Orpheus and Eurydice
concerto for violin, cello, piano and orchestra (2006)
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11 November 2007
Symphony Hall, Chicago, Illinois
Amelia Piano Trio (Anthea Kreston, Rieko Aizawa, Jason Duckles) / Chicago Youth Symphony / Allen Tinkham
Mvt. 1 (excerpt):
Mvt. 2 (excerpt):
Mvt. 3 (excerpt):
I. Eurydice and Orpheus
II. Orpheus' Lament
III. Orpheus in the Underworld
IV. Orpheus Looks Back
The first movement, Eurydice and Orpheus, introduces us to our characters and celebrates different aspects of their happy life together. The piano plays the role of Orpheus; the solo violin and solo cello together play the role of Eurydice. The narrative is comprised of a theme and ten variations. The “theme” is really a sequence of chords, timbres, and melodic motives rather than a traditional melody. Much like an overture to an opera, this movement provides the harmonic and motivic language for the concerto / opera to follow. The first two variations feature rolled chords in the piano — Orpheus strumming his lyre. The third variation introduces a melody over the chords; this melody is associated with Eurydice. The fourth variation places Orpheus in the piano and Eurydice in the violin and cello soloists. Variation five fragments the theme, while the sixth variation introduces “added tones” to the chords before the seventh variation blossoms with a clearly-recognizable statement of “Eurydice’s Song” in the solo trio. The good-natured sparring of the couple in variation eight settles into a cozily domestic ninth variation. The movement ends with the trio alone, recapitulating in their purest form the chords presented at the beginning by the orchestra.
The second movement, Orpheus’ Lament, is an aria in the form of a rondo. The trio as a unit portrays Orpheus in this movement. In the first (A) section, Orpheus sings in the solo strings in a pan-diatonic harmonic language of his love and sorrow. Orpheus expresses his sorrow and anger in the second (B) section, moving into the solo piano and expressing himself in brittle, octatonic-scale based music. The orchestra returns Orpheus to the musical language and mood of the first section. A drum enters as he begins getting worked up again. The soloists shift once more into octatonic language as Orpheus determines to save Eurydice from the Underworld. The movement climaxes with Orpheus approaching the River Styx and gazing across into the Underworld.
Orpheus in the Underworld begins with Orpheus strumming his lyre in the piano as the strings in the orchestra portray Charon, singing as he rows him across the river. Orpheus hears Eurydice’s song in the violin, answers her in the cello. He follows the sound of her voice until at last he finds her and they sing a joyous duet over a fervent chorale built from the first movement chords. At this point, the piano is Orpheus’ lyre once more, the violin is Eurydice, and the cello is Orpheus’ singing voice. Orpheus has been warned not to look back at Eurydice as he leads her out of the Underworld. The movement ends at the moment that Orpheus does just that.
The final movement, Orpheus Looks Back, takes place after Orpheus has returned to the world of the living. In the piano, he sings a nostalgic love song; he tries to convince the Gods to release Eurydice. He hears Eurydice in his memory singing in the solo strings, turns to music itself for strength and solace as the elemental sequence of pure chords return in the orchestra. He rapidly works his way through the series of emotions dealing with loss: anger, denial, bargaining, finally, acceptance as the trio plays alone. The lovers are finally united in Orpheus’ heart and soul. The concerto / opera ends with Orpheus calmly looking forward, anticipating the day when in the Afterlife he and his Great Love will at last be reunited.
— Daron Hagen, 2007
"Hagen's Triple Concerto is music that's easy to appreciate at first hearing, but not because its tonal grammar talks down to the listener. Like his teacher Ned Rorem (to whose elegant craftsmanship Hagen's music owes a clear debt), the latter reimagines traditional melodic and harmonic contexts in all sorts of fresh, charming and even surprising ways. "Orpheus and Eurydice" is one piece listeners who have turned off to the dreary dissonances the modernist "serial killers" (as Rorem calls them) have been cranking out for decades should welcome with open ears. It's good news that the Amelia Trio will take the concerto to other youth and college-level orchestras. Kreston, Duckles and Aizawa make a superb team, and together they dug into the piece with a gusto and polish that did the piece proud. I cannot imagine any adult orchestra doing a more thorough job than Tinkham's fine group of preprofessional, college-bound players."
— John von Rhein, The Chicago Tribune, 11/20/07