for solo viola, cello, and orchestra
premiered January 14, 2006
Cynthia Fogg, viola; Tom Flaherty, cello
La Mirada Symphony, David Stenske, conductor
La Mirada Civic Auditorium, La Mirada, CA
For the past few years, my wife Cindy and I have frequently performed as Celliola, a viola-cello duo, commissioning and performing new works here and across the country. When David Stenske asked us to perform as soloists with the La Mirada Symphony orchestra my first thought was to write something for the occasion, featuring the unusual combination of viola, cello and orchestra. The resulting piece is not a concerto in the usual sense of the word, highlighting virtuosic soloists pitted against or accompanied by an orchestra. Instead the piece is more like conducted chamber music, with the solo parts woven into the texture of the orchestra, playing a trio with a flute here, a quartet with the bassoons there, etc. In fact the soloists should sit with the orchestra rather than in front of it, to help negotiate some rather tricky rhythmic interactions and to better blend with their colleagues.
Listening to early fragments of the composition, Cindy was reminded of a phrase by Gandhi which had sustained her through the terrible days following September 11, 2001: “In the midst of death life persists, in the midst of untruth truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists.” The piece is not programmatic in any detail, but Gandhi's image and Cindy's associations did ring in my head as I continued to compose.
The piece does play light against dark in several ways. The dark viola and cello often play in their lowest ranges, uncharacteristically so for solo parts with orchestra. At other times they soar at the top of their ranges. The harmony and orchestral textures range from dark and densely dissonant to clear and brightly consonant.
Two basic elements can be followed through the music: introductory hammer blows played by the full orchestra and descending scales (in multiple speeds) played by the solo instruments. These two elements and others persist, but transform over time, in varying shades of dark and light.
“In the Midst of Darkness, Light Persists” is dedicated to David Stenske and the La Mirada Symphony.