Instrumentation: picc, 2fl, 2ob, 2cl Bb, 2bsn, 2 hn, 2 tpt, 3 tbn, perc, timp, strings
Duration: 12 minutes
Commissioned by: New West Symphony, Bay Atlantic Symphony, and the Hopkins Symphony.
World Premieres: April 25-27, 2014 by New West Symphony conducted by Marcelo Lehninger.
Whether you live in a major city or remote hamlet, at night you probably still look up at the sky in search of stars. We were all child stargazers, and that wonder we first experienced is what I was after in my orchestra piece Cosmic Dust. Nowadays, the Hubble Space Telescope provides images and discoveries that stretch the limits of our imagination. Even when it points at what seems an empty patch of space, it catches the light of over 3,000 galaxies formed at the beginning of the universe! These revelations make the heavens seem even more impossibly beyond human scale and understanding.
But then I heard Rabbi Harold Schulweis talking about mortality, and he put a whole new perspective on our fascination with astronomy. He said that in thinking of our short life span, we lament that we are but dust (we say “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”). But we must remember, he challenged, dust is not only the stuff of earth, but of stars as well. We ourselves come from stars—we are literally stardust, part of this eternal cosmic pageant. So we look up at night because we are drawn to our own origins. We gaze ultimately at ourselves.
Cosmic Dust is a single movement in four continuous sections:
Magic Sky, Shooting Stars, Interstellar Dust, and Nova.
In Magic Sky, I ask the strings to play harmonics (“star music”). They create high bell-like tones by touching the fingers of their left hand very lightly on the instruments. In Shooting Stars, the strings use another effect called ricochet where they throw the bow against the string, almost like skipping rocks over water. This section also features the timpani in more dramatic music. Interstellar Dust takes its inspiration from those incredibly colorful nebulae revealed by telescopes. You’ll hear strings, woodwinds, and brass, each play different chords crossfading between each other. The calm inner part of this section features a violin solo. The final section—Nova—gathers the material from all the previous “star” music and bursts forth in a joyful final fanfare.
Instrumentation: picc, 2fl, 2ob, 2cl Bb, 2bsn, 2hn, 2tpt, tbn, perc (3), timp, strings
Duration: 4 minutes and 30 seconds
World Premiere: February 25, 2013 at Carnegie Hall by Los Angeles Youth Orchestra conducted by Russell Steinberg
With the tempo marking Exuberant, with sparkling energy, a four note motive—A-C-G-D—blasts off on a four and a half minute journey through dance rhythms, shifting meters, darkness and drama, a percussion cadenza, and flat out joy. Carnegie Overture was specially composed as an energetic opening for the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra’s Carnegie Hall debut. It is scored for double winds, percussion, and a double string orchestra.
Instrumentation: picc, 2fl, 2ob, 2cl, 2bsn, 2hn, 2tpt, 2tbn (optional), timp, perc, strings
Duration: 8 minutes and 30 seconds
World Premiere: February 25, 2013 at Carnegie Hall by Los Angeles Youth Orchestra conducted by Russell Steinberg
A disembodied viola melody ends this quiet fantasy for orchestra. That’s the main thing to know about EveStar—that it concludes with violas. The piece was written to honor Los Angeles Youth Orchestra Program Director and Viola Coach Eve Cohen who passed away last November, 2012. Eve was simultaneously our gravitational center and guiding star. As her friend Elizabeth Goodman remarked, “Eve was someone who accepted you completely for who you are—and then tried to get you to play viola!”
All the strings in EveStar are muted. From “the heavens,” violins introduce an expressive chorale that melts into a nostalgic melody, perhaps reminiscent of an old opera aria or maybe a Tchaikovsky ballet. This section in turn shifts to a lighter, faster music marked “like hazy sunbeams in a meadow.” These three types of music—the expressive chorale, the sentimental melody, and the meadow music— alternate episodically. Each hold on to the world, but ultimately let go. EveStar ends in a hushed disintegration of violins vibrating even higher than before, and the violas playing the last notes.
The Net of Indra
Instrumentation: picc, 2fl, 2ob, 2cl Bb, 2bsn, 2hn, 2tpt, 2tbn, perc, timp, string
(may be performed with unlimited additional players of these instruments)
Duration: 7 minutes
World Premiere: Youth Orchestra Day, Pasadena City College with the Olympia Youth Orchestra, the Pasadena Young Musicians Symphony, the Verdugo Youth Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra, all conducted by Russell Steinberg
Youth Orchestra Day premiere of Russell Steinberg's "The Net of Indra" performed nearly 400 musicians by the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra, Pasadena Young Musicians Symphony, Olympia Youth Orchestra, and Verdugo Youth Orchestra at Pasadena City College. The Net of Indra is an Indian creation myth with the inspired idea that truth is revealed in the summation of all of our reflections. The net of Indra is a net of mirrors, each reflecting the other and in so doing creating the universe. This piece is written for any number of orchestra players who may be situated throughout the concert hall. Each of their parts is a mirror that reflects the other. At the premiere, audience members commented how their experience of the piece was unique depending on which musicians were playing nearby!
