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for orchestra and (optional) chorus
Many Optional Performance Practices:
– With Chorus, Segueing into Beethoven 9.
– No Chorus, Segueing into Beethoven 9.
– With Chorus, not segueing into Beethoven 9.
Text: Extracted from poems of Friedrich Schiller and Dick Stahl (used with permission)
Quad City Symphony Orchestra/Chorus, conducted by Mark Russell Smith
Choral director is Jon Hurty. World Premiere Performance.
In late 2014, I was contacted by (Executive Director) Benjamin Loeb to write a new work to help celebrate the 100th anniversary season of the Quad Cities Symphony Orchestra. The piece was to precede Beethoven’s monumental 9th symphony, and was to use the same instrumental forces. I have had many of the same requests – writing works to coincide practically with the major work already scheduled for performance. This being the case, I wanted to stretch myself a bit to see if I might be able to come up with something different, a new take on the existing format…
I began thinking of the text of Beethoven’s symphony, and it’s focus on brotherhood. Almost at this same time, there seemed to be more political and racial unrest in the world than usual, and an idea began to unfold in my brain. I decided that the orchestra and chorus would play/sing entirely in unison, using octave displacements as needed, but otherwise never using a single note of harmony. This would represent the “brotherhood” aspect; in other words, all members of the orchestra/chorus would have to take full responsibility to their part of the process, so that a cohesive whole could be achieved. I used the orchestra in an imaginative way, sprinkling colors and various instrumental timbres throughout the score to achieve sonic interest. The symbolism is obvious, of course: everyone working together, regardless of color or (orchestral) family history, in an effort to “all just get along”.
The text is taken from Schiller’s famous poem – used by Beethoven – and also from the Quad Cities’ own local poet, Dick Stahl.
The title – A-ccord – is of course symbolic again of the effort to all exist in unison. It is also a pun on “A chord” – which is how the Beethoven 9th symphony opens. If this piece is to be performed before the 9th symphony, it is meant to be played attacca into the opening bars. It can also be played as a stand-alone work – with no chorus – and if so, should start at Rehearsal B, and finish with the “short ending”.
There is no doubt much difficulty to an orchestra playing entirely in unison, especially at the tempo indicated. Much emphasis should be placed on entrances that sneak in and out seamlessly (in the softer dynamics especially), and that everyone “jumps on and off the train” without impeding the progress. The “whisper softs” are especially crucial, as I believe there is almost nothing more special than an almost inaudible sound coming from a large group of musicians. (the color of sound being created by numbers rather than individuals sticking out). If any bowings need
to be changed in order to achieve this soft unison, by all means, make the changes necessary.
James M. Stephenson
January 21, 2015