For solo violin and string orchestra (2014)
Commissioned and premiered by French violonist Marie Cantagrill and Orchestre de chambre d’Ariège (France)
I composed Phoenix for virtuoso violinist Marie Cantagrill, who performed it February 5, 2015, during the Ariege Chamber Orchestra residence. My work received a very warm welcome, as evidenced in the reviews included with this note. Marie and the orchestra plan to do a recording on the piece as soon as their schedule permits.
The phoenix is a mythical bird existing in the imaginative space between nature and technology. The link tying this musical Phoenix to aeronautics, which is the economic engine of the Midi-Pyrenees region, is the flight of birds echoed in the graceful aerobatics executed by pilots at the controls of their metallic aircraft – which are modeled on the dynamics of natural flight. Listening to my piece, we distinctly hear a multitude of wings in flight. And we feel the multiple transformations the phoenix undergoes – before being reborn from its own ashes.
When we analyze the creative process, it is interesting to observe the trajectory of the thinking related to objectives set out at the beginning of the project – i.e., the moment the work was conceived. Once the work is created, we look back, to get an idea of the path we’ve just be on. It’s a bit like surfacing after a dive into deep water. In August of 2014, I received a commission from French violinist Marie Cantagrill. The following text was written a few weeks later, in early September 2014. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to note at which point I had stayed true to my original intentions.
There was no mention of Cortège des oiseaux or the existence of Bûcher in the short prologue to my composition. It was only following much reading and research on the Internet that the necessity of inserting these elements into the piece became clear to me.
The narrative link is important for me when I am composing. Putting diverse musical sections in place is motivated by dramatic objectives. The imagery the listener forms in his/her mind is not only forged by the music per se, but also by non-musical elements supporting it. For that reason, the choice of a title is never a banal after-thought. As much as it does for an audience, the title of the piece puts the musician interpreting the music in sync with a musical thought and narrative line. Phœnix meets these criteria.
Phœnix the word carries different meanings, but the most compelling refers to a mythical bird emerging from its own ashes. And this is exactly what I hope to achieve! I want to put into music the rebirth of a spirit, a body, and above all the increasingly widespread phenomenon marking this digital era: the constant reorienting of a life or a career. The “cradle-to-grave” straight line no longer exists in our lives. Whether a new direction may be technological, social or personal, the spirit of the phoenix represents these ideas of renewal, adaptation, mutation. Man should follow in the image of updating software, and learn to redefine himself while maintaining the integrity of his essential character. Thus this piece is written a particular way, reflecting my own creative life, and, I believe, the astonishing life of Marie Cantagrill, who has returned to her native Ariège region of France, where she draws from her entire life experience in creating her music.
The structure of my composition follows the phoenix’s life cycle. When he first saw this creature, Gaius Julius Solinus wrote “…it is the size of an eagle, the head ornamented with a tuft of plumes, the lower jaw is wattled, the neck striped in gold, the rest of the body is purple, except the tail, which is azure, sewn with crimson feathers.”* It is a structure in the form of an ellipse. We are witness to the period of its life that leads to its rebirth. We can already identify certain musical characteristics: energy, strength, a wide range of flight and grace in movement. The challenge is to link it all with a strong directing guide: the violin.
Translation in English by John Brooke