... and wondrous strange snow
for solo violin, strings, piano and percussion
2014 | ca. 25 min
 Commissioned by Colin Sorgi and SONAR New Music Ensemble
f.p.: 30 Jan & 1 Feb. / 15, Baltimore Theatre Project, Baltimore, MD, USA (C. Sorgi, violin)
... and wondrous strange snow for solo violin, strings, piano and percussion (2014) was commissioned by violinist Colin Sorgi and SONAR New Music Ensemble as part of a long-term project of SONAR commissions intended to parallel Vivaldi's Four Seasons. In this case, the point of departure was Vivaldi's Winter.
The instrumentation and, at times, its treatment, reflects that of typical Baroque concertos; solo instrument with strings and a keyboard to provide continuo (in this case piano replacing harpsichord). However, this reference is questioned by the inclusion of percussion, bringing the ensemble forward in time, so to speak, into a more contemporary sound-world. In addition to the instrumentation, fluctuations occur (particularly in the second main movement, Icefield) between the full ensemble and a chamber group of solo violin, cello, piano and percussion, furthering the Baroque concerto reference by reflecting the alternation between tutti (or ripieno) and continuo groups. As such, there is at the heart of this piece an undeniably intertextual quality; a mixture between characteristics of the Baroque and 21st Century is ever-present.
At times, Winter's famous passages of short pulsating notes that spread across the strings with such beautiful dissonant suspensions and resolutions, are assimilated into my own harmonic language and appear on several occasions. Augmented by extended string techniques as well as micro-tonal melodic language, the Vivaldi material is integrated into a musical whole that is, I hope, explicitly contemporary, yet implicitly historical.
This type of temporal duality is of great interest to me and is often present in much of my work. But its significance to this piece is perhaps best represented in the source of its title, an excerpt from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Alluding to both the reference to winter, cold, and ice, and to the intertextual Baroque-Contemporary nature, here is a fuller excerpt: "Merry and tragical! tedious and brief! / That is, hot ice and wondrous strange snow. / How shall we find the concord of this discord?" (Act V, Scene 1, lines 58-60)
My sincere thanks go to the members of SONAR, and in particular to Colin Sorgi, for their essential part in the creation of this piece. It has been an honor and a pleasure.
R. A. Baker