienna, Saschko Gawriloff, violinist, and Peter Eötvös conducting
Instrumentation: solo violin, 2 flutes (incl. alto flute, piccolo, treble recorder, descant recorder), oboe (incl. soprano ocarina), 2 clarinets (incl. E-flat clarinet, sopranino ocarina, bass clarinet, alto ocarina), bassoon (incl. soprano ocarina), 2 horns, trumpet, 2 trombones, timpani, bass drum, crotale, cymbals a2, glockenspiel, marimba, snare drum, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, tambour de basque, tubular bells, tuned gongs, vibraphone, whip, whistle, wood blocks, xylophone, strings
CSO subscription performances: Premiere
Duration: approx. 28 mins.
Ligeti wrote his Violin Concerto for German violinist Saschko Gawriloff. The original version of the work was in three movements, and the concerto was premiered in that form by Gawriloff and the Cologne Radio Symphony under Gary Bertini’s direction on November 3, 1990. Following that performance, Ligeti revised the work substantially: he discarded the original first movement and replaced it with three new movements played without breaks (movements 1–3). This final version was premiered on October 8, 1992, in Vienna, with Gawriloff and the Ensemble Modern under Peter Eötvös’ direction.
The music of György Ligeti came to worldwide attention during the 1960s, when the Hungarian composer was a leading figure in the avant-garde movement along with Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luigi Nono. Ligeti, who was born in Transylvania and subsequently studied and taught in Hungary, fled the country during the 1956 revolution and established himself in the West. Through his early work in electronic music, he discovered previously unsuspected possibilities for creating new sounds and combining them in novel ways. (Spectral composers such as Tristan Murail consider him a major source of influence on their aesthetic.)
By the early 1980s, Ligeti had entered what was immediately recognized as a new style period, incorporating certain elements that had been absent from his earlier works. His Horn Trio (1982) makes reference to Beethoven and Brahms; he embarked on an in-depth study of the complex polyrhythms of African music, and continued his experiments with tuning and temperament outside the well-tempered system. He also began to reconnect with his Hungarian roots. During his youth, the folk-song-based style of Bartók and Kodály was held up as a model to all composers in Communist Hungary; this style was imitated so slavishly that after the 1960s, it was widely considered to be an artistic dead end. Therefore, it is highly significant that Ligeti quotes a Hungarian folksong in the last movement of his 1992 Violin Concerto, and that the second of the five movements also has a melody with an unmistakable Hungarian inflection—one, moreover, with a 40-year history in Ligeti’s compositional life. The melody first turns up in a sonatina for piano duet written in 1950-51; it was subsequently reworked for piano solo in Musica ricercata (1951–53), arranged for wind quintet in one of the Six Bagatelles (1953); it also appears in the second movement of the Horn Trio. Yet Ligeti’s allusions to tradition never sound regressive in the least, but rather present startling new facets of the (seemingly) familiar.
Central to the concept of the Violin Concerto is the incorporation of the higher tones of the harmonic series, which are “out of tune” by the standards of the well-tempered scale but are here accepted as a regular part of the harmony. The unique sound of the work derives from the sophisticated blending of well-tempered and natural sonorities. Two members of the orchestra, a violinist and a violist, tune their instruments to such “out-of-tune” pitches. The ocarinas used by the woodwind players and the side whistles blown by the percussionists—instruments that lack the intonational precision of the standard members of the orchestra—reinforce this “uncleanliness” of the pitch material.
This new approach to tuning also gives an interesting new context to the Hungarian folksong quoted in the last movement. The original collector of this folksong indicated that the third and the seventh degrees are sung lower than a Western-trained musician would expect. Although the phenomenon itself has been well known to folk-music scholars who even gave it a name (“Transdanubian” third and seventh), it had never before been addressed by composers. Thus, Ligeti’s modernist interest in non-tempered pitches was itself rooted in his early studies of folk music. (His explorations of such pitches began very early in his career, in the Romanian Concerto written before his emigration.)
The melodic material of the first movement emerges from a shimmering background of harmonics (those of the soloist and the two “mistuned” orchestra members clash constantly). Ligeti took into consideration the fact that the natural harmonics do not always come out perfectly on the instruments, yet he emphasized that the musicians should never try to replace them by safer artificial harmonics, for this very uncertainty gives the impression of “fragility and danger.”
