Violin Concerto Trilogy
with Third Angle New Music Ensemble, Ron Blessinger, Denise Huizenga, Pacific Rim Gamelan
"...a trilogy of concerti...on the nature of..."
This recording presents a trilogy of violin concerti with titles beginning, "On the Nature of..." The concerti explore the archetypal themes of love (No. 1), harmony (No. 2), and peace (No. 3). In each work, the violin soloist is an adventurer who sets out on a journey of discovery that is filled with challenges and surprises. The music of each concerto is a spiritual landscape that encompasses an array of thoughts and feelings ranging from the lyricism of the reflective music in the first concerto, to the boisterous energy of the finale of the second, to the balance of musical elements at the end of the third.
Violin Concerto No. 1—On the Nature of Love (1996)
Thirteen variations on What Wond'rous Love is This for violin and string orchestra
The thirteen variations of this concerto are transformations on the hymn tune, What Wond'rous Love is This, from the sacred harp (shape note) tradition of the American South. The hymn tunes of this tradition are harmonized with "perfect" intervals of fourths and fifths, resulting in an austere, stark sound that contrasts with the European practice of harmonization using consonant thirds and sixths. At the beginning of the concerto, the bold statement of the theme is played by the string orchestra in a transcription of the standard harmonization printed in The Sacred Harp hymnal. The title—On the Nature of Love—refers to the hymn, and to the nature of love itself, which is viewed in the hymn text as divine:
What wond'rous love is this, O my soul! O my soul!
Ye winged seraphs, fly! Bear the news! Bear the news!
Fill vast eternity with the news, with the news!
In my concerto, however, the focus is on human love and the variations are grouped into four arcs of music that correspond to four phases of a relationship:
Part I. Attraction [Theme & Variations I-IV]
After the soloist introduces the hymn tune, it is played by the string orchestra in an arrangement of the original version from The Sacred Harp hymnal. A series of virtuosic variations culminates in a lyrical and expressive statement that ends with a variant of the tune played in harmonics over the lowest open string of the basses.
Part II. Courtship [Variations V-VI]
The second part features two extended variations of contrasting character. A playful dance of courtship leads to blissful and enraptured music.
Part III. Uniting [Variations VII-VIII]
A series of contrapuntal variations symbolize "uniting"—a fugue with intervening canonic episodes unwinds into spiraling, two-part canons.
Part IV. Celebrating [Variations IX-XIII]
The final group of variations is energetic and celebratory, each one becoming more ecstatic than the former, until finally the hymn tune returns in a richly harmonized, transformed version.
Violin Concerto No. 2—On the Nature of Harmony (1999)
Transformations for violin, Balinese gamelan, and chamber orchestra
On the Nature of Harmony is composed for an ensemble consisting of instruments from diverse cultures, which I call a world orchestra. For the concerto, I have brought together solo violin, an unorthodox group of Western instruments, and a Balinese gamelan. The Euro-American orchestral instruments are: flute/alto flute, oboe/English horn, clarinet/bass clarinet, two vibraphones, marimba and assorted percussion, piano, celesta, harp, string quartet, and contrabass. The Balinese gamelan is a gong kebyar-style ensemble of metallophones, gongs, and a reyong (twelve nipple gongs mounted on a wooden rack).
In regard to tuning, the two musical forces of this concerto—Eastern and Western—behave like polar opposites. Recent Western performance practice requires "match pitch," that is tuning in absolute unisons to the tones of the well-tempered scale. Balinese gamelan is an ensemble of instrumental pairs that are de-tuned so that there is no unison or "match pitch" between any like keys within the ensemble. The tones beat against each other, creating a shimmering effect that is a unique characteristic of Balinese music. The paradoxical relationship between Eastern and Western forces raises many questions- "How can these forces co-exist in the same work if they do not share certain fundamental principles of tuning?" And , "What is the nature of harmony that results from the interaction of forces that are so radically different?"
The work is in three movements, each consisting of a set of variations of the spacious violin theme that begins each piece. Throughout the concerto, the soloist takes the role of an individual, exploring "the world" and "the nature of harmony" through the global ensemble of instruments. The first set of variations (Chaconne Variations/Double Variations) alternates and juxtaposes the Western instruments and Balinese Gamelan. Variations of the same tune are played in extremely different styles. In the second set of variations (Canonic Variations), the musical forces begin to merge in a lyrical and expansive music that is contrasted with a quicker, scherzo-like music featuring the woodwinds. In the final set of variations (Dance Variations), the Western instruments and gamelan are synthesized in a propulsive, rhythmic music that continually bursts forth in unbounded joy.
Harmony, meant as "the process of creating right relations between disparate musical elements," is in this work, a celebration of diversity, difference and unity. Here, the spectrum of sound is no longer defined according to a finite group of pitches in a single tuning system. Rather, all tunings are part of one unbounded sonic continuum. While the difference between the tunings is demonstrated through alternation and juxtaposition in the first movement, in the second and third, the sounds of radically different instruments are synthesized to create a new harmonic world. In this sense, "the nature of harmony" is the merging and fusion of opposites through which a new unity is created from diversity.
Violin Concerto No. 3—On the Nature of Peace (2002)
For violin and chamber orchestra
Of the three concerti, the expressive range of the third is the most extreme and dramatic. The first movement, Conflict, begins with a torrent of sound. Three musical ideas emerge from this that are explored in depth: a running figure in the violin solo; an impassioned lyrical theme; and a chain of bold assertions, initiated by the soloist and imitated by the orchestra. As the movement unfolds, these musical materials combine with each other and transform until the music intensifies then literally bursts open as the soloist and two percussionists diverge in tempo and rhythm from the rest of the orchestra. Ultimately the divergent paths of the percussionists heighten the conflict to a breaking point—ending with a crashing halt of urgent ferocity.
The theme of harmonic elegy draws from the progression of chords introduced in the first movement. The second movement, Elegy Variations, is a response to the musical conflict of the first. The mourner, played by the soloist, laments the conflict displayed during the first movement and seeks reconciliation. Resolution is sought in musical terms, through the transmutation of melodies, harmonies, rhythms, and sound-colors.
With hopeful bell-like sounds, the second movement transforms into the third, Reconciliation, without hesitation. Once again, the soloist takes up the primary themes of the first movement, here transmuted melodically and harmonically. Finally, the choral themes resound with a new spirit of bright energy, the outcome of a musical reconciliation process.
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