orchestra

Premiere: December 8, 2018, Cendrillon à Berlin, Maison symphonique de Montréal, Montréal (Québec)

The inspiration for this piece comes from my childhood habit of watching planes disappear. The ritual starts with our ears being alerted to a familiar sound once it is within earshot, followed by stopping in our tracks and looking up to the sky and following the plane until it disappears from sight. Similar to the habit of listening to the resonance of a note, watching an object become so finitely small that the moment in which we see it and when we don’t becomes an ambiguous and temporally augmented experience. My personal relationship to this ritual stems from having a pilot as a father who died in a plane crash when I was very young. Taking moments of stillness to watch planes pass from view became a way for me to pay daily remembrance to him.

In addition, he was a lover of music, and as a young man wrote in his aerogrammes to his parents about discovering classical music, and in particular the piano sonatas of Beethoven. There are melodic fragments unveiled and embedded in this piece that act as distorted “mirages” of moments of these sonatas, but often pale, muted, and in the distance, as if in memory. To embed these “mirages” of Beethoven melodies, it was important for me to create two harmonic and melodic layers of sound that although not extremely dissonant to each other, are working on different temporal maps, phrases, and registers of the orchestra. The foreground represents not just classical, but jazz, and popular music tendencies from my youth, with a background of these musical mirages interweaving in and out of the first harmonic plan.

Many of the techniques employed in this piece evoke sounds of a plane moving overhead. Solo instruments and sections of the orchestra take inspiration from the Doppler effect of the shift in pitch upward as the sound source approaches and downward as it recedes. Particularly as this habit of watching planes move away from view, the micro and macro pitch gestures of this piece see the sustained notes slowly moving downward by variants between a Major 2nd to a Major 3rd in frequency, and sometimes stratified over many octaves. I also employed several textural techniques within these gestures to evoke the movement and not just the pitch shift of this gesture. From air sounds in the brass and woodwinds, low rumblings in the percussion to textural circular and vertical bowing in the string section, these techniques are meant to evoke this physical aerodynamic movement. The noise generated by this large body moving rapidly through the air, the sounds of the engine, and the propeller. As the plane is flying ahead of its sound, what we see and what we hear are out of sync. Therefore, these gestures are often offset both within sections of the orchestra, like the staggered entrances of the horn section to staggered entrances between sections of the orchestra itself to represent the physicality of the plane itself, and the sonic tail offset in time.

[xi-21]

Performances