The second movement begins with the aforementioned melody, played by the unaccompanied solo violin, eventually joined by a (normally tuned) viola, then by a duo of flute and alto flute, a pair of horns playing natural overtones, and finally by the shrill sound of the ocarinas. The initial “Aria” turns into a “hocket” (a medieval term designating a very quick, note-by-note, alternation between the voices), and finally into a “chorale” for brass instruments. The epilogue (in which we hear the solo violin all by itself, playing double-stops and then, the violin with the alto flute) closes with a perfect C-major sonority.
In the third-movement Intermezzo, the solo violin plays a soaring melody in a high register against the rapid descending scales of the orchestral strings, played in a super-dense canon. The rhythmic divisions, here and elsewhere in the concerto, are based on asymmetrical patterns (for example, 3+2+2+2/8) known as “Bulgarian rhythm” that were particularly dear to Bartók. (Incidentally, the dedicatee of the concerto, Saschko Gawriloff, is of Bulgarian ancestry.)
The fourth movement is a Passacaglia (a set of variations over a ground bass). The “ground bass” (not necessarily in a low register) is a very slowly rising chromatic scale, against which the solo violin playes mostly long-sustained notes in an extremely high register. The ethereal atmosphere is disrupted by some strongly accented material; finally, an appassionato melody appears and reaches a fantastic eight-fold fortissimo (ffffffff!) before it is cut off with dramatic abruptness.
“As if all these movements were not strange and complicated enough,” writes Paul Griffiths in his liner notes to the CD recording, “the finale multiplies them all on top of each other.” The shimmering harmonies, the slow-moving, soaring melodies, and the rhythmic complexities combine to raise the level of excitement. After the brief episode of the Hungarian folksong, the music reaches another dramatic, multiple-forte climax before the violin launches into the cadenza. (This cadenza was created by Gawriloff from the material of the concerto’s discarded original first movement.) The end of the cadenza is perhaps the most dramatic moment in the entire work. At one moment, when the violin plays extremely fast and with “mad virtuosity,” it is brutally silenced by a high-pitched woodblock. The concerto ends almost immediately, stopping dead in its tracks
The Blind Banister
• Born: 1985, Palo Alto, California
• Work composed: 2015, for pianist Jonathan Biss, on commission from the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Caramoor Center for the Music and the Arts and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s
• Premiere: November 27, 2015, St. Paul, MN
• Instrumentation: solo piano, flute (incl. piccolo), oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, trumpet, timpani, bass drum, crotale, glockenspiel, simantra, snare drum, splash cymbal, tam-tam, vibraphone, wooden chimes, xylophone, strings
• CSO subscription performances: Premiere
• Duration: approx. 23 mins.
Timo Andres stands with one foot firmly in the classical tradition, steeped in Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms. Yet he has also listed Sigur Ros, Boards of Canada, Brian Eno and Radiohead among his influences and belongs to the generation that may completely do away with the compartmentalization of music that has created such deep divisions and even gulfs between genres.
Andres has written the following note on The Blind Banister, which was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in music:
There’s an interesting process of distancing that happens after I’ve written a piece; when it’s brand new it feels like an extension of my body, but when a few years have passed, it begins to merge with other music I know well—I almost can’t remember having written it myself. I’m fascinated by composers who feel compelled to revise their work years, or decades, after the fact. Ives did this constantly, returning to add layers of complexity in sedimentary fashion; the two versions of Brahms’ Op. 8 trio encapsulate the difference between promising novice and master.
Beethoven gave his early second piano concerto (“not one of my best,” in his own estimation) a kind of renovation in the form of a new cadenza, 20 years down the line (around the time he was working on the Emperor concerto). It’s wonderfully jarring in that he makes no concessions to his earlier style; for a couple of minutes, we’re plucked from a world of conventional gestures into a future-world of obsessive fugues and spiraling modulations. Like any good cadenza, it’s made from those same simple gestures—an arpeggiated triad, a sequence of downward scales—but uses them as the basis for a miniature fantasia.
My third piano concerto, The Blind Banister, is a whole piece built over this fault line in Beethoven’s second, trying to peer into the gap. I tried as much as possible to start with those same extremely simple elements Beethoven uses; however, my piece is not a pastiche or an exercise in palimpsest. It doesn’t even directly quote Beethoven. There are some surface similarities to his concerto (a three-movement structure, a B-flat tonal center) but these are mostly red herrings. The best way I can describe my approach to writing the piece is: I started writing my own cadenza to Beethoven’s concerto, and ended up devouring it from the inside out.
Solo piano introduces the main theme of the piece—one of those slowly descending scales. It’s actually two scales, one the melody and the other (lagging behind) the accompaniment, creating little rubbing major-second suspensions against each other with every move. This idea is later splayed out and reversed in a rising sequence of loping, two-note phrases. This “Sliding Scale” is presented over and over, forming the basis for movement of continuous variations, constantly revising themselves. Orchestral layers pile up around the scale, building dissonant towers out of those major seconds. One last, long downward scale gathers enough momentum to launch the second movement scherzo, “Ringing Weights.”
Here, the downward scale is transformed into a propulsive motor in solo strings, driving bright cascades of chromatic chords in the solo part. This movement is also made from varying modules, each increasingly elaborate—though this time, each successive module descends a step, the scale theme subverting the structure of the piece, trying to push it inexorably downwards.
The piano works hard to reverse this process in a trio section, trading a stumbling, step-wise melody with gentle orchestral echoes of the ringing chords from the scherzo. As the piano music lurches to its feet, it grows progressively more boisterous, and the steps move faster, whirling themselves into a return of the scherzo material, this time with full orchestra and pounding timpani.
Orchestra suddenly falls away, leaving the pianist to wrestle with the two basic elements of the piece—rising and falling. Arpeggios leap up and over each other, unbound to any meter, vaulting through the harmonic atmosphere before plunging down to the lowest E. As the arpeggios begin to trace more regular patterns, the orchestra drifts back in with another long scale, descending step by step, introducing a richly-harmonized Coda, really a super-compressed recapitulation of the first movement, the piano finally rushing off into an ambiguous future.
• Born: April 23, 1976, Cincinnati
• Work composed: 2016, on commission from the Ensemble Intercontemporain of Paris and NTR, a Dutch broadcasting system, for its Saturday matinees
• Premiere: September 24, 2016 in Paris, Matthias Pintscher conducting
• Instrumentation: solo electric guitar, 2 flutes (incl. piccolo), oboe, 2 clarinets (incl. bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, timpani, drum set, bass drum, crotale, glockenspiel, log drum, marimba, orchestra bells, tam-tam, tom-tom, triangle, vibraphone, wood block, xylophone, piano, strings
• CSO subscription performances: Premiere
• Duration: approx. 14 mins.
Cincinnati native Bryce Dessner is one of a handful of American composers to have received a commission from the Paris-based Ensemble Intercontemporain, one of the most prestigious new-music groups in the world. Dessner, founder of the MusicNOW festival, and acclaimed solo guitarist of the rock band The National, has also established his reputation as a composer of symphonic music (Lachrimae, St. Carolyn by the Sea). His newest work, Wires, is in four movements played without pause; the instrumental ensemble includes a prominent part for electric guitar, which the composer wrote for himself. In addition to plucking the guitar, Dessner also uses an Ebow, a battery-operated electronic device that, when placed on the instrument, produces a more sustained, vibrating sound, somewhat similar to a bow on a violin. With or without the Ebow, the guitar plays, at different times, long-held chords, fast rhythmic patterns, expansive melodies, or even two melodic lines simultaneously.
The first characteristic motif of the opening movement, in syncopated rhythm, grows out of a static background, with figurations of ever-increasing complexity. The music finally explodes in a vibrant polyrhythmic passage in fortissimo, before returning to the initial state of calm.
In the second movement, the syncopated motif heard earlier takes center stage and undergoes a spectacular thematic development; a second idea, consisting of ornamental figures around a central note, appears on glockenspiel, vibraphone and piano. Jagged melodic lines, sudden interruptions of rhythmic patterns, and emphatic sequences of short, repeated chords provide continuous excitement, until a brief transition ushers in the third movement, which begins as a lyrical solo for guitar. An espressivo melody made up of wide melodic leaps is taken over by the piano. From the eerie sounds of the guitar and percussion emerges a virtuosic clarinet solo, which in turn leads to the frenetic finale, filled with powerful ostinatos and wildly scurrying broken chords. After a massive orchestral buildup, the syncopated motif from the first movement returns, followed once again by a complex polyrhythmic texture which keeps getting louder and louder until it is suddenly cut off upon reaching fortissimo volume.
—All notes by Peter Laki