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Lyre of Orpheus program notes

Lyre of Orpheus was composed for Concertante, the New York-based string sextet, for its ONE PLUS FIVE Project, a three-year, six-composer commissioning project designed to create six string sextets, each featuring one of Concertante core players.

This particular commission was made with the goal of giving center-stage to the ensemble’s first cello, a choice I was especially grateful for, not only because it features Zvi Plesser, the outstanding Israeli cellist, but also because it gave me an opportunity to highlight an instrument for which, from a very early stage in my life, I have felt a special affinity. The cello’s “soul,” so naturally combining passion and lyricism, has always touched me in a special way.

As sometimes happens, naming the piece was the final act in the process of creation. Once titled, though, I found myself looking through the piece with a mixture of delight and astonishment–the narrative of this almost iconic mythological story of love and loss seems as one entirely plausible, and to my mind convincing, way to trace the unfolding of the musical events. Of course, the music was written with no such tale (or any tale, for that matter) in mind. But perhaps some stories are emblematic of so much that is part of our lives and psyches, of our desires, fears and wishes. Orpheus, whose longing for Eurydice recognizes no boundaries of heaven and hell… Love regained, then forever lost… Orpheus’ lyre intoning his sorrowful yearning…

Lyre of Orpheus, approximately fifteen minutes in length, composed in late 2008, is intermittently songful, caressing, passionate, pained, ferocious, longing. The instrumentation consists of 2 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, the first of which is the soloist/protagonist, the second notable for having its lowest string tuned down a third to achieve extra lower notes.

This commission has been made possible by the Chamber Music America Commissioning Program, with funding generously provided by the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund.

 

Shulamit Ran