I'm currently on the home stretch of my piece for the wonderful organist Christopher Houlihan, and it's coming along well! The premiere is July 2 in Hartford, as part of the New England/New York AGO convention. He's going to be playing it shortly thereafter in South Carolina, too, for all you southerners out there.
The title, Steel Symphony, is born from two things: the fact that it's based on metal sculptures from the deCordova Sculpture Park & Museum in Lincoln, MA (where my wife and I just moved (be on the lookout for adoring blog posts down the road w/r/t this)), and that the piece is in the tradition of the organ "symphonies" of composers like Widor, Frank, etc.
I'll just touch briefly on each movement to give you an idea of what's in store.
I. Putto 4 over 4
The American sculptor Michael Rees utilized a whole slew of technologies in creating this crazy-looking thing, and the end result is equal parts adorable and terrifying. A twelve-foot tall creature composed of cherubic feet and spindly fingers, Putto 4 over 4 stands mid-strut, frozen in place but full of kinetic momentum. The music for this movement is based on an imagined scenario: after the park lights turn off, Putto 4 over 4 stretches its legs and begins to roam around a bit.
It starts with a jolt of energy:
Then, creaking and groaning, it begins to untangle itself (in the form of a passacaglia growing gradually more complex):
Eventually, it takes off bounding through the sculpture garden:
Dewitt Godfrey's Lincoln, a truly massive assemblage of COR-TEN steel tumbling down the hillside from the museum to the road below, is an inspiring sight to behold. It's a series of self-similar, roughly cylindrical steel barrels, essentially. It begins and ends with piles of one or two tiny barrels, progressing towards and then away from the larger, more complexly-arranged stacks in the center.
This movement's music is from the perspective of someone walking the length of the sculpture from the top to the bottom, and follows the complexity/density of the work quite closely. It starts with a simple, geometric, sparse pattern:
Which gradually accrues weight and momentum:
Not to mention complexity:
It eventually works its way to a polyrhythmic climax before winding back down again to the sort of material with which it started.
III. Armour Boys
Armour Boys, a series of five bronze figures in the forest by the British/Welsh artist Laura Ford, is a haunting tableau that you only find by leaving the walking path at deCordova and wandering into the woods. The figures are the size of young boys---maybe ten years old---and they're covered in crumpled knight-in-shining-armor costumes. Each is splayed out; some on their bellies, some against the trunks of trees, etc. I think the thing that hits me the hardest with this piece is that, due to the face-masks on their helmets, you can't tell if they're asleep or dead. They could just be snoozing after a long day playing war games in the woods in their Halloween costumes, or they could be child soldiers conscripted into some sort of ancient army, laying abandoned in the woods.
This movement is still somewhat in progress, but the ideas have been ironed out (as well as the first few minutes' worth of musical material). The musical perspective of "Armour Boys" is that of the boys themselves, whether or not they can actually hear anything. The idea is that an anthem of some sort---perhaps religious, perhaps nationalistic, perhaps somewhere between the two---is playing far off in the distance, obscured by the trees and the leaves and the haze of a hot summer afternoon.
Here's a little snippet of that texture (the top staff is the swell, which is only about 10% open, and it's 8va):
As the movement progresses, the dissonant "haze" become more concrete, and the texture becomes a little nightmarish (this is very much pre-final, so the spacing issues will be remedied once it's mostly done (and I'll add articulations, slurs, etc.)):
And then, somehow, I've got to end the thing. I've got ideas---we'll have to see which one wins out. The piece is set to be sent to Mr. Houlihan in early May.
I got to meet with Chris (who happens to be a great friend of mine from college, and someone I've been looking forward to working with again for a quite a while) a couple of weeks ago, and we ran through some of the sketches on the instrument on which it'll be premiered in July (after the installation of a new console, among other things). Our mutual friend/mentor/teacher, John Rose, who's been an enormous influence on both of us, was there to snap some pictures:
Hope to see you in Hartford!