Chamber Symphony: Illusory Airs

INSTRUMENTATION
Flute
Oboe
Clarinet
Bassoon
Horn
Trumpet (doubles flugelhorn, ad lib.)
Trombone
Tuba
Percussion (one player):
Glockenspiel
Large, low sounding ratchet
Trap Set:
3 tom-toms
Floor tom
Snare
Suspended crash cymbal
Kick drum
Mandolin/Banjo/Guitar (one player)
Piano
2 Violins
Viola
Cello
Double Bass
Composed between October and December, 2006 in Clinton, New York and Guaynabo, Puerto Rico
for Great Noise Ensemble. Premiered by Great Noise Ensemble on May 18, 2008 at the National
Gallery of Art. Previewed by Great Noise Ensemble at the second annual Capital Fringe Festival (July
25, 27, and 29, 2007), Armando Bayolo, conductor and by the Society for New Music, James Tapia,
conductor in Syracuse, NY (October 16 and 24, 2007).
In the fall of 2006 I was teaching a course on the history of the symphony from its origins in Italian opera through to its
apparent decline and transformation in the late 20th century. The process of teaching this course led me to want
to engage the symphonic tradition for the first time since my student days. Unlike the two symphonies I wrote as a
student, which approached the symphonic tradition from an early 20th century perspective
informed by Mahler, Shostakovich and Sibelius, the Chamber Symphony seeks to engage
this tradition from a contemporary perspective. It is scored for a sixteen-piece chamber orchestra rather than a traditional
symphony orchestra and a lot of the ensemble writing is lithe and virtuosic, meant to showcase the abilities of the
Great Noise Ensemble, for whom the work was written.
The “Illusory Airs” of the subtitle refers to a melody which, while providing the basis for all of the melodic and
harmonic material in the entire symphony, is never fully heard in the piece. In this way, the Chamber Symphony evokes the
ways in which we are increasingly connected to people throughout the world through
wireless communication and the internet while at the same time remaining surprisingly and
increasingly isolated from one another in physical space.
The first movement, “Hastening Spells,” is primarily concerned with a process of pulse
acceleration while maintaining an even tempo throughout. The result is a piece of increasing tension as events occur at
progressively hastening rates. This gives way, without pause, to a more lyrical movement, “Chanson oubliée” (forgotten
song) which presents a transformation of the “illusory air” at the symphony’s core. The effect is of hearing a melody
at once new and familiar. Throughout this “forgotten song” the percussion, guitar
and piano, which throughout the symphony work together as a rhythm section, provide bell chords which serve as a ground
bass for the evolving aria.
The title of the finale, “Lieto Fine,” refers to a specific type of symphonic finale typical of
18th century symphonies. These are the traditional “happy endings” of Haydn’s,
Mozart’s and Beethoven’s major key symphonies and are traditionally lithe and vibrant in
character. The term here is meant somewhat ironically as the apparent joy prevalent in the movement’s rhythmic vitality
is obliterated by the return of the first movement (itself a move reminiscent of 19th century symphonic models, particularly
Brahms’s Third Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony), after which the finale
cannot return to the mood of careless abandon in which it started, despite the valiant efforts of the woodwinds and rhythm
section and the symphony ends in a lonely, unresolved note.

Chamber Symphony: Illusory Airs

by Great Noise Ensemble | Guerrilla New Music

https://www.amazon.com/Guerrilla-Music-Great-Noise-Ensemble/dp/B00HB917KU