I began this month with a survey of opportunities to discover new compositions for solo viola through online resources, Between the many concerts I attend to cover for my San Francisco site and the diverse recordings vying for my attention for articles on this site, it is not as if I have to deal with a shortage of material. Nevertheless, like many involved with the performance of “serious” music, I have an interest in those “new voices” (a phrase that has been appropriated by one program to encourage young composers), particularly when they go to some effort to make their work available through the Internet.
Last month I used my San Francisco site to announce a recital of music by Lucas Floyd, one of the students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) who was finishing his Graduate degree. The major work was a concerto for violin and string orchestra, all of whose performers were SFCM students. I was not able to attend the event because of other commitments that day, so I was pleased to learn that the concerto performance had been videotaped and uploaded to YouTube.
While the video work involves a fixed camera and no editing, the listening experience still deserves attention. Floyd is one of those composers who can find new ways to approach lyric qualities without resorting to the exploitation of unorthodox sonorities. While I have nothing against disciplined experimentation, I can still enjoy what might be called a “back to basics” movement that recognizes how much can still be mined from a rhetoric based on thematic materials of melody, harmony, and counterpoint.
Floyd’s concerto is in three movements with the first movement, which occupies almost half the duration, in three sections. These are all specified through descriptive adjectives, rather than tempo markings. The three sections of the first movements are “Pensive,” “Fast, with Thick Energy,” and “Seething.” The second movement is “Breathing, Longing,” followed by a “Wild” conclusion.
I have to say that I probably would have preferred more neutral language, simply because, like many concertos, this is a composition of the exchange of material between a solo voice and an ensemble. Much of the engaging logic of the work emerges through the strategies that enable that exchange. On the solo side this involves some highly expressive cadenza work; but these “focal points” are set into contrast with a keen sense of transparency in dealing with the string ensemble, often coming up with haunting sonorities that draw the attention of the ear with far more seduction than mere descriptive words can muster.
This past March I wrote about Gil Shaham’s project to record the many violin concertos that had been composed during the 1930s. This was a time of great diversity; but it was also a time during which there were composers discovering the ability to express lyric qualities without falling back on nineteenth-century conventions. Following the Second World War, much of that work fell out of fashion, usually for not being sufficiently cerebral and, therefore, lacking an adequate capacity for invention. The result was a flood of compositions that seemed to have more to do with mathematics or physics than with music as a performing art.
The retreat from this stance towards the end of the twentieth century prompted my drawing upon that “back to basics” epithet. Floyd is one of the new composers capable of finding new veins to mine in that “mother lode” of the “basics.” His new violin concerto has much to offer the attentive listener, making this video document well worth consideration.