About this Recording
8.559826 - TSONTAKIS, G.: Anasa / True Colors / Unforgettable (Krakauer, E. Berlin, Luosha Fang, Eunice Kim, Albany Symphony, D.A. Miller)

George Tsontakis (b. 1951)
Anasa • True Colors • Unforgettable


Anasa for clarinet and orchestra (2011)

Anasa was commissioned by the Albany Symphony with funds provided by the Music Alive composer residency program of Meet the Composer and the League of American Orchestras.

Anasa is ancient Greek for ‘breath’ but also infers a kind of rest or pause. There is also a ‘breath of life’ sense to the meaning of the word and at the start of the work I envision our soloist passing such a life-giving breath to others around him as they receive it.

The work is in three movements with subdivisions. Doyna is a slow, melismatic introduction, in the Klezmer tradition of beginning a fast and rhythmic song with a very modal and languid melody. It is followed attacca by Pistoli—a quick, dancelike and obsessively repetitive song inspired by Cretan lyra and lauto (traditional Cretan instruments similar to a viola da gamba and lute). The pistoli (pistol shots) interrupt the dancing the way real celebratory pistol shots (aimed in the air, thankfully!) continue to enhance the excitement at Cretan weddings.

The middle movement, Soliloquy, is music more ‘my own’, in the sense that the ideas are abstract and free, but wholly connected to the essences of both styles. Klezmer ideas are implied in tandem with Greek, but manifest only in snippets, too fleeting to identify with any particular musical vernacular. The movement is mostly somber or even eerie. In it, as in all passages, I heard and anticipated the unique stylings of the great David Krakauer and imagined his personal sound as I composed it. I have implored my decades-long friend to add his special interpretive touches in his performance. The centerpiece of the movement is a scurrying cadenza where the soloist’s ruminations are mimicked in close canon by flutes, trumpets and hi-hat until the return of the movement’s opening music.

In the last movement, Bir-Zirk! I thought to ‘give David what he wants’. ‘Zirk’ means ‘circus’ in Yiddish and I know that David has admonished me not to think of Klezmer as circus or flippant music. Nor do I think I do—but in this case the outrageousness of the frenzy becomes a tool—a vehicle of excitement and exuberance to underscore the entire whole, the ultimate seriousness of both life and breath.

True Colors for trumpet and orchestra (2012)

Like Anasa, True Colors was commissioned by the Albany Symphony with funds provided by the Music Alive composer residency program.

The work is in two parts, the first acting as a short prologue to the substantial second movement. In Echoing the orchestra and, particularly, the orchestral brass echoes and sustains what might be heard as familiar trumpet ‘fanfare’ motifs of primary harmonic colors. The treatment engulfs the motifs in harmonic layering, close canon and long residual sustaining of the brief harmonic cells created by the figurations as the texture gathers coloristic density. Interspersed are two passages of a more ethereal chain of rising notes, creating more piquant, pastel harmonies as they evolve. The movement ends in a pyramiding crescendo, which is cut off by the solo trumpet—beginning with a new three-note descending figure which will play a part in the main, subsequent movement.

Magic Act is jazz-tinged throughout, beginning with a lazy, falling 3–2 suspension figure as an introductory ‘logo’. The muted solo trumpet outburst that follows—a surging, upward arpeggio—announces the opening of the ‘main event’. The musical terrain begins with a kind of free rhapsodic ballad then onto a rolling jazz harmonic progression, where the head capitalizes on the aforementioned three note descending figure. The coda of the movement follows after the chordal dynamic climax of the progression. It is a broad, deliberate B–A–C–H figuration (beginning on the D sharp from the previous B major) which leads to the optimistic and somewhat majestic ‘feel-good (and truly American) ending’. A brief postscript ends the work, with a refrain of the movement’s opening 3–2 suspension figure, melting into a soft, all-brass chord.

The title has a double, if not triple, entendre. First, there are the true colors of the harmonic motifs—primary colors which will blend to make secondary and tertiary musical colors, just as red, yellow and blue blend to form all the possible colors. This is the way I have always thought of music—in terms of melody, harmony and texture. Complexities are created by blending primary harmonic colors—so there is no historical prejudice for any possible use of color at any time. There is, therefore, no atonality but all are a mixing of ‘innocent’ colors. This work shows my own true colors as a composer, and quite unabashedly

Additionally, there are the true, affirming colors of the trumpet and its cohorts in the brass family, which connects to a story I was told by our soloist, Eric Berlin. Through a timely experience, Eric may have discovered his own true colors after he insisted that his parents buy a trumpet that was offered at an auction house. In my opening three note motif and at other times during the piece, I sought to capture the magic of such a moment of epiphany: young man meets his true instrument.

Unforgettable for two violins and orchestra (2009 rev. 2013)

Unforgettable was commissioned by George Soros for the dynamic violin sister duo team of Jennifer and Angela Chun and premiered by them in Aspen, with Peter Oundjian conducting. I later revised the work for the 2013 Albany Symphony performances, adding some music to the finale as well as adjusting some of the soli writing.

The first movement begins with a violin duet which might seem to be an isolated phrase of nostalgic longing, left suspended and unfulfilled, with bell-like bass tones creating a ‘dot, dot, dot’ effect. There follows a phantasmagorically changing musical landscape indeed, which ranges in mood from serenity to almost frightening and propulsive gestures, then to simple and soothingly mantra-like phrases of Eastern meditative repetitions over deep pedal tones.

The second is a playful leapfrogging between the two violins, somewhat ‘competitive’. The quirky start melds into a lyrical flow—a gentle waltzing together, still trading, but with a new musical gesture. The movement builds to a bit of a ruckus before returning to the same gently traded gestures, in reconciliation.

The work’s finale begins with a buoyant, Baroque-ish bass line inspired by, but very different from, Bach’s famous double concerto. The atmosphere evolves into a more contemporary and softly undulating melodic jazzlike ballad, accompanied by, mostly, muted brass. There follows a two-tiered climax before the work descends, ironically, to the initial nostalgic (and now, somewhat spiritual informed) ‘logo’ that began the work.

My choice of title is more imbued with irony than any other musical references, not unlike my chamber orchestra work, Clair de Lune. I sought to give the iconic titles a reborn meaning, i.e. my own.

George Tsontakis

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