Orchestration: 3 flutes (2nd = alto flute, 3rd = piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd = English horn), 4 clarinets (2nd = E-flat clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd = contrabassoon), 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (2 vibraphones, washboard, guiro, triangle, chimes, flextone, 2 metal blocks, crotales, 3 suspended cymbals, snare drums, bass marimba, xylophone, splash cymbal, 3 tam-tams, crash cymbals, tambourine, glockenspiel, bass drum, thunder sheet), harp, piano (= celesta), & strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: (world premiere)
About this Piece
Among the musical institutions I have worked with frequently, the decade-long working relationship with the Los Angeles Philharmonic has been among the most inspiring ones.
These wonderful experiences inspired me to write SPIRA, a concerto for orchestra. What fascinates me about this chameleonic ‘genre’ is not only that it challenges musicians to peaks of virtuosity but especially that it can coax unprecedented textures, sonorities, and forms from the symphony orchestra.
The orchestra can be presented as one entity, a ‘super-orchestra’, but also in various chamber-like combinations, and one can also highlight a certain section or even single musicians as soloists.
Another major influence was the biological process of growth and metamorphosis, with complex material evolving from simple germ motives in unexpected ways. SPIRA, the title of the work, is derived from the concept of the self-similar spiral curve (also called ‘growth spiral’), which was nicknamed Spira mirabilis (‘the marvelous spiral’) by the 17-th century mathematician Jacob Bernoulli. In this case, the resonance of the vibraphone constituted the sonic ‘ur-cell’, calling forth manifold colors and intricate textures, as if zooming in with a microscope to research the inner life of sound, on the molecular level, and uncover previously invisible structures.
Two vibraphones are being placed spatially apart, each one with an additional musician being in charge of the controller and regulating the instruments’ resonance up from zero to the maximum. The resonance of the two vibraphones runs through the whole work as a kind of ‘halo’, but it constantly varies in detail, which results in complex interferences and changing rhythmic patterns. At some point, this concept is taken over by the string section in a magnified guise, fluctuating between consonant harmony and extreme tone clusters. This simple idea forms the basis of the work whose structure grows from the conflict and interaction between the underlying ‘ur-cell’and the reactions of other groups of instruments, with the music constantly changing in terms of density, color, character, and pulse, shifting between chaos and order, activity and repose. The work can be perceived in a multitude of ways from different angles: while it may seem volatile on the level of details, it is highly goal-directed and linear in terms of the grand structure.
- Unsuk Chin