Viola Voilà...


As far as the viola in my life goes, this is it… getting to write for a select10 of them is surely enough but just imagine what 1000 violas would sound like – surely capable of a middle low vibration that could make Yankee Stadium levitate.

Joan Kalisch, since our fortuitous meeting in the class of “60 at the Yale School of Music remained a lifelong friend; with remarkable engagement she lived the contemporary like a natural.  And so , after her vioin studies, transfered most naturally to the viola with innate knowledge,. 

Daniel Goode’s inclusion of my new work in this program  was for me, not only a special occasion to honor the memory of Joan but to embrace this underestimated instrument as composers have continued to do since  Ravel’s times.   The Viola in this sense is the most contemporary of all the string instruments… it automatically locates the music at hand in our time, and in our times.  The Viola by definition is “far out” ne, conceptual -  one could simply place these 10 violas on a table and the audience would instantaneously understand this gesture, this “sound installation” as a piece of music for viola.  Bill Viola himself would certainly understand this.

The music I wrote, like all of my work is autobiographical, it is a portrait of my self in the moment of creating a sequence  of my numerous selves always different always the same -  of composing pleasurable – sometimes “extreme” sounds at the very edges and capabilities of the instrument…. And hence my inclusion of the soprano clarinets and contrabass clarinets available for this concert. 

The Viola itself opens in its very highest register – harsh imperfect unrewarding but supported by two equally screaming eflat clarinets..
They are troping- as if blowing  and scratching metaphors for something, an object, a memory, a lie, a dream, an illumination that had to do with Modugno’s  unforgettable song  “Nel Blu dipinto di Blu” (commonly known as ‘Volare’) which hit our shores in the late 50’s like everybody  here, lived in Naples.  I heard this for the first time while playing in a college dixieland band in a Barcelona nightclub.  Thus the piece begins and my set of selfies leading to a near morbid choral in F something.  (paraphrasing what Fritz Kraber said when I played a part of this for him in Rome last summer – his comments had much to do with the structure of this piece); Yes, and Fritz Kraber’s alto flute “obbligato” for the most part roams at will like  a free spirit as I did on his Lambretta motor-scooter in Rome in the mid-60’s.  Wanting to write slower than Feldman but with triadic longings that   sound distincly dysfuntional.  but all along are the marvelous contrabass clarinets which root these chords in living coral reefs and underwater sub-woofer steam vents.   Stuff happens along the way, for no reason, like the percussionist  with a duck call in his mouth playing two flexitones like a clown at a birthday party.  And some downtown seventies minimalism playing  16th notes on the back of a wooden drawer and a cardboard box… what else? Oh yes, this sections for just the 10 violists  who play a kind of written out inprovisation in 5 quasi canonic groups of 2 is what gives each violist the role of prime soloist, in what probably sounds like a free-group improvisation -  before receding into the collective sunset harmonies.

Alvin Curran, Rome, Sept. 22, 2014

(premiered October 9, 2014 in New York by The Flexible Orchestra)

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