Break Up Make Up (2015)

  • Instrumentation: solo flt, solo vc, solo pno, 1.1.2.1, 1.1.1.0, perc, harp, pno, 1.1.1.1.1
  • Duration: 17:00
  • Performers: Turning Point Ensemble and Nu:BC, Owen Underhill conducting
  • Commissioned by the Chan Centre for the Arts at UBC

Program Notes

Break Up Make Up exists essentially because two Vancouver groups—the Nu:BC Collective (piano trio) and Turning Point Ensemble (chamber orchestra)—wanted to perform together. They approached me to compose a piece that would place Nu:BC as concerto soloists within the larger Turning Point instrumentation, setting up what is essentially a modern interpretation of the baroque concerto grosso.

Immediately my mind went to the idea of pitting the two ensembles against each other: opposing forces that try to wrestle the musical material away in a sort of tug-of-war. But I didn’t want this to be a one-trick pony, so sometimes the ensembles would have to cooperate too, putting aside their differences and playing together as one big happy orchestra.

That framework allowed me to set up a sort of consonance/dissonance relationship in terms of how well the two groups were “getting along.” It also reminded me of the stereotypical stormy couple: that high-drama, off-again-on-again pair that fights, breaks up, and gets back together repeatedly much to the exasperation of their friends.

Inspired as such by the idea of romantic melodrama, I turned to Liszt—whose music I’ve always hated—but who was perhaps a useful resource in terms of finding musical materials to fit my theme. A dyed-in-the-wool contrarian, I thought why not try to bend the Lisztian zeitgeist to my will? Why not fully steep myself in that uninspiring world of empty flourishes to fish out some kernel that actually resonates, that I can make my own and build upon in an interesting way?

So that’s what I did. The piece isn’t neo-Romantic, and I didn’t quote Liszt anywhere in it, but I distilled the essence of his music as I see it, reimagining and transforming it in ways that make sense to me. It is an homage? A reconciliation? A giving of the middle finger? I’m not sure, but the journey led me into an exciting sound world that highlights the strengths of the concerto grosso format in a decidedly non-traditional manner.