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About this Piece

Composed: 2000

Length: 24 minutes

Orchestration: 2 piccolos, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, piccolo clarinet in E-flat, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 6 horns, 4 trumpets (1st and 4th = piccolo trumpet in E-flat), 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (agogobell, 3 bass drums, bongos, Chinese cymbals, 2 Chinese gongs, crotales, cymbals, flexatone, 5 glockenspiels, grelots, 2 marimbas, shaker, 4 snare drums, 2 tamburelli basci, 2 tam-tams, tom-toms, triangles, 2 xylophones, 2 vibraphones), celesta, piano, harp, and strings

First Los Angeles Philharmonic
performances (U.S. premiere)

Like many others of his generation, Italian composer Luca Francesconi lays claim to multifarious influences upon his musical thinking. Those influences range from the legacy of the kaleidoscopic creations of jazz musician Miles Davis (Francesconi is also a jazz musician) to the sonorous metaphysical meanderings and electro-acoustical productions of German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, from the intricate polyphony of African drumming to the all-encompassing compositional agility of Igor Stravinsky. In addition, from 1981-84 he had the good fortune to be an assistant to the lamentably late Italian composer Luciano Berio (1924-2003), whose own brilliant technique of juxtaposing historically diverse and varied musical materials echoes in Francesconi's works. In short, Francesconi has managed to assimilate a vast array of musical ideologies, compositional techniques, and musical traditions spanning centuries and continents to become a conscientious citizen of the musical "Global Village" of the 21st century.

There are, of course, extra-musical resources that inform Francesconi's art. The fact that his father is a painter has induced in him a keen interest in all things visual; he counts the painters Giorgione and Paul Klee among the most influential. His concern with visual stimulus has led to his creation of a "video opera" Lips, eis Bang (1996). Another of his extra-musical concerns is the contemplation of memory, not only in a musical, historical, and psychological sense, but also as a source for artistic creation, as articulated in his Quattro studi sulla memoria (1989-91), and Memoria for Orchestra (1990).

Which brings us to Cobalt, Scarlet. It is a score in which nearly all the above concerns come to the fore. If nothing else, this work is testimony to Francesconi's consummate craft as an orchestrator and weaver of polyphonic webs. His palette of orchestral colors is astonishing, but there are no avant-garde effects for effect's sake alone. There is an impeccable organicism to the unfolding melodic contour, embedded in orchestral sound wedded to a poignant lyricism that seduces the mind and ear immediately.

Francesconi has denied any great significance to the title. In an interview with Philharmonic Program Designer/Annotator John Mangum, the composer gave the following description of Cobalt, Scarlet:

"The piece is not a symphonic poem… there's no descriptive intention at all. The idea came out in a northern light, like dawn, in which I was watching slow movement of light in a very slow transformation. This gave me the idea of a dynamic time, which is never static, it sort of transforms itself all the time, and I had this image of something which is completely on the opposite side, which is something typical of Mediterranean or warmer climates, in which the sun is a male presence… the first transformation is a sort of cloud melody and harmony which is slowly, slowly transforming, and this is idea number one. Then we have idea number two, which is this huge, violent rhythm that you can't miss. The idea is more about trying to make a process transparent, and it's a dialectic process".

Cobalt, Scarlet came into being as the result of a joint commission of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Gothenberg Symphony, and the Copenhagen Radio Symphony.

Steven Lacoste is the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Archivist.