Power Chords

Program notes

Broken Record, the first movement, imagines an old phonograph playing some colorful popular music—big band jazz, perhaps. The record player doesn’t work very well, however, and we hear the music through a haze of skips, pops, and repeats. (Is that "Oh when the saints …" in the winds?) After a brash orchestral introduction, the soloists enter with a typical "concertoish" bravura passage. The quartet plays a series of swaggering solo statements before getting stuck on a repetitive figure; this leads to a long crescendo and the return of the opening melody. The last main section of the movement settles into D major and reinterprets the opening material. The movement ends with a completely unmotivated turn to E major, reminiscent of the sudden “pump up” endings in popular music.

Settlement is meant to evoke the idea of “settling down”—but it also brings to my mind the image of a desolate, frontier landscape. The music starts softly, works itself into a moderate frenzy, then spends the rest of its time calming itself back down. The solo quartet refuses to play along, however, and emerges to perform a kind of resigned cadenza.

The title of the third movement—Louis Armstrong, in Heaven, Performs a Funeral March for György Ligeti—pretty much says it all. It is a New Orleans-style funeral march, of course, but it has been infected with some Ligeti-esque elements: glissandos, tone-clusters, and limping, off-kilter folksiness. I will be happy if this movement is as fun to play as it was to write!

Instrumentation: Orchestra, String Quartet

Performers: The Pacifica Quartet with the Cleveland Contemporary Youth Orchestra