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Celebration Overture (1999)
for chamber orchestra
Written in celebration of the 48th Anniversary season of the Chicago Chamber Orchestra, Edward Benyas, conductor
Premiered in September of 1999
Program Notes: [Original program notes were lost, so these notes were written over 10 years later]
In the fall of 1999, I was contacted by my good friend Edward Benyas, with a request to compose a new work to celebrate the 48th anniversary of the Chicago Chamber Orchestra, for a concert he would be conducting. There are three things that pop up in my head when I think back to his requests during our phone conversation.
1) The piece needed to be completed in roughly 2 weeks, 2) please feature the timpanist, and 3) really? a piece to celebrate the 48th anniversary?
The first request needs very little explanation – it was hard and furious work, but was completed on time. I have very fond memories of sitting on the porch of a cabin in Northern Michigan, overlooking a lake, while writing this work.
The second request was amusing to me. The timpanist for the concert was also a mutual friend, and it was already known that in order to play the concert, he would be driving hours from one gig, unloading timpani, then driving elsewhere, playing another job, then driving back to the first, playing, reloading timpani, etc… In other words, could I please reward him with a good part for all of the extra hassles he’d be going through just to play the concert.
The 3rd request, once I got over the initial why’s and really’s, presented a rather fun challenge and inspiration. Puns and symbolism have always been a part of my “game” when writing music, and so I took advantage of whatever I could with the number 48 (or 48th) when composing this piece. For example, the piece opens with a flurry of 40 eighth-notes in the strings (I was going to go for 48 notes, but it didn’t work, so I settled for forty 8th notes instead). Additionally, the harmonic structure of the piece is almost entirely built upon a minor 7th chord; this is because when one counts up 4 semi-tones from the root of the chord, and then another 8, the resulting notes spell out most of a minor 7th chord. [Example: C up to E-flat, and then again up to B-flat]. Lastly, the one of the main themes is a very catchy tune written to the time signature of 4/8.
Of course, all of the games and symbolism are fruitless unless the piece stands on its own musically. This is first and foremost with every piece I write, and I am pleased to say that this piece was a joy and honor to compose, and to present to the Chicago Chamber Orchestra for its premiere that September of 1999.
I was unable to make the premiere concert, but I am told that the timpanist was in rare form when performing the piece!
On March 4-5, 2011, the piece was performed by the Lake Forest Symphony, under the direction of Alan Heatherington, as an “honorary re-dedication” to the city of Lake Forest, IL, in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the city.
Jim Stephenson, August, 2010