When the pandemic hit, the Nancy and Barry Sanders Composer Fellows changed course from writing large chamber music projects to writing solo etudes for LA Phil musicians. Hear Jagged by Alex Hurvitz performed by Ben Ullery.
The unexpected assignment to write a solo viola etude in very short order for the LA Phil seemed at first a formidable challenge. I had never written for the instrument before. Yet I find its textures very expressive and beautiful. And unlike wind instruments, it has one advantage that I love. It’s capable of playing double stops. While looking for solo viola pieces to inspire me, I came across the fifth movement (“Lamento”) of György Ligeti’s Viola Sonata and Paul Hindemith’s Viola Sonata. I loved the contrast between how random and dissonant Ligeti’s sonata was compared with Hindemith’s more resolute and somewhat tonal treatment. This convinced me to construct a piece tilted between uncertainty and certainty and trapped between the two. I began by writing a pool of several different compositional ideas. I then shifted and merged them into what became unusual, highly unpredictable patterns. Whenever those verged upon an actual melody, my next goal became to plunge my listeners once again back into uncertainty. Composers often seek readily identifiable form. My style here consisted of welcoming the disorganized, since I was experimenting with how unpredictable an idea could become, and how long I could keep that going before reaching a conclusion, yet taking away any real sense of conclusion from the listener. I hope you won’t mind.
To learn more about the Nancy and Barry Sanders Composer Fellowship Program, go to http://laphil.com/cfp