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Capricious Angels (2009)

For eight players

flute, oboe, clarinet, horn**, 3 violins, and 1 viola
[**Note: It is optional to substitute the horn with either a bassoon or a cello. An extra bassoon/cello partition comes with the set of parts should you choose to make this substitution.]
World Premiere by the Music from Angel Fire Festival Ensemble; Anglefire, New Mexico, 6 September 2009
Duration: 11 minutes

Program Note

Commissioned by and dedicated to Music from Angel Fire and Ida Kavafian, with the support of the Bruce E. Howden, Jr. American Composers Project and Friends of the Festival, Capricious Angels, for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, 3 Violins and 1 Viola — with optional conductor, a duration of 11 minutes — receives its world premiere this evening (6 September 2009).

Music's eternal quality is its capacity for change, transformation and renewal.  No one composer, style, school of thought and practice nor historical period is given a monopoly of music's truths. As such, there is an abundance of sounds to celebrate in life.

We are privileged to be part of one of the world's greatest music festivals: Music from Angel Fire. Thus, it is incumbent upon us all to maintain a spirit of discovery and belief that the music of our time must be nurtured and maintained, and, as Ida has spent her life doing so, we are all eternally grateful to her. Therefore, I would like to start by thanking Ida Kavafian, from my heart and soul, for her support, and sublime performances of, my music and of the music of so many others. I am forever in her debt.

Capricious Angels falls into four sections, played without pause. Most vaguely and loosely it might be described as FAST, SLOW, FAST, SLOW, with each section lasting just under 3 minutes. There is an inevitability of form — an arch with lots of variety of character and moods. The entire work can be thought of as a chain-link of variations upon variations, extremely integrated, organic, and holistic. The notation is highly nuanced, with detailed articulations, dynamics, and other descriptive details. The virtuosity of the work comes from INSIDE the music. The finesse (rhythmically, motive-wise, form-wise, note-wise, timbre wise, etc.) is natural and organic and not "commercial" nor "kitsch."  The inner focus and precision is what interests me about this composition.

The opening features the solo flute in a 3-minute virtuosic solo, which is capricious, playful, majestic, florid and sincere. The rest of the ensemble serves as a kind of sounding board, echoing the soloist and providing a rich harmonic context for the whimsical and spirited tune. At times, other soloists, asserting their presence, interrupt the flute solo. The playfulness, and almost improvisatory feel to some of the rhythms, is almost like Jazz scat. The use of warm, resonant bowed notes in contrast to pizzicato notes in the strings is a sub-layer of color that runs throughout the entire composition and is clearly established in these opening minutes. The playfulness of the pizzicatti and pizz-like, spunky gestures and colors kee ps the work light, airy and impulsively spontaneous. The flute solo melts into a slower, lyrical, warm and resonant second episode, which, in some ways, is chorale-like, in contrast to the more contrapuntal and fiery nature of the opening section. There is a kind of "long note" phrasing, space, patience and lilt to this section. How a long note is played — the exact vibrato that is used, for instance — is key here. The resonance, created by only a few musicians, sounds almost orchestral in places, especially given the masterful playing of these world-class musicians. Gradually, in a spacious transition, this second section progresses toward a more animated and active music, which presents itself, at first, with trills and pizzicati. This third section is a variation on the earlier faster music, but clearly progresses forward and spirals outward. The final section of the work is almost "prayerful." There is a kind of unity of purpose, from each of the members of the ensemble, which merges into one harmonically rich cadence.

—Augusta Read Thomas

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Augusta Read Thomas's works, please contact G. Schirmer Inc..