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"Elevations" Mark O'Connor String Symphony - New Century Chamber Orchestra

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Published on Jan 13, 2012

Elevations, composed by Mark O'Connor. Performed by New Century Chamber Orchestra; Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, music director.

Interview excerpt from The Strad Magazine and Mark O'Connor about his new string symphony "Elevations."

I only know that the new work is in two movements. Can you tell me a little about its form and character, how you've shaped the music, and the kind of textures and themes you're exploring?

"Elevations" is based on my composition "Vistas" that I composed originally for Yo-Yo Ma and our project Appalachian Journey. Ever since we recorded Vistas in 1999, I had imagined it for orchestra. When I received the commission to compose for the New Century Chamber Orchestra of San Francisco, I thought of an idea for how to extend Vistas to a 2nd movement. So in every sense, Elevations springs from Vistas. The original Vistas conceptual design was informed by the views from my then writing studio and balconies in Southern California that are quite sweeping. I had noticed one day that there are three very distinct views from the balcony, one to the east where the desert begins to reveal itself; one to the north where you can see the distant mountains; and then a view off to the west where the beautiful Pacific Ocean sparkles in the distance. The idea of differences (desert, mountain, ocean) juxtaposed with the application of peripheral vision superimposing differences and in the process becoming one big picture in a giant panoramic view, was principle in the design of the piece. Vistas was a standout on the Appalachian Journey album.

Since the original inspiration of Vistas was to take natural habitats and
use them as metaphoric bridges to human conditions, pressing the point that differences are not that different at all. The concept of simply being on a "different page" of the same journey and in the end saying essentially the same thing all along is the thrust of the Vistas concept and the result of the canonic writing. This was key to the construction of the form. It became evident that the 2nd and final movement of Elevations could develop beyond the inspiration of three habitats, to three groups of people whose dynamic presence for the most part created American culture; Native Americans, African Americans and European Americans.

With a complete recycling of the subject, the ebb and flow of the Vistas theme winds its way in and out of these three distinct areas of human culture, sometimes delving into the language superimposed by the original Vistas theme. As the melody bends and turns, lending itself to each cultural interpretation, at other times the cultural impact of the theme takes place for fleeting moments of time in transition. The original Vistas theme exists now as a journey between groups of people, with the principle strand now representing an anglo perspective. At the end of each melodic statement the final phrase turns to the minor key suggesting the mysteriousness of the Native American to the European settlers and bending the Natives towards
this perspective. A 2nd subject is introduced that is reminiscent of a Scots/Irish reel and this theme transforms, reappearing in a modal quality that is developed into an Indian ritual-like "vocables" with "pulsation." The Native culture bends the theme towards them now. At other times there are significant sections that bring these same themes to the African American culture, adjusting and displacing the canonic trio strands to create a new kind of syncopation that produces phrasing decidedly more like jazz. A jazzy episode is featured with an improvisational-like blues-hoedown with "call and response," rhythm section and "shout choruses," all musical manifestations born out of African American people using the European violin that they fell in love with four hundred years ago.

When I think about music and art, I feel there are three important bridges all artists seek to cross: In the end, we seek to elevate the spirit, stimulate the intellect and strengthen the heart. In America, certainly the beautiful contrasting landscapes as well as the hundreds of years of human cultures cross-pollinating to formulate new musical styles, helped to achieve these ideals.

-Mark O'Connor 3/29/11

The O'Connor Method
Mark O'Connor String Camps
http://www.markoconnor.com
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