Notes by TŌN violist Sean Flynn
Complementing Musical Elements
Cindy McTee’s Double Play, according to the composer herself, reflects her attraction to “the idea that disparate musical elements—tonal and atonal, placid and frenetic—can not only coexist but also illuminate and complement one another.” These disparate elements can be heard in the heavy contrasts between the moods and stylings of the work’s two movements.
A Contemplative Atmosphere
The first movement, The Unquestioned Answer, pays homage to fellow American composer Charles Ives’ work The Unanswered Question. In Ives’ piece, a solo trumpet poses “The Perennial Question of Existence” against a delicate bed of strings and a dissonant woodwind quartet. The Unquestioned Answer presents a similarly ethereal aesthetic, using a variant on Ives’ “Perennial Question” theme that is heard here in a number of iterations by various instruments. The theme is heard both forward and backward, often over a soft bed of strings that move slowly in and out of dissonant harmonies. The contemplative atmosphere makes for a thought-provoking and sonically varied introduction to the piece.
Immediately after, Tempus Fugit (Latin for “time flies”) aims to evoke the fast-paced nature of our current American society, reminding me of the similar hustle and bustle heard in Edgar Varèse’s Amériques, written a century before. The movement opens with a number of percussion instruments that represent the ticking of clocks, which creates a number of complex rhythms before catapulting into the work proper. Listeners will notice a prominent jazz influence in this movement, and may even be reminded of some of the dance numbers of Bernstein’s West Side Story. The movement is quite repetitive in nature, with the groove only stopping to reminisce briefly on the ghostly atmosphere that was heard in the first movement. However, the ticking of the clocks soon puts this reminiscing to a halt, and the quick pace abruptly returns to take us to the end of the movement. Perhaps this implies that the pace of our current age does not often allow us time for reflection or introspection, as we cannot help but be aware of the clock always ticking in the background of our lives.