composition

Prisms

for String Quartet and String Orchestra

  • Genre
    Solo Instrument with Orchestra
  • Commissioned by/written for
  • Year completed
    1986
  • Year revised
    2001
  • Timing
    14:00
  • Catalog number
    177
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    known performances
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In early 1986, the 3rd American Cello Congress, announced the Jill Sackler Cello Ensemble Competition. The prize included $1000 plus a performance at the Congress to be held later that summer. I momentarily considered writing something to enter, but then decided against it. When my wife Carole heard about my decision, she twisted my arm to change my mind, and so I wrote a three-movement work for solo cello quartet accompanied by an orchestra of cellos, and submitted it with no expectation of winning anything. A few weeks later, I received an envelope from the Congress, and opened it fully expecting to read that my entry had been received, that there were many wonderful entries, and the award had gone to so-and-so. Well, there had indeed been 30 entries from composers in several countries, but to my amazement, Prisms had been selected as the winning work. The work is in three movement, the first a moderato movement containing many special effects, including Bartok pizzicato, the "seagull effect" and others. The second movement is vigorous fast movement with a good bit of drama, and incorporates the use of tone clusters. The closing movement is an adagio that is largely quiet in mood, although it builds up to a climax with the cello orchestra split into eight parts, then winding down to a final soft statement by the solo quartet during which the players drop out successively so that one of the players ends the work on a single sustained note. Some years later, given the dearth of cello orchestras, I decided the piece would be more likely to receive performances if it were to be arranged for solo string quartet and string orchestra. The solo celli were replaced by a string quartet, which worked without requiring too much re-writing since the cello quartet had a good bit of writing in the upper range of the instrument. I also had to write a double bass part, also not too difficult since much of the orchestral parts were quite low in the register of the ensemble parts. This version was premiered at Louisiana State University with the orchestra conducted by Carlos Riazuelo,

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