Grand Line


Grand Line


a tribute to Leonard Bernstein (1987)

What an exciting, inspiring, and intellectually stimulating birthday gift!
— Leonard Bernstein, letter to Daron Hagen, 11/5/87
  • Premiere: 9 November 1987  / Trinity Church, Denver, Colorado  / Denver Chamber Orchestra / JoAnn Falletta
  • Instrumentation: 2(II=picc).2.2.2-
  • Dedication: "Commissioned by the Denver Chamber Orchestra, to Leonard Bernstein" 
  • Duration: 10.5'
  • This is presently a rental work only.

Program Note

The title refers to the melody which begins, in medias res, at the start of the piece, gradually rising from the bottom of the orchestra's range to the top, and then descending once more, in a ten minute arc. The piece ends as though in mid-thought, implying that the line itself is endless: 'J'entends une musique,' said Nadia Boulanger, whose spirit hovers over this piece, sans commencement et sans fin.' ('I hear a music without beginning or end.')The tune is to this piece what a spine is to a body, or what a canvas is to a painter. As a visual artist uses the technique of collage to manipulate space by superimposing objects, I have attempted to manipulate time by causing the melody to move at a consistent rate while the events around it shift into different time worlds. The work's various musical ideas, each progressing at their own speed, are juxtaposed, overlapped as transparencies, mixed as colours, sometimes obscuring the melodic spine or canvas, but always intimately related to it.

Grand Line was commissioned by the Denver Chamber Orchestra in honor of Leonard Bernstein. Music Director JoAnn Falletta conducted the first performance on 9 November 1987 by the Denver Chamber Orchestra at Trinity Church of Denver, Colorado.

— Daron Hagen, 1987


Hagen explained before the performance that there were two ingredients to listen for in his piece: a basic line — which begins with the cellos, moves through the orchestra upwards to the violins and, descending, finally ends again in the cellos — and the collage effect, in which areas of the piece sound much the way a painting looks. He encouraged the audience to listen as though viewing a painting. The piece exhibited the beautiful colors that Hagen stressed, and solid, top-notch orchestration, as well. The strings, at times, were used in broad sweeping gestures with a multitude of activity underneath, with practically everyone playing. It did sound like a collage, but the instrumental voices melded together without clashing. Hagen handled the voicing so well that individual instrumental treatment was easily discernable, yet all within a large wash of sound. Hagen also used a small string ensemble effectively to contrast this large sound before the line began its descent. He had excellent control over this line, never allowing it to lose impact or momentum.

— Anne Kilstofte, The Denver Post, 11/11/87

There was the premiere of a short piece by young Daron Hagen that tested the audience rather than catering to it. Hagen's 12-minute  Grand Lineproved a dense, remarkably complex piece, rich in orchestral effects yet never gimmicky in its use of the assembled forces. The composer has admitted his debt to previous generations of musical craftsmen, and it certainly showed. Inescapable were the stamps of Ives, Nielsen and others of the ilk that delighted in experimenting with multiple melodic paths travelled simultaneously. The contrast of these layers of musical goings-on might prove confusing on first hearing, yet somehow Hagen brought it off -- for these ears, at least.

— Marc Shulgold, The Rocky Mountain News, 11/10/87