Tuesday, July 18, 2006
The Musical Colors of "The Greater Good"
The colors that Stephen Hartke (composer) pulls from the orchestra are brilliant, which didn’t surprise me at all when I started receiving the score. It seems like a very natural progression from Stephen’s earlier music. There are so many varying timbres and combinations, from a small chamber group to a fairly lush romantic sound. I hear a bit of his recent symphony (Symphony No. 3) in it as well. He’s pursued a few interesting sonic ideas that are a little bit different. When all of the guests are eating with the tuned bowls, he has created a kind of miniature gamelan orchestra onstage. It is both amusing and very interesting to watch the singers “playing” their bowls with the orchestra. There is another very engaging effect where the string players play above the bridge to evoke a specific event in the piece, but I don’t want to give that one away. I’ll just say that it is highly original.
The makeup of the orchestra is what really gives this piece a unique color. In our initial conversations Stephen said he was very interested in tilting the sonority of the piece in a certain direction. He’s written for four clarinetists instead of two. They play everything from contrabass clarinet to piccolo clarinet. The result is this oily color. Much of the time these clarinets are written clustered in the low register, which gives the orchestra a deep molasses sound. The sound of the piece has a tendency towards the dark and interior. I love it. It is a very striking sonority.
1. Stewart Robertson with Caroline Worra (Boule de Suif) and Matthew Worth (Coachman) at the second Sitzprobe.