a dark symphony for theremin and antiphonal strings (2013)

(excerpt of live premiere recording)
premiere: March 5th, 2014, University of Pittsburgh
Elizabeth Brown, theremin
University of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Roger Zahab, conductor

duration: 18′

orchestration notes: Two groups of performers sit within sight of a single conductor. The main onstage group, with theremin, should be at least 5-4-4-3-1 strings, but the more the better. There is a lot of divisi. Group ‘B’ is a sextet with 2 violins, 2 violas, and 2 cellos. This group should be beside or behind the audience.

I. Grove
II. Treetops
III. Sapling
IV. Dusk

program note
Arboretum (2013), a dark symphony for theremin and antiphonal strings, is a sonic grove within a forest of audience members. It brings both audience and musicians into a slow sync, the speed of tree-time, with all participating in the theremin’s electro-magnetic field.

Two groups of performers (one with theremin and a larger group of strings, the other a string sextet), are situated as groves within a forest (the audience), within sight of a single conductor. The theremin and the sextet each form the thematic core of their respective groups, playing slowly moving phrases enveloped by intricate orchestration. Music started by one group gradually fades out as the other group fades in on the same music – an orchestration klangfarbenmelodie. The audience’s ears and focus slowly sync to the speed of the orchestration alternation (which is considerably slower than the musical pulse), and they move into tree-time, becoming part of the piece.

Surrounded by its flock of strings, the theremin, with its unearthly vocal quality, further reinforces the hypnotic quality of the music, as overlapping verses in waves and fields slowly mutate through the piece. Throughout, gently moving dappled light drifts over the performers and audience.

“These trees are magnificent, but even more magnificent is the sublime and moving space between them, as though with their growth it too increased.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke

“Why are there trees I never walk under
But large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?”

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass