Six Degrees for Strings (2006)
Instrumentation: String Orchestra 5-5-5-4-2
Written for San Francisco Conservatory Players
Jonathan Russell, Conductor
Awarded the 2008 ASCAP/SCI Regional Prize
Six Degrees for Strings is written for a full string orchestra. The minimum instrumentation is as follows: 10 violins, 5 violas, 4 violoncellