Concerto for Orchestra

ENS.2019.4 | 19′
Large Orchestra:


I. Red Brick

II. Black Mountain

III. White Clay

Concerto for Orchestra

For large orchestra in three movements, my Concerto for Orchestra takes its movement titles from the memoir Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay by Christopher Benfey, a discursive journey through the variegated artistic byways of the writer’s family, and highlights the unique features of the orchestral wind, string, and percussion families.

Red Brick, for woodwinds and brass, takes its coloration from folk pottery and the intricate patterns of bricklaying. The vermilion orchestration of woodwinds and brass sketches rough interlocking patterns as homophonic shapes gradually split into dense polyphony.

Black Mountain, for full orchestra, is a portrait of married artists Anni and Joseph Albers, the former perhaps the twentieth century’s greatest textile artist, the latter a famous teacher and theorist of color. As leaders of the legendary Black Mountain College in North Carolina they facilitated one of the great incubators of revolutionary midcentury talent, its faculty and students including John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Charles Olson, and Buckminster Fuller, among many others. Like Anni’s textiles and Joseph’s “Homages to the Square” this movement sets vast blocks of single colors against one another in massive slabs. At the center of the movement the percussion enacts Black Mountain itself rising from within the ensemble, or perhaps thrust insensibly there from without.

Delicate porcelain is formed from a rare White Clay, and the final movement, for the alabaster combination of strings and percussion, was inspired not only by the exquisite artistry of porcelain but Benfey’s marvelous digressions through history and anecdote. The final section of his book for instance follows 18th century American explorer William Bartram into Florida, whose Travels were a major source of inspiration for Romantic poets and novelists, most famously Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose Kubla Khan draws heavily from Bartram, meandering like White Clay from wood and dale to mighty fountains and dancing rocks, the violence of nature suddenly encroaching on the work at the end in one final dramatic coup de theatre.