Skip to page content

Composed: 2008
Length: c. 20 minutes
Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes (2nd = piccolo), 2 oboes (2nd = English horn), 2 clarinets (2nd = E-flat), bass clarinet, 2 bassoons (2nd = contrabassoon), 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, brake drums, crotales, splash cymbal, suspended cymbal, flexatone, glockenspiel, gongs, marimba, tom-toms, vibraphone, wood block, xylophone), harp, piano, strings, and solo violin
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances (West Coast premiere)

The Los Angeles Philharmonic has presented a number of pieces by American composer Steven Mackey in recent seasons. Next week, violinist Jennifer Koh, Mackey himself on electric guitar, and the Philharmonic New Music Group conducted by John Adams give the West Coast premiere of Mackey’s Four Iconoclastic Episodes on a Green Umbrella program. Co-commissioned by the BBC and the St. Louis Symphony, Beautiful Passing had its world premiere in October 2008, with Juraj Valc?uha conducting the BBC Philharmonic and soloist Leila Josefowicz the soloist (the dedicatee of the work). The composer has written the following note:

Beautiful Passing is in two halves separated by a violin cadenza. The first half deals with the interaction between the sharply contrasting materials of the violin and the orchestra. The orchestra develops something of a group mentality, a mass hysteria that is both scary and funny. It isn’t so much malevolent as it is mechanical and oblivious to the nuance of the violin. That insensitivity is threatening but like a bull in a china shop, also somewhat funny to observe with enough distance. Gradually, a few members of the orchestra hear the voice of reason and become supportive of the violin. After a cadenza that impresses the orchestra with fluttering delicacy, the violin introduces its own version of brutality – crushing triple stops – which command, for the first time, a consensus between the orchestra and soloist. In this second part they retain the individuality but conspire toward common goals, unlike the first part.

“The governing metaphor of the work has to do with the violin gaining control of its own destiny, competing with, commanding, and ultimately letting go of the orchestra. This metaphor arises from my experience, during the composition of the piece, watching my mother gain control of her destiny to the point of predicting the day she would let go, predicting the day of her death. Her last words to me were, ‘Please tell everyone I had a beautiful passing’.”