Concerto for Piano, Strings, and Percussion (2020)
Inspired by the artwork of Carlos Cruz-Diez
In Five Movements:
I. Additive Color
IV. Environnement Chromointerférent
V. Additive Color: Aeropuerto Internacional Simón Bolívar de Maiquetía
Commissioned by the Ellis Beauregard Foundation for the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and Joyce Yang.
Premiere set for October 2021
As a Venezuelan, I have always admired the art of Carlos Cruz-Diez. His work is ubiquitous throughout the country, but especially so in my home city of Caracas. For years I have carried the idea of writing a piece of music that could serve as the aural counterpart to Cruz-Diez’s visuals. This concerto is then an attempt to translate some of Cruz-Diez’s visual language into the realm of sound. Each of the concerto’s movements is titled after a specific technique that Cruz-Diez used throughout his long career.
I. Additive Color:
“This investigation is based on the radiation of color. When one plane color touches another, a darker vertical line appears at the point of contact. This virtual line in fact contributes a third color that is not in the support. By isolating this optical phenomenon, Cruz-Diez obtains the so-called "Chromatic Event Modules" responsible, in a way, of the continual transformation of color.”*
This movement attempts to replicate these “absent” colors through a musical device known as the hocket. Just as in the Cruz Diez, the eye experiences a color that is not present in the support, the music in this movement features melodic lines that are split between instruments or registers. The resulting line is then created in the listener’s ear after processing the constituent voices.
“The Physichromie is a structure designed to reveal certain circumstances and conditions related to color, changing according to the movement of the viewer and the intensity of the light, and thus projecting color into space to create an evolutionary situation of additive, reflective, and subtractive color.”*
In this short movement, we encounter different layers of material that are unfolding at slightly different speeds. There is a chord progression that is presented in the opening by the solo piano and remains constant throughout. As the movement unfolds, different layers interact with this progression. Depending on which layer the listener chooses to focus on, the overall sound will change somewhat and certain features will appear to be in the foreground, while others recede.
“These works relate to the idea that in the origin of every culture lies a primary event as a starting point. A simple situation that generates a whole system of thoughts, sensitivity, myths, etc.
The Chromosaturation is an artificial environment composed of three color chambers, one red, one green and one blue that immerses the visitor in a completely monochrome situation. This experience creates disturbances in the retina, accustomed to receiving a wide range of colors simultaneously. The Chromosaturation can act as a trigger, activating in the viewer the notion of color as a material or physical situation, going into space without the aid of any form or even without any support, regardless of cultural beliefs.”*
In this movement, I have chosen to represent the effect of the Chromosaturation through the use of musical pedals. The movement begins with a Protean explosion and a texture full of strange sounds. This explosion also establishes a D- pedal. After long periods of hearing everything imbued in the sound and color of this D, the sound of the solo piano emerges from the tumult to introduce a more lyrical and introspective melody. The pedals return, but this time it’s an A pedal. Fragments from the piano solo are heard in alternation between the piano and the strings before a huge thwarted climax brings with it a return of the D-pedal as the movement comes to a close.
IV. Environmental Chromointerférence
“The Chromointerférence came about one day in 1964 when, as Carlos Cruz-Diez was silk screening some Couleur Additive patterns, he overlaid a transparent plastic sheet bearing the same arrangement of lines. As he moved the transparent image over the Couleur Additive modules, he noticed the appearance of color interferences that changed as the pattern on the overlay glided over the one below. Where the patterns intersected, the conflicted reading thereby produced created ranges of colors that had no chemical counterpart in the support. At the same time, the displacement of the patterns generated waves of movement that flowed in the opposite direction. He called them “false prisms” because they reconstituted the entire spectrum of light on an opaque material support.”*
In the early 2000s, Cruz-Diez developed a way to apply this technique to ambient spaces, where he would project light patterns inside a room and the entire space would be imbued with these colors and “false prisms.” This technique became known as Environmental Chromointerférence
This movement begins with a simple pattern in the piano consisting of a repeated note across several octaves. This pattern refracts throughout the movement and is heard almost constantly. On top of this, we encounter the sonic “false prisms,” musical areas of conuence where different layers come together to create a disturbance. An acerbic piano cadenza brings the movement to an exciting close.
V. Additive Color: Aeropuerto Internacional Simón Bolívar de Maiquetía
To Venezuelans, Cruz-Diez’s most famous work is found on the floor of the International Airport in Maiquetía (near Caracas). It was installed in the mid 1970s and it represented a high-point in Venezuelan society and culture. The country was enjoying a huge economic boom buoyed by the rising oil prices, which brought about a huge wave of infrastructure projects. This floor became a symbol of Venezuelan progress. Fast-forward to the 2010s and this mosaic has taken on a totally different meaning to most Venezuelans. It is now the iconic background to many goodbyes that occur in this airport as more than two million Venezuelans have fled the misery and destruction found in their home country. Many people take selfies on this floor and this powerful artwork has now become a living symbol of Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.
The movement begins with a soft whisper outlining the minor version of the tuning to the Venezuelan cuatro (a small ukelele-like guitar):. These four notes (A-D-F#-B) are known by all Venezuelans and to turn them minor (A-D-F-B-at) represents a dark reversal of their fortunes. This opening leads to a tumultuous explosion, out of which a scale quietly begins to appear, as though rising from the ashes. A simple, folk-sounding melody emerges in the piano. It has a distinct Venezuelan flavor and it harkens back to simpler, happier times. Gradually, darkness takes over and the hopeful rising scales turn into ominous gestures: the multiple scales representing the million departures. The music turns increasingly manic and leads to a second, even more destructive climax. The only answer is a flock of minor-key cuatro sounds and the ghostly echoes of the piano melody. The possibility of redemption and hope still mostly denied to a people who have already suffered horrific pain from inconceivable cruelty.
*Text in italics quoted from the Carlos Cruz-Diez Foundation's website.