Linda Shaver-Gleason, Ph.D. Musicologist, Writer, Program Annotator, Teacher

Program Notes

New Music/Living Composers

These notes are from a concert given by the UCSB Symphony Orchestra on June 1, 2011. The program featured works by student composers. To write these notes, Linda attended rehearsals to hear the pieces, then interviewed the composers about specific aspects of their pieces. By making the notes a collaborative effort, the voice of the composer is very much present, but the description aids the audience's first listening, making new music more accessible.

Tonight's concert features recent works by current UCSB students, beginning with Brian O'Donnell's Elegy for the Tonality of Music, written earlier this year. O'Donnell, a horn performance major, says of this work, "It refutes the idea that tonality and romanticism are dead, and attempts to resurrect the heroism and sensitivity that 19th-century romantic music and 20th-century neo-romantic music encompassed." The Elegy starts off soft and somber, plodding along like a funeral march. The French horn introduces a noble melody over tragic violins, offering a bit of hope as it continues beyond phrase endings, resisting resolution. This seemingly endless melody passes to different instruments and through different contexts, including a reverent string chorale with a response from the woodwinds. Over the course of the piece, the mood transforms as the gathering confidence results in an increasingly lush orchestration—yet hints of dissonance and darker harmonies suggest that this new, 21st century manifestation of tonality does not ignore the challenges typically addressed through atonality.

Next are two selections from Emily Gargus's Children's Suite, which was composed in 2009 and orchestrated in 2010. The first, "Child's Play," begins with a constant stream of eighth notes in the celeste that establishes the mischievously asymmetrical 7/8 meter. These eighth notes unify the movement, passing throughout the ensemble as each instrument or section of the orchestra takes turns being "it" in a game of musical tag. A soaring melody begins in the woodwinds; although it sounds innocent at first, over the course of the movement it grows and becomes more nuanced in harmony and timbre until it becomes a grandiose statement from the whole orchestra. The third movement of the suite, "Lullaby," feels very familiar at first, with a lyrical melody and gently rocking accompaniment. Once the brass take the lead, however, the harmony changes in unexpected ways, lending the music an otherworldly, dreamlike quality. The opening melody returns for a moment of reassurance, but Gargus points out that "the beginning material is altered to be much more jazz-like in the harmonization; the trumpet is even muted to really emphasize the jazzy timbre of the section. This effect continues to the end as the orchestra concludes with an unresolved harmony.

©2011 Linda Shaver-Gleason

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