Drawn Under (2020)

for orchestra

[4333/4331/timp/4perc/2hp/pno/str] Duration: ca. 14'00"

Commissioned by the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra

Commissioned by the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra to commemorate the Atlanta Symphony’s 75thAnniversary, Drawn Under was written to showcase ASYO’s exceptional young performers. Each section of the orchestra is given a moment in the spotlight, and a number of virtuosic instrumental solos give the performers a chance to demonstrate their abilities with challenging musical material.

As a composer, I am interested in creating a piece of music that develops a single idea by drawing multiple conflicting musical ideas from it. The piece then becomes an exploration of how these ideas with shared ancestry can regain their common ground. Drawn Under features an essential contrast of this sort between two opposing musical ideas, both arising from the same chord progression. The first of these is effervescent and irregular, the second dark, enticing, and steady. At the outset of the piece we hear the first idea in the piano, harps, and flutes, consisting of rapid ascending arpeggios that overlap in irregular rhythms, creating a shimmering texture. Soon after, an ominous chord emerges underneath in the strings, drawing the arpeggios downward to the point of breaking, until all that’s left are low rumblings and ghostly traces of the arpeggios. Out of the ruins emerges the second principal idea, consisting of a dark groove with two alternating chords accompanied by scratchy, percussive string techniques, and eventually joined a nimble melody in the violins.

Over the course of the piece, these two ideas, light and dark, jockey for influence, continually trying to overtake each other. The shimmering arpeggios interrupt the dark groove on more than one occasion, serving as the accompaniment to a sustained, hazy melody first presented in the flutes, then in the trumpets, which eventually builds to a soaring, brilliant climax in the strings. Following this climax is a faster middle section, which develops fragments of the groove into short, rhythmic ideas that quickly alternate with each other. More interruptions lead to another climax—this time arising from the groove—featuring shrieking clarinets over pulsing, scratchy strings.

In the final third of Drawn Under, the dark groove’s regularity begins to exert its influence over the arpeggios, imposing a steady rhythmic grid onto them. Over these arpeggios, the sustained melody returns—stripped of its original haziness—and is treated contrapuntally over pulsing rhythms, driving towards the end of the piece. Finally, the ominous chord from the opening returns over the backdrop of a groove consisting of scratchy strings combined with repeated arpeggios in the harps­—the two principal musical ideas finally fuse, drawing the piece to a close.