Crossbow : string concerto for orchestra
by Elliott Gyger (1998)
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Like my previous orchestral work, Deep and dissolving verticals of light, Crossbow bears the designation "concerto for orchestra". In addition to the connotations of individual and ensemble virtuosity, I conceive the label as indicating a work which is not only for orchestra, but also in some sense about the orchestra. The standard orchestral complement, rather than being treated as a given, is taken apart and scrutinized before (maybe) being put back together.
Crossbow could almost be described as a concerto for half of the orchestra: its attention is squarely focused on the string section. This is not to say that the parts for the other instruments are less important, but simply that they are always heard in relation to the strings - whether by way of contrast, imitation, or decoration.
The first of the work's three movements pits the sheer power and rich colours of the winds, brass and percussion against the strings' flexibility and variety of weighting. The string orchestra is divided into three groups of different sizes, opening up the whole range of solo, chamber and orchestral string sonorities. The second movement focuses on these subdivided string colours in isolation: the winds and brass are silent, while harp, percussion and timpani provide a mostly supportive (but occasionally disruptive) commentary.
The final movement, scored once again for the full orchestra, is in strong contrast. Not only have the elaborate string subdivisions disappeared, but the whole string section projects a unison line for much of the time, with other instruments adding layers of accompaniment and ornamentation. In the later part of the movement the whole orchestra begins to come together and play as a single unit, for the first time in the work.
The three movements are cast in a progression of decreasing speed and increasing length. In fact, at a structural level, the second and third pieces are strict variations of the first, stretched out over longer time spans and enriched through the addition of new layers. While these parallels will be far from obvious to the listener, a fundamental similarity between the dramatic narratives of the three movements should be apparent: each proceeds in a fairly orderly, consistent manner until about two-thirds of the way through, when the music reaches a crisis point after which nothing can ever be the same again.
Instrumentation: Piccolo, flute, oboe, cor anglais, clarinet in B flat, bass clarinet in B flat, bassoon, contra-bassoon, 4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in C, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion (1 player), harp, strings (22.214.171.124.3).
Duration: 16 min.
Difficulty: Advanced — Professional.
Winner of Adelbert W. Spragne Prize for Orchestral Composition, 1998 (Harvard University).
- In the form/style of: Concertos
Performances of this work
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