Instrumentation: Full Orchestra
Duration: 8 minutes
Year of Composition: 2015

About the work:

Brastri per Celindano was written in May 2015 at the request of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory for its orchestra. The work is driven by a constant re-examination of material, wherein antitheses are treated as possibilities, and sometimes even necessities. The work begins with layers of ensembles, long held notes, unaligned, with occasional short chordal interruptions. Gradually, the music focuses on a single chord and the bursts become single notes, a growing layer of activity over the single harmony that is being passed around and colored by the orchestra. In essence, these single attacks articulate a semiquaver grid, and as a fuller orchestra returns with chords, they articulate each semiquaver of the grid. Rhythmically, nothing can step outside of it for most of the work, but the grid is called into question at a climatic moment toward the end of the piece where it breaks apart and the presumed rigidity (and familiarity) of the semiquaver grid dissolves into a disjointed stumble of attacks.

The harmony follows a similar path to the rhythm. In the beginning when the music seeks its form, the harmony is rather dissonant. But this dissonance is actually the result of layers of chords, themselves fairly consonant. So, once a single chord grows out of the tumult, a more consonant environment results. These harmonies are actually taken from spectral analyses of oboe multiphonics, which I was using simultaneously in another piece that included oboe. The most consonant moment is at the conclusion of a passage featuring piano. It is a cadence on an A-flat dominant 7th chord. It was a strange place to find myself while I was composing the work. That we arrive there made perfect sense to me. But staying there was impossible. Hence, I counter this cadence and its pleasantness immediately with twelve-tone chords using the full orchestra at fortissimo. It is perhaps the most dissonant and aggressive moment in the work.

Back to the grid. It is perhaps most clearly articulated at a striking moment of stasis: the full complement of strings playing col legno battuto (tapping the string with the wood of the bow) in semiquaver rhythmic unison. With its noise, stillness, and repetition, this moment moves us from music toward machine. The work has flatlined. It's a moment of reflection and reconsideration, and the prayer is led by the tuba, unassumingly spinning a small melody by snatching notes from instruments that return to the earlier single attacks. Others catch onto this idea and soon there is a collection of melodies in wind and brass instruments. They grow, but as has been shown throughout the work: things fall apart as easily as they form. The rhythmic grid temporarily collapses, but from the rubble, it reappears with col legno battuto in the violas. And it is with us until the end, where a twelve-tone chord returns - this time building and fading gentle in the strings - and the oboe sings my one-note homage to Varèse and his Octandre.

While the title sounds Italian, it means nothing. (I know no one with the name Celindano.) Instead, it is derived from the families of instruments and instrument names found in the work: (Bra)ss, (stri)ngs, (per)cussion, (Cel)este, w(ind)s, and pi(ano).


Performance by the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra on 6 November 2015 with Jason Lai conducting.