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Length: c. 13 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (2nd + 3rd = piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd = English horn), 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances (U.S. premiere)
Anders Hillborg’s musical background reflects his baby boomer credentials. As he described in a 2006 interview with composer Jeff Dunn: “I came from a quite conventional milieu. I started with pop music. I liked the Beatles and stuff like that. That was my world.” He went on to study counterpoint, composition, and electronic music at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, and has made his career primarily as a composer of orchestral, choral, and chamber music. But he’s never abandoned his openness to all musical styles; his resume includes film scores and even a collaboration with prominent Swedish rap singers.
Hillborg’s work in all genres reflects his primary interest in the element of timbre: “My way into music is through timbre, through sound. I don’t make a piece if I don’t like the sound. It’s not enough with [only] a structure or contrapuntal idea.” It was the study of electronic music that convinced him that any sound can be music – but he realizes that mission through acoustical means. In King Tide, for example, Hillborg calls for an orchestra with a large wind section but – somewhat unusually for contemporary works – no percussion. Yet the manipulation of the conventional orchestral forces creates an entirely unconventional soundscape. Each of the string sections is divided into multiple separate parts: violin I into eight, violin II into seven, viola into six, cello into five, and bass into four. At the opening these 30 separate parts sustain all twelve tones of the chromatic scale in various combinations and intervals: marked as very soft and without vibrato, creating an eerie backdrop for soft rustles that begin in the bass. Over the course of the piece Hillborg alternates and overlaps patterns built primarily from sustained tones with varying dynamic levels or repeated notes to create a sense of ebb and flow appropriate to his subject matter. “I want titles to be as the music,” says Hillborg, and King Tide (a term that refers to the highest tides) realizes the goal through both specific sound effects and a more general evocative atmosphere.
Susan Key is a musicologist and arts educator, and a frequent contributor to Los Angeles Philharmonic program books.