The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s “Art of the Double Concerto” arrives at Princeton University’s Richardson Auditorium on Friday, May 17. And while the program highlights several rightfully significant European composers — including Bach’s masterful “Concerto for Two Violins” — a very contemporary New Jersey sound will also fill the auditorium, thanks to “Four Iconoclastic Episodes” created and performed by Princeton composer, electric guitarist, and professor Steve Mackey, pictured at right.
When the work premiered in Ireland in 2009 Mackey noted the following about his approach:
“Each of the four episodes was written in response to some music that excited me. ‘Like An Animal’ is a homage to the jazz/rock fusion music of the Mahavishnu Orchestra: changing meters, satanic harmonies, virtuosic interplay between electric guitar and violin.
“‘Salad Days’ was written in response to some African Popular music I heard on the radio one day. The music transformed plucked instruments indigenous to Africa such as the Kora (something like a baroque lute) and Mbira (thumb piano) into exotic electric guitar music. I have in turn tried to transform my recollection (based on one hearing) of the bright staccatos and plucky arpeggios of that music into something consistent with my language.
“There is a song by the band Radiohead called ‘Amnesiac’ that begins with seemingly arrhythmic piano chords. As the other instruments enter the context is clarified and the seemingly offbeat chords seem to “swing” comfortably in that meter. “Lost in Splendor,” is similarly inscrutable at the outset and then becomes clarified by the context. Technically speaking, “Lost in Splendor” is a chaconne in that there is a repeating pattern that runs continuously throughout the episode. However, the subtle shifts and nuances of this multi-valent rhythm slip into the background to become a fragile and restless accompaniment for a tender song without words.
“‘Destiny,’ on the other hand, puts its obsessive pattern front and center, bar by bar throughout. There is something of a big slow 12/8 Chicago Blues feel to the groove but the way the harmony moves in a continuous one way journey through this unchanging rhythm is in response to some of Schubert’s late chamber music that I have encountered in my ‘day job’ teaching at Princeton University.
“Each of the four episodes has its own limited material, distinct personality, and there is nothing shared between them except of course my sensibility with regard to how music should go. Ultimately they belong together in my mind because the particular characters and energy flows balance and contrast one another to create an odd but intrinsically expressive shape. I must say that throughout the work on the piece I was drawn to the archetype of the four seasons: Winter/‘Like An Animal’ — stormy, harsh, merciless; Spring/‘Salad Days’— playful, optimistic, innocent; Summer/‘Lost in Splendor’ — warm, lush; and Autumn/‘Destiny’ — bittersweet.”
Art of the Double Concerto, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University. Friday, May 17, 8 p.m. $20 to $92. www.njsymphony.org