Gesture Drawings


Gesture Drawings


four sketches for orchestra (2006)

  • Premiere: 5,7 May 2006 / Long Music Center, Colchester, Vermont / The Vermont Youth Symphony / Troy Peters

  • Instrumentation:

  • Duration: 17'

  • Dedication: "Commissioned by the Vermont Youth Orchestra, Troy Peters, Music Director, 2006"

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  1. Tones in Black and White (Chaconne)

  2. Koine (Passacaglia)

  3. To Wash Our Souls (Melodía & Chorale)

  4. Day Lily in Pastel (Variations)

Program note

Composer / conductor Troy Peters

Composer / conductor Troy Peters

Gesture drawing is a method of training hands to quickly sketch what the brain has already seen. A gesture drawing does not show the surface details of an object, rather the forces that are contained within that object. It involves an almost complete loss of conscious thought and allows the artist simply to react to what he sees. 

I was given four pieces of visual artwork by young Vermonters — Sonja Rose's Tones in Black and White, Suzanne Calhoun's Koine, Kelsey Calhoun's To Wash Our Souls, and Kate Noble's Day Lily in Pastel — and asked to respond to them in music.  

Music is an abstract art form; it cannot be empirically proven to be 'about' anything specific. Since music has the potential to leap straight to expressing 'the forces contained within the object' it is in some ways the ultimate gesture drawing; humans reach out to music when words and images fail. 

Tones in Black and White (Chaconne) matched the traditionally 'representational, realistic' style of the picture with traditional tonal harmony, the collage aspect of the picture with the musical device of a chaconne (a repeated sequence of chords), the fact that there was a huge vertical (the candle) with massive orchestral chords that 'melted' away, and the musical staff with the idea of making music that was 'about' music. 

Koine (Passacaglia) means, according to the artist, 'common tongue.' The vibrant colors struck me as reaching toward the primordial; the depiction of the instruments was abstract, but somewhat representational, as though they were emerging from chaos, perhaps having just been invented. I set down the primitive rhythm of a passacaglia (a repeated sequence of notes) in the timpani, overlaid the calls of prehistoric instrumental beasts in the winds and brass, and splashed the susurrus of a breeze through the branches of ancient jungles in the strings. 

To Wash Our Souls (Melodia & Chorale) is an abstract waterscape that skews perspective so that one is simultaneously looking into a whirlpool's abyss and experiencing the upward flash of spindrift. Melody in music manages the same magic: it can simultaneously ponder the abyss and describe that which lifts us up. If music really does, as the 17th century proverb by Congreve tells us, have 'charms to soothe a savage breast,' then nothing soothes like a chorale. 

Day Lily in Pastel (Variations) is a representational essay in color and form. The painter took a photograph of a lily, and then painted from it a celebration of the 'forces contained within' the lily. A composer making variations on another composer's theme is doing something similar. Ms. Noble is a violinist, so I plucked a theme from the great Beethoven Violin Concerto and varied it five different ways. I allowed Beethoven's theme to conjure the ghosts of other themes (by three of my favorite B's, among others — Barber, Bernstein, and Berg) that share some of the same notes, as well as fond recollections of who I was and what I liked to play when I was in a youth orchestra myself thirty years ago. 

The piece was commissioned by the Vermont Youth Orchestra and premiered on 5 May 2006 at the Long Music Center in Colchester, Vermont. It is dedicated to the Vermont Youth Orchestra, and its Music Director Troy Peters, who led the first performance. 

— Daron Hagen, 2006