No Constellation

No Constellation

[performed live by students of the Boston Conservatory; Russell Ger, conductor]
instrumentation :  two subgroups—
–thirteen players (fl/ob/2 cl/hn/tbn/gtr/hp/clst/vn/va/vc/db)
–4 offstage trumpets + 4 offstage percussionists

2010
duration :  21’30”
premiere :  03.20.10 by students of the Boston Conservatory; Russell Ger, conductor | Boston


        No Constellation began as the culmination of a series of pieces I have written over the last two years, all bearing the subtitle “Ecosystems.” The unifying idea behind these pieces is musical development along sonic lines rather than conventional notions of form and direction. In this series I have kept the metaphor of natural ecosystems as a guide. Drama in these pieces comes from interacting sonic material, as well as the relationship between players, instruments, sound and silence.... Tied to the notions of nature are issues of humans’ relationship with the natural world.
        Stars serve as the metaphorical ecosystem in this work. Humans’ relationship to stars is generally symbolic; since we cannot access them, we assign meanings and names to them. This is our way of demystifying the incomprehensible and giving it a manageable allure. The star metaphor plays out in several ways in this piece: for one, the audience is situated in order to surround the audience; for another, the ensemble is often divided into pairs of instruments who claim their own segment of the pitch spectrum. Through these the idea of distance becomes a major aspect of the music.
        No Constellation also contains a folksong, on which much of the pitch material is based. “The Water Is Wide” (also known as “O Waly Waly”) is a song of either English or Scottish origin, dating from at least the early 1600s. It contains three verses, and is ostensibly about unfulfilled love. The significance of the song to this piece is that each verse contains imagery of nature and insurmountable distances. If we regard songs as a way of accessing deep emotional reserves, we can see this as an analogy to assigning names to unknowable mysteries. In this way the song is symbolic of humans’ constantly striving but tenuous relationship to distant ecosystems.