Sabbath Fantasy No. 1
A festive 9 minute orchestral tone poem that links together classic Shabbat tunes. Scored for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 Bb clarinets, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani, 3 percussion (perc 1: xylophone, suspended cymbal, tambourine; perc 2 castanets, bells, woodblock, clave; perc 3: traingle, wind chime, finger cymbals, suspended cymbal, snare drum/cymbal), Strings
Symphony No. 1 "City Strains"
Instrumentation: picc, 2fl, 2ob, eh, 2cl Bb, bcl, 2bsn, 4hn, 2tpt, 3tbn, tba, perc, hp, timp, strings
Movement 1 CityPulse
Movement 2 NightFall
Movement 3 RushHour
World Premiere:Westchester Symphony conducted by Anthony Aibel March 1999
CityStrains is my musical response to the fast-paced stress and excitement of city life—our great modern urban adventure, if you will. The clashing of different cultures, fashions, appearances, attitudes, architectures...how does it all hold together?
The piece has three movements (fast-slow-fast) and lasts about 24 minutes. The first movement, "CityPulse", evokes the energy and bustle of the day, the traffic, the crowds, all in constant movement. Juxtaposition marks the essential flow of the music as a sunrise of chordal outbursts suddenly gives way to brass fanfares, which in turn dissolve to a motoric hubbub in the strings. The music continually strains to ascend. At one point there is a kaleidoscope of popular styles ranging from Mariachi to Rap to Rock, plus several in-between! Stress ultimately gives way to serenity in the coda as the strings intone a chant in a four part round. But then the movement closes with a startling wink of descending energy.
"NightFall," the second movement, is a nocturne of loneliness inspired by the dazzling night sky and city lights atop Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles. The flip side to living around 10 million people is an occasional sense of overwhelming personal isolation. The movement begins with night sounds that feature the woodwinds. Then the music dissolves into a plaintive melody accompanied by two alternating chords and colored by the harp and celesta.
The third movement, "RushHour," is a wild ride through traffic, a veritable tone poem to this bane of our urban existence:
The morning commute commences with a rousing energetic scramble; but driving over a hilltop suddenly reveals the dreaded panorama of gridlock traffic backed up at a signal; horns, car engines, impatience continue until...Green light! (the stroke of the triangle) and smooth sailing...which lasts but shortly as the familiar stop and go traffic pattern establishes itself; we enter the zone of the "Car Radio Web" (competing car radios blare the pop music kaleidoscope from the first movement )...mounting tempers; a major collision triggers a SIG Alert and other assorted collisions; traffic helicopters and sirens surround the scene; the excitement dies and cars slowly begin to move; a brief coda ends the symphony in a blur of traffic.
Lights On! A Hanukkah Celebration
405: 8 am for Youth Orchestra
405:8AM for Youth Orchestra captures in just 2 minutes the serenity and glory we experience on our daily commute drives, reflecting the gift the city has given all us Los Angeles commuters with its many-year extended San Diego Freeway 405 project. The piece is readily performable by any youth group with 2 years experience on their instruments. Some fun techniques: strings get to play behind the bridge, brass play using just their mouthpieces, etc.
This performance by the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra includes several original sonic contributions from students!
Tears of Kosovo and Missing Violin Tango for solo violin and Orchestra
Instrumentation: picc., 2fl, 2ob, 2 cl in Bb, 2bsn, 2hn, 2tbn, tba, perc, timp, strings
Duration: 12 minutes (two movements plus narration before each movement) or 7 minutes (music alone)
Orchestration of two movements from STORIES FROM MY FAVORITE PLANET: A MUSICAL TRIBUTE TO JOURNALIST DANIEL PEARL. Tears of Kosovo is a nocturnal soliloquy reflecting Pearl's story about Albanian and Serbian neighbors torn apart during the war in Kosovo. Missing Violin Tango is a satiric romp inspired by Daniel Pearl's famous Wall Street Journal story about a stolen Stradivarius violin whose new owner refused to give it back, because it let her new "play in tune." The two movements make a nice pairing, especially when accompanied with the narrated stories.
HEART OF THE WORLD FOR SOLO VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA
Instrumentation: violin solo + 2fl, 2ob, 2cl Bb, 2bsn, 2hn, 2tpt, perc, timp, strings
Duration: 10 minutes
Heart of the World is dedicated to the memory of Raymond Benjamin, husband of Metuka Benjamin, a renowned educator both in Los Angeles with the Stephen S. Wise Temple Schools and in Israel. Ray was a great lover of music and strong supporter of Israel. I remember him as remarkably humble and highly educated. The title of the piece comes from a Hebrew poem by Avraham Ben Yitzhak called “Blessed are they that sow but do not reap”:
Blessed are they who know
their hearts will cry out from the wilderness
and that quiet will blossom from their lips.
Blessed are these
for they will be gathered to the heart of the world...
Heart of the World is about 10 minutes long. The image of a thrown stone creating ripples in a pond became a central idea for me, with its associations of reverberation and disintegration. And in fact, the piece both begins and ends with chords struck in various repetitive patterns to evoke ripples. A simple sad waltz played by the violin becomes the central melody for the piece. The piano develops this melody and turns it upside down in a more impassioned middle section. The violin interrupts several times with soloistic lines reminiscent of Vivaldi. At the climax, the violin soars over a melodramatic version of the waltz until the music ultimately disintegrates back into the ripples with which it began.