Lights, after the Thaw

Double concerto for clarinet, viola and strings (2019)


Clarinet in A, solo Viola, Strings


30 min


Ricordi (see publisher’s catalogue)


Brilliant Classics 5028421970868 and 5028421960531

Dimitri Ashkenazy, clarinet; Ada Meinich, viola: I Solisti Aquilani; Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor


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

On revealing. Thus, a conversation that begins affectionately, delicately, and remotely addresses a topic (perhaps “the” matter) of a sophisticated exchange of acoustic information, particularly in the treatment of the volumes between the principal voices, viola and clarinet, and the orchestra.

The four movements of Lights, after the Thaw, depict a gradual process, a path to enlightenment (emblematic is the title of the second movement: “It was thaw and little by little gold”), which unfolds in increasing interactions of melody, harmony, and rhythm, according to the character—that is, the timbre—of each performer.

The expansive expressions, a few outbreaks (several sforzato in alternation with the pianissimo), and the lone counterbalance of the strings—or even the clarinet itself, in the middle range like the viola, capable of singing (and thus saying) almost everything… The fastidious conduct of the instruments translates into a handbook on ethics in music: often, in the implicit assertion, “Now, it’s my turn to say,” the threshold of attention is represented by a long-held note, the listener’s drone.

The linguistic reversal of dialogue and monologue, that is, the act of speaking, manifests effectively in the human voice—female, in Francesco Antonioni’s composition—which is mostly non-semantic, vocalised (only at some point, it says: «What if you really look at me…» then, almost mysteriously, merges into the clarinet, as if the verbal substance dissolves—precisely—in a larger, primal womb of resonances), leaving the expression of deeper meanings to pure sound.

As a result, in the finale, it becomes clear that the goal is encounter and recognition: “My river runs to Thee,” the poetry line that inspires the final movement, a river-like flow smoothed out towards a glaring light, out in the open air, with the driving force of mutual understanding.

Composer’s note

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.

@ francesco antonioni


27 March 2017

Genova, Teatro Carlo Felice. [WP]

Dimitri Ashkenazy, clarinet; Ada Meinich, viola;

I Solisti Aquilani. Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor.

27 March 2017

L’Aquila, Auditorium.

Dimitri Ashkenazy, clarinet; Ada Meinich, viola;

I Solisti Aquilani. Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor.

23 March 2022

L’Aquila, Auditorium

Alessandro Carbonare, clarinet; Nora Romanoff–Schwarzberg, viola;

I Solisti Aquilani. Francesco Antonioni, conductor.