Commissioned by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra

  • 2+pic.2+ca.3(bcl)2/4431/4perc/
  • 9 min

Programme Note

Composer’s Note:

In Greek mythology, Helios was the sun god, son of Hyperion, depicted as driving his chariot across the sky from east to west daily. Choros in ancient Greek drama means a band of dancers whose singing, dancing, and narration provide explanation and elaboration of the main action.

Helios Choros I could be described loosely as a 12-minute crescendo. The first four minutes present delicate, sparkling and glistening sounds, introduced by 2 harps, celesta, piano, a variety of bells, string harmonics and string pizzicatti. The music evokes a subtle, playful and ethereal reflection of the vast, subtle array of twinkling, shimmering points, and a gradual rise in rhythmic, dancing energy.

The remainder of the work is high-energy passion, in which blocks of sound-worlds are juxtaposed in an early-Stravinsky-like manner. For instance you will hear a block of chord progressions, and then a block of low register jig-like gambols, and then a block of tunes intertwined. These, and various other sections, crosscut quickly and very gradually coalesce.

It was my aim in this work to write continuous fast, animated music. (Lots of notes!) Like all of my music, this work is based on a very integrated set of musical materials. It is my goal to compose music that remembers and knows the repertoire but also pushes forward in its own voice. For instance, my music remembers what the flute meant to Debussy, what a major third has been in a universe of melodic and harmonic languages, what bells meant in past cultures, remembering forms and textures, remembering processes of narration and drama. It remembers colors, and impulses, and the risk of early Stravinsky, and the counterpoint of Bach, and the melodies of Mahler songs, and the inflection of Ella, and the invention of Coltrane, etc.

With [the Italian composer] Luciano Berio [1925-2003] as one model, my music tries to invent continuities — not to rupture and break from the past — and attempts to do so without being clich&3acute;, nostalgic or sappy. Music's eternal quality is its capacity for change, transformation and renewal.

Helios Choros I is part of a 50-minute triptych of works that will hopefully someday be performed together, on one concert, as well as recorded together on one CD.
The works can be played all together or separately, or any two can be played together.

Helios Choros I is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Sir Andrew Davis, Victor Marshall, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. These are its premiere performances. Duration: 12 minutes.

Helios Choros II, commissioned by the Orchestra of Paris, Christoph Eschenbach conducting, will premiere on December 12, 2007. Duration: 15 minutes

Helios Choros III, co-commissioned by the London SO and Boston SO. LSO premiere in December 2008. BSO premiere date TBD. Duration: 20 minutes.

— Augusta Read Thomas