Length: c. 12 minutes
Orchestration: 4 flutes (3rd & 4th = piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd = English horn), 3 clarinets (2nd = E-flat clarinet; 3rd = bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd = contrabassoon), 6 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, bells, chimes, crotales, cymbal, glockenspiel, marimba, ranch triangle, sizzle cymbals, sleigh bells, tam tam, triangles, vibraphone, wind chimes, xylophone), harp, piano, synthesizer, celesta, and strings
First LA Phil performance: October 25, 2003, John Williams conducting (world premiere)
In writing Soundings, I've tended to think of it as an experimental piece for Walt Disney Concert Hall in which a collection of colorful sonorities could be sampled in the Los Angeles Philharmonic's new environment. The piece is in one extended movement and is divided into five sections.
In the first section, "The Hall Awakens," I decided to begin with four measures of silence in order to, symbolically at least, capture the Hall in its quiescence. The flutes then break the silence by murmuring softly in their lowest register. Horns and brass sonorities follow, and an unaccompanied section of unison strings allows us to test the Hall's friendliness to that magnificent group.
This is followed by "The Hall Glistens," in which a full battery of percussion and fully scored shimmering effects suggest glittering flashes of light that might emerge as the sun is reflected off of Frank Gehry's great exterior "sails."
Earlier, as I admired the Hall and studied its interior, I wondered what it might be like if the building's brilliant exterior surfaces could be sounded and the Hall actually "sang" to us. These thoughts suggested the third section, "The Hall Responds," in which the Hall itself becomes a partner in the music making. The orchestra sounds a vibrant low D, and the Hall reverberates and responds. Three other great sails are sounded as the orchestra, led by the solo flute, sends messages which are returned to us from various locations in the Hall.
In the fourth section, "The Hall Sings," the four great sail notes - D, E, C#, and B - reach their maturation and freely move about the Hall as the orchestra supports them. They eventually ascend and vanish above us as these vibrating units of sound return to take their fixed molecular place in the building structure… at least, in our imaginations.
The piece closes with the fifth section, "The Hall Rejoices," and here the orchestra celebrates with its full voice.
The motivic material for this finale comes from the suggestion of Los Angeles Philharmonic President and Chief Executive Officer Deborah Borda that I write a sequence for carillon bells that would be sounded in the lobby to announce the end of intermission. To accomplish this I've suggested the five "call" notes F#-D#-F#-G#-F# and a six-note group - G-G-F#-A-D-B - that gently remind us that it's time to conclude our conversations and return to our seats. These sequences of notes form the basis of the finale and the piece closes with the Hall itself "chiming in" at the celebratory conclusion.
I feel honored to have been asked to write a work for one of the inaugural concerts in the Walt Disney Concert Hall and a more inspiring subject for music can't be imagined.
— John Williams