Writing a Guitar Concerto
My intention in writing Loneliness and Imaginations was to create a piece unlike anything I had written to date. From the outset, I knew it needed to be for guitar and chamber orchestra, in several movements, and more than twenty minutes in duration: new instruments, new genre, and new form. Naturally, treading through unfamiliar territory presented many challenges to be addressed. How would I balance the soloist and ensemble? How would I keep the music engaging for so long? How would I create a cohesive piece with so many movements?
The most pressing dilemma for me was to create strikingly dissimilar movements that belonged together. Part of the solution was to find what I felt was the right emotional trajectory for the work, the balance of emotive ups and downs that could act like a narrative. The order and character of the movements was always up in the air, constantly being remapped as I composed. It was first in 15 movements, then 6, 13, 5, 10, and only finalized in 8 at the last minute. For months I planned on an exciting, bombastic ending, but it ultimately didn’t fit the piece and was dropped.
Contrast between the movements was designed by using the guitar and chamber orchestra in a variety of ways. For the guitar, each movement focuses on a different technique of playing. (e.g. scales, glissandi, chords, and polyphony). Similarly the chamber orchestra shifts between various roles: an ambient environment of sound around the soloist (II. Filigree and VII. Constellation), a rhythmic accompaniment sharing musical material (IV. Dance and VIII. Loss), a shifting reverberation of the guitar’s sound (V. Proclamation and VI. Interlude), or as a smaller ensemble with soloists (III. Song). The chamber orchestra is absent in the first movement, Meditation.
What ultimately binds the movements together is not shared motifs or melodies, but a trilingual harmonic scheme. Movements rotate through three harmonic languages: noise, atonality, and free tonality. The noise based harmony relies on extreme registers where pitch becomes unrecognizable, and instrumental techniques like blowing unpitched air or bowing various parts of an instrument. In the atonal and tonal languages, pitch cells weave together to connect vertical harmony shared by the movements. The two languages simply differ in how they progress horizontally.
My most sincere thanks and gratitude goes to guitarist Eli Schille-Hudson who premiered this piece and collaborated with me over several months and hundreds of sketches.
Listen to Loneliness and Imaginations here.
Hubert Parry: Symphony No. 4
One of my favorite underrated symphonies from the romantic era.