• Gunther Schuller
  • Encounters (2003)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)
  • Jazz Band: 5 reeds, 4 tpt, 4 tbn, dmkit, egtr(gtr), 2 db; Orchestra: 4(2pic,afl).4(2ca,heck).5(2Ebcl,alto cl,2bcl,Bbcbcl).asx.4(cbn)/6.4+bass tpt)3+btbn.2/5perc/2pf(1/4-tone apart).cel.2hp/str
  • six voices [opt], alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, trumpet
  • 23 min 30 s

Programme Note

Composer Note:

One doesn’t have an opportunity very often (if at all) to write a work for a “symphony” (classical) orchestra and jazz orchestra (“big band”). My earlier Third Stream pieces in the 1960s were either composed for one or the other, or for a classical group with jazz soloists (e.g. Modern Jazz Quartet). I must say that the chance to write for the two just-mentioned types of orchestra was most inspiring, to the point that it caused me to write various things (gestures, phrases, instrumental combinations, “classical” ideas played by jazz musicians and vice versa, etc.), that is, musical ideas which A) I would probably never have thought of had I only had one or the other orchestra at my disposal, and B) ideas which I could only have had if both types of orchestras and musicians were available to me. This can be taken as an example of what can happen in the present musical landscape—label it “Third Stream” or “World Music” or “Fusion” or whatever—where different stylistic/linguistic traditions now coexist cheek by jowl, and are beginning to fraternize with each other as they did not (or could not have) in the past.

Similarly, within the “classical” scene one is usually limited—mostly by economics and schedule limitations and other factors—to stay with the standard mid-19th-century instrumentations. After all, the early 20th-century days, when Mahler or Strauss or Schoenberg could without the slightest hesitation ask for eight horns (even 16 “every once and a while”), tubens, quadruple winds, two or three harps, Heckelphones, contra-clarinets, etc., are long gone now. In Encounters I have asked not only for alto flute and two English horns, but also for bass oboe (or Heckelphone), alto clarinet, two bass clarinets, contrabass clarinet, also several times soloistically isolating special sonoric groupings within such an expanded aggregation of woodwinds. Predictably, such a lavish instrumentation—some 145 players (including the jazz group)—will not be looked upon kindly by the average orchestra manager or conductor. My Encounters will probably lead a rather lonely future existence, regardless of its intrinsic quality.

But never mind! For the moment, the piece offers a very rich tapestry of musical shapes and designs, of a wide spectrum of colors, of unusual textures, as well as, of course, the confluence—in differing and varied ways (i.e. separately and/or conjunctly)—of freely improvised as well as fully notated, through-composed music.

Encounters is in four movements, which, however, are played without interruption, each movement eliding smoothly with the next. The character of each movement will be clear to the attentive listener even on a first hearing.

In Movement I the jazz elements sneak in very gradually, almost unnoticed, with both brass sections sporting different sound-softening types of mutes. The movement’s brief climax elides suddenly with a Scherzo (II), the first half of which is played by the single “classical” orchestra, the second half by the jazz group, and finally both orchestras together.

A slow movement (III) ensues, filled with shimmering mysterious sounds, and sometimes ominous, eerie, creepy sounds in the lower woodwinds and the two pianos tuned a quarter-tone apart. Once again, the jazz orchestra takes over, but now in double tempo. All manner of improvisations take place, including one in which all 18 members of the jazz orchestra participate simultaneously. Several climactic highpoints—what I call “organized chaos” —lead eventually to an extended relaxation of tension in the movement, and to a quietly “prayerful” phrase in the strings, an amen in the two pianos, and thence to Movement IV.

Over a long pedal point, embellished with all manner of strange rumbling sounds, a theme heard first in the contrabass clarinet leads the music gradually to a gigantic chromatically complex C Major. The ending had to be written out on a total of one hundred staves and two adjacent pages.

—Gunther Schuller

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