Cityscape (2005)

Duration: 6’30

Instrumentation: Chamber Ensemble
flute, oboe, 2 clarinets, horn, trumpet, trombone,
2 percussion, piano, 2 violins, viola, violoncello, contrabass

Written for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music New Music Ensemble
Jasques Desjardin, Conductor

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Cityscape depicts the miraculous invention of the urban community, i.e. city. When writing this piece I indeed had New York City in my mind, as the Big Apple represents the giant metropolis of the American culture. What is fascinating of the modern birth of the urban revolution is that worlds within worlds solely exist in just one city. More than just communities, a culture juxtaposed against another is a reality in a compact environment such as New York. I tried to paint the everyday life of Manhattan, such as Wall Street, Central Park, Harlem, and Greenwich Village; all separated a few blocks away, yet worlds apart. Once a musical trademark of the Big Apple, derivative jazz motives and jazz-like progressions in Cityscape are intertwined with the main sections of the piece. At times it is the foreground, then becomes an echo of a middleground to depict the contrast worlds of, for example, Harlem versus Times Square.

The beginning opens with an introduction of mysterious string clusters with a foreshadowing pitch bend against the short Jazz motive. The clusters pick up and disintegrate into a fast pulsing section of minimalist texture that represents the fervor of the New York corporate bustle. The section then blends into a mysterious dissonant polychord, while the jazz textures creep in as an echo. The next section, or one can say the next “world” in Cityscape depicts the tranquil nocturnal life of the Upper West Side. One can correlate the idea of Charles Ives “Central Park in the Dark” in this section. However, there is no musical reference whatsoever. The pitch bends in the woodwinds against the string harmonics with the resonating jazz textures represent the illusion of time and how the market beast of New York is a disillusion in itself. When writing the pitch bends I had thought of Salvador Dali’s famous painting “The Perception of Memory” to represent the limitation of our existence with the boundary of time that New York is sadly known for. The section fades into an anticipated build up of individualized rhythmic motives as the opening chromatic clusters blends with the repeated woodwind motives before a complete climax of the whole ensemble; the jazz tune soars out in the foreground before the final release. In addition, the derivative progression in the piano overlaps in the next section, resembling a broken record that is just a distant memory of the golden age of New York culture that once existed from the roaring twenties up to the late 50’s.

It is a new day, or a new beginning in Cityscape as the next section depicts an innocent quality of sunrise and fresh air as new motives and ideas throughout the ensemble spring about against a static chord while the jazz tune slowly repeats itself. Another climax takes place that paints an eternal bliss, yet comes to a complete halt with the jazz tune again in the foreground. The piece concludes as the perception of time is brought about by a chromatic cluster chord in the background as a repeating piano motive with the jazz tune interlocked with a distant bell fades out. Finally, the string clusters from the introduction make its last appearance to achieve the journey that Cityscape so desperately tries to capture.