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Program Note

Viola Concerto #1, "Giants"

Over the years I’ve come to notice many shared concepts and images in the stories which inspire much of my music. One of these common threads is that notion best summed up by the line from Genesis 6:4: “There were giants in the earth in those days” - the implication of course being that there were giants in those days, but not today; they are long gone; the magic is disappearing; the world is getting smaller. To encapsulate this notion, this concerto is framed around a melodic interval which gradually diminishes and draws together; thus, the first movement is built on an ascending perfect fifth, the second movement on an ascending perfect fourth, and the third movement on an ascending major third. This work was written for and is dedicated to Brett Deubner, whose unbridled zeal and diligence in championing new music is a tremendous inspiration.

I. Father Time
The personification of Time as an old man with a long white beard is fairly commonplace, but this movement focuses on one of his more intriguing depictions: C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, in which Father Time is the “giant of giants” who sleeps in the caverns at the bottom of the world, and who wakes only at the end of days to blow his horn and call the stars down from the sky. Here, the giant’s pleasant dreams of the world above are depicted by the lyrical solo viola (accompanied by gently pulsing strings), and it is only after the horn call’s reminder that things begin to grow calamitous. Col legno strings tick ominously away underneath frantic counterpoint until at last a tolling chime indicates that the time has come. The return of lyricism offers a moment of hope, before a trumpet sounds the call again and the world comes to an end in a fiery orchestral tutti.

II. The Golden Harp
Another common thread in our shared cultural mythology is the idea that giants don’t primarily dwell here, in our world, but in some kind of mystical over there, whether it be high on a mountain, or on the other side of a magical river, or, as is the case here, up in the clouds. As our world collapses into disaster, the gently-rolling sound of a harp invites us to look upward, into the castle of a giant who possesses a magical harp which can play by itself. Indeed, as long as the harp continues its hypnotic 15/8 ostinato, the giant remains placidly asleep, but when it finally stops he comes awake and shouts four thundering orchestral syllables (I’ll note only that the first of these, the raised fourth pitch of the scale, is described by a solfege syllable pronounced “Fee,” and say no more). Eventually, the harp resumes and lulls the giant back to sleep, and the movement comes to a placid close.

III. Dance of the Cloud Women

Whether it be the crackling virtuosity of Vivaldi’s Summer, , the frantic energy of Beethoven’s Sixth, or the truly terrifying power of Strauss’s Alpine Symphony, there is a grand history of orchestral music depicting thunderstorms. In stories, there is also a strong relationship between such storms and the supernatural, be it Thor the Thunderer smiting the jötnar with his hammer, Tolkien’s stone-giants hurling rocks at each other through the rain, or Rip van Winkle’s mountain men playing ninepins in the clouds. And while we tiny people have good reason to fear this weather (as brilliantly depicted by these cornerstones of the classical repertoire), it’s always seemed to me that anything capable of causing thunderstorms must find them rather more fun than we do. So this movement is inspired by the idea of a thunderstorm, not as a natural disaster, but as a wild dance party. Rhythmically-driven, with a Balkan-influenced groove, the movement powers along (with a brief calm interludeand playful cadenza) before bringing the concerto to a boisterous finish.

Written by Max Wolpert


Performed by Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra

Linus Lerner, conductor

Brett Deubner, viola

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