christopher swist

abaprima for orchestra

Orchestra, 2222 4231 timp+4 harp piano

Duration: 20:00

Composed in Connecticut, 2010-2011

Premier: 12-9-12 Annandale-On-Hudson, NY

Marcelo Lehninger, Bard Conservatory Orchestra

Publisher: composer rental

Some of my best lessons on orchestration came from sitting and playing in the percussion sections of orchestras. During long rests and the many tacet movements, you gain a feel for how ideas and texture are collaborating on stage and in the hall. While playing, you discern how your colorations are interacting with the other instrument groups. Back in May of 2010, I was on a run of performing Stravinsky’s 1919 Firebird Suite with the Hartford Symphony. I was playing the bass drum part (legendary for the “bombs” at the end of the work). Like all percussionists, I knew the piece inside and out and had performed it several times before. However, on this week I found myself really looking at the orchestral forces at work in the 1919 version. The conventional four horns, winds in pairs, harp, piano, and just a few percussion instruments were deployed in a manner that saturated the sound world of the hall. Compared to modern standards or even much of Mahler, this orchestration was seemingly benign. During these multiple rehearsals and concerts, most of the ideas of Abaprima were thought out. I had developed an orchestration, harmonic pitch sets, rhythms, and the formal texture. Of course, aside from the instrumentation and the 20-minute length, the similarities between Abaprima and Firebird would quickly break down.

Abaprima is my fourth work for orchestra and a continuation of my interest in atmospheric development as well as musical logic in terms of serial harmonic structures and extended form. The overall form is A – B – A prime with each section being a relatively equal 6 1/2 minutes. Several harmonic pitch sets completing the 12-tone aggregate are deployed and established in the A section. The slow B section focuses on strings and harp and is certainly influenced by Mahler and Shostakovich among others. There is also a brief homage to percussion and Edgard Varèse in the middle of the B section. The closing A prime section develops the original A section in terms of meter, orchestration, and motivic movement. The piece ends with a final flourish of the original pitch sets and a coda built around two bass drum “bombs” that are the final salute to Stravinsky’s Firebird and his profound inspiration for this composition.

“...a natural for the orchestra. The musicians grooved into it with ease. ... The piano provides an assertive, insistent tempo and the bass gives us a tremolo that builds; the music swells, the strings and then the full orchestra join in, the timpani come into play, there is a joyous sound. The sound was of an orchestra that felt at home with itself and the music it was playing.”

- TMI Arts Page 12/14/12