Thursday, October 17, 2013

Some information/thoughts about Antiphonies for Charlie

THE HARTFORD NEW MUSIC FESTIVAL CONTINUES with the premiere of my Antiphonies for Charlie. The combined forces of the Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra and The Generous Ensemble perform Saturday 19 October at 7:30, Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford; and Sunday 20 October at 2:30, CT Historical Society, also in Hartford. Come and enjoy! Both performances are FREE and open to the public.

Antiphonies for Charlie is my biggest piece for orchestra alone — if you allow that the combined forces of The Generous Ensemble and HICO constitute an orchestra. 35 minutes long. It is also my very individual response to a unique combination of instruments, and the possibility of arranging them antiphonally.  

Those instruments are: flute (piccolo), oboe (English horn), alto sax, tenor sax (bari), electric guitar, electric bass, two percussion (mostly traps and marimba), two horns, two trumpets, two trombones, tuba, strings (44432).

“Charlie” is of course Charles Edward Ives. I had already written a short piano piece “Homage to Charlie,” and his imprint is all over my music for solo voice. In 1913 he was at the height of his compositional powers, right in the middle of producing the Concord Sonata and the Fourth Symphony. 1913 is also the year when Henry Brant was born. Henry was, in the words of Virgil Thomson, the greatest American orchestrator, and the composer who, more than any other, awakened my interest in the orchestra.

So AFC is, among other things, my tribute to these two geniuses. One of them died when I was ten years old, the other was a close personal friend. Each has had a profound impact on me, both as a composer and as a performer. I don’t think AFC sounds particularly like either Ives or Brant, but certain Ivesian procedures, which Henry adopted and freely acknowledged, permeate the work. These include:

The spatial separation of instrumental forces
Overlapping rhythmic cycles (as in the Universe Symphony)
Stacking blocks of sound on top of each other (as in the Fourth Symphony)
Extreme stylistic eclecticism

To these I might add whimsical titles (more like Henry than Charlie) and whimsical instructions to some members of the orchestra (more like the Charlie of the Second String Quartet).

“Clumps,” the first movement, is just that. Sonorous blocks, clusters, what my orchestration teacher Steve Sample used to call “fat melodies” — these combine and recombine and even, to some small degree, develop. There are some interruptions, to thicken the plot, including a really second-rate parlor tune, ineptly harmonized, and some rather more elegant three-part counterpoint.

“Solos” are just that. Each of the 32 instruments has its own part with its own integrity. Four of the solos are melodic, the other 28 are pointillistic. “Duets” are similarly literal. Not all of the possible pairs are used, but 23 are (if I have counted correctly), including some bizarre ones. The duets are also carefully positioned within the ensemble, and if you listen closely you can hear them coming from different directions.

“Something Different” is just that, at least from the point of view of the materials it uses. The techniques of collage and overlapping rhythmic cycles (9 beats + 11 beats + 15 beats, etc.) are the same. To these Ivesian/Brantian procedures is added the Lisztian one of thematic transformation, although my use of it is extreme and is almost like serialism.

These notes make my music appear to be quite intellectual, and my modus operandi is certainly self-conscious. But one aims for a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. You, the audience, should have a good time listing to this piece. I’m not so concerned that you be able to follow the intellectual apparatus behind AFC, though it is fun to know it is there. Rather, I hope you find sections of it beautiful, exciting, amusing, or even moving.

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