for String Orchestra

premiered January 9, 1994
Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, Giséle Ben-Dor, conductor
Sanders Theater, Cambridge Massachusetts

“Thomas Flaherty's three-movement Serenade for String Orchestra (Contention; Lament; Dances) wore its considerable ingenuity both lightly and engagingly. The composer's strategy -- to give "the impression of two or more simultaneous tempos, either through syncopation or polyrhythm" -- results (1) in a kind of busy textural brightness reminiscent of the post-war American Stravinsky School and (2) in something like the hypnotic but "up" quality you can hear in the best of the Minimalists. Flaherty gives you a lot of teasing ambiguities to listen to, if you're so inclined, along with plenty of evidence that he knows what makes string ensembles tick -- his experience as a free-lance cellist in Los Angeles manifestly pays off here. In other words, altogether delightful, and a cinch to go onto the list of 1994's best new pieces. And may its circulation be wide.” [Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston]
– Richard Buell, The Boston Globe


Serenade is primarily about rhythm and tempo. In each of the three movements the music will give the impression of two or more simultaneous tempos, either through syncopation or polyrhythms.

"Contention" is in some ways the thickest of the three. Beginning with a polytonal flavor and progressing to fairly dense chromatic harmony, the piece presents melodic fragments in various tempi; which is the beat and which is the syncopation is not always obvious.

"Lament" is a long arching melody with a constantly throbbing accompaniment. Both foreground and background seem to independently change tempo, but in reality they are following a steady beat unheard by anyone not watching the conductor.

"Dances" is a virtuosic perpetual motion; the steady sixteenth notes are grouped in continually changing and often contradictory patterns. It is mostly diatonic and in fact consists almost entirely of octaves and unisons.

Excerpt from first movement

Excerpt from second movement

Excerpt from third movement