Lights, after the thaw

Double concerto for viola, clarinet and strings

Duration: 25 min
Instrumentation: Clarinet in A solo. Viola sola. String orchestra
Publisher: Ricordi
Recording: Brilliant Classics

World Premiere: 27 March 2017
Genova, Teatro Carlo Felice.
Dimitri Ashkenazy, clarinet; Ada Meinich, viola,
Solisti Aquilani.
Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor.

On unveiling. Thus, a conversation which begins affectionately, delicately, from a distance, tackles a topic (perhaps the Topic) of a sage – especially in the treatment of volume – the exchange of acoustic information between the viola and the clarinet, which are the two principal voices, with the rest of the orchestra. The four movements of Lights, after the Thaw, are a process, an excursion of revelation (the title of the second movement is emblematic: “It was thaw and little by little gold”), which unfolds in increasing melodic, harmonic and rhythmical interaction, holding fast the character – that is, the timbre – of each speaker. The distended expressions, a few breaks (the various sforzati that alternate with the pianissimi), the solitary counterbalance to the strings – that is, the clarinet itself, like the viola, in the middle range is capable of singing (and therefore, of saying) practically everything... The carefully studied choice of the behavior of the strings is translated into a handbook on musical ethics: often, in the tacit assertion, “now, I’m going to speak”, the threshold of attention is represented by a held note, the listener’s drone. The linguistic overturning of dialogue and monologue, that is, of speech, is perfectly incarnated in the choice of using the human voice – feminine, in Francesco Antonioni’s composition – which is prevalently a-semantic, that is, vocalized (only at one point she pronounces: “if you look at me...”, but then, almost incomprehensible, it becomes confused with the clarinet, as if the verbal body dissolves – precisely – in a vaster and primitive womb of pure sonority), and leaves the expression of more profound meanings to that which can effectively emit only sound.
Therefore, in the finale, the encounter becomes more evident that the purpose: “my river runs to thee”, the poetic incipit which inspires the entire movement, a river- like ow, at this point leveling the path toward a brilliant light, out in the open, with the propulsive force of comprehension.

Sul disvelamento. Così, una conversazione che parte carezzevole, da lontano, delicatamente, affronta un argomento (forse l’Argomento) in un sapiente – soprattutto nella gestione dei volumi – scambio di informazioni acustiche tra la viola e il clarinetto, i due protagonisti del dialogo e il resto dell’orchestra. I quattro movimenti di Lights, after the thaw, sono un processo, un percorso di rivelazione (emblematico il titolo del secondo movimento: «It was thaw and little by little gold», era il disgelo e a poco a poco, l’oro) che si svolge in un aumento dell’interazione melodica, armonica e ritmica, tenendo fermo il carattere – cioè il timbro – di ciascun conversatore. Le espressioni distese, qualche strappo (i vari sforzato che si alternano ai pianissimo), il contraltare solitario a tutti gli archi – ossia il clarinetto, anch’esso, come la viola, dal registro intermedio capace di cantare (e quindi di dire) praticamente tutto… La studiatissima scelta dei comportamenti degli strumenti si traduce in un manuale di etica musicale: sovente, nella tacita asserzione «ora parlo io», la soglia di attenzione è rappresentata da una nota tenuta, il bordone di chi ascolta.
Il rovesciamento linguistico del dialogo e del monologo, cioè del parlare, è perfettamente incarnato nella scelta di fare un uso della voce umana - femminile, nella composizione di Francesco Antonioni - che è prevalentemente a-semantica, cioè vocalizza (solo a un certo punto pronuncia: «se mi guardi…», ma poi, quasi incomprensibile, si confonde con clarinetto, come se il corpo verbale si disciogliesse – appunto – in un più ampio e primigenio grembo puramente sonoro), e lascia invece esprimere i significati più profondi a chi può effettivamente emettere solo il suono.
È dunque, sul finale, più evidente che lo scopo è l’incontro: «il mio fiume corre verso di te», è l’incipit poetico che ispira l’ultimo movimento, uno scorrere propriamente fluviale, ormai spianato verso una luce fortissima, verso l’aperto, con la forza propulsiva della comprensione.

© Federico Capitoni

27 March 2017
Genova, Teatro Carlo Felice. [WP]
Dimitri Ashkenazy, clarinet; Ada Meinich, viola,
I Solisti Aquilani.
Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor.

28 March 2017
L’Aquila, Auditorium.
Dimitri Ashkenazy, clarinet; Ada Meinich, viola,
I Solisti Aquilani.
Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor.

Composers face a bizarre contradiction: they imagine music but produce texts. Other artists deal with their own means of expression: painters paint, novelists write, video makers make videos, while composers draw symbols on paper, or a computer screen. A score is something visual, that has first to be read, then played. Every artist nurtures his imaginative faculties, creative power and inspiration, but the composer’s tools: harmony, melody, rhythm, dynamics, timbres, may represent sound, but they have to be written down or printed, in order to be transformed into music. Such a curious condition often leads to misconceptions. Sometimes I read or hear saying that composers write for instruments. This is absolutely wrong: composers do not write for instruments, composers write for musicians. Real composers write for real people who play an instrument. This is how it is and has always been.

Even if composers do not know personally the musicians they are writing for, they are well aware that someone will eventually play their music. The craft of a composer is to write down music on paper. The craft of a performer is the ability to read the notes and transform it into music, or better said, the potential to become the music and act consequentially.

When a musician has the power to do that, when he is able to transform into the music he reads, he cannot do anything but play it. As Beethoven wrote: «es muss sein», it has to be. The performance, far from being only a matter for entertainment, turns into a necessity. It becomes something inevitable, organic and natural, like a falling drop, or a thunderstorm.

This is why I gave my piece the title Lights, after the thaw. Only after a substance has transformed into another, like ice melting into water, can life spring out, can streams and waterfalls flow. Likewise, only when musicians take the notes and transform them into music, can lights illuminate, transfigure and even change our lives.

I admit I gave Ada Meinich and Dimitri Ashkenazy a difficult task, but I was confident they were more than capable to handle it and treat it with creativity, imagination and outstanding musicianship. I imagined the music inside them and did my best to bring it out. I also tried to figure out the music that could resonate between them, thinking of the two of them as a unity, asking myself how would they relate to each other and how will they confront with the musicians in the orchestra, but more importantly, I considered Dimitri, Ada, the Solisti Aquilani orchestra. under the baton of Vladimir Ashkenazy, a complete and harmonious whole.