Commissioned by CityMusic Cleveland with support from Mark J. Andreini. This commission is supported by Cuyahoga Arts and Culture with the support of the People of Cuyahoga County. Co-commissioners are: Mark Andreini; Sawsan Alhaddad, M.D; Ryan Glick; Stacey Hightower; Bonnie Ivancic; David Krakowski; Shirley Simmons; Ronald Strauss, M.D; and Audrey Zarlenga
Written for CityMusic Cleveland and Sayaka Shoji
According to Buddhist traditions and some prominent Western philosophers, only when the mind is still can we see the world clearly. Being still, or finding a still mind is the goal of many meditative practices and traditions.
In my third violin concerto, titled Still, I looked to explore these ideas through music. In this sense the piece is quite spiritual in its conception: can one find deep silence and calm in an art form that begins with sound?
As in most concertos, the protagonist of the piece is the soloist. The violin searches for silence and calm in the notes and the phrases with which it is familiar. The piece alludes to musical styes of the past as a symbol of one’s thoughts, as these elements of history make up a great deal of our memories and reflections. The piece is constructed in one movement, which can be divided into four large parts:
- Opening section, in which the soloist and orchestra meditate slowly on materials alluding to mostly Renaissance and Baroque music, with specific quotes from J.S. Bach and Josquin Des Prez. Brief outbursts of energy foreshadow the struggles of the violin to find stillness despite internal and external distractions.
- Fast tutti section in which the struggles of the protagonist grow and take over the soloist’s attention. The violin attempts to fight them with a variety of musical weapons, from technical passages to new allusions to expressive outbursts and familiar harmonic structures. None of these attempts are successful, and, in fact, they only add fuel to the energy and push our protagonist away from stillness. At the culmination of the movement the soloist breaks down and cannot compete with its own ideas, now manifested in the orchestra in a tutti whirlwind that seems to spin out of control.
- In the cadenza, the soloist moves from extreme anguish through its own emotions back to balance and seeking calmness. At the end of the cadenza the soloist abandons all ideas and settles on on its lowest string, symbolizing the violin’s true unconditioned nature.
- A slow finale begins with the orchestra still fighting the soloist. However, the long open G string is infectious in its stillness — soon enough the raucous discord is over, and the orchestra joins the soloist in the renewed meditation. Some outbursts remain, but they begin to abate. In the violin’s own open strings, its natural state provides stillness and calm. As the meditation grows deeper, the notes get longer and softer, and the changes occur less and less frequently until time seems to stand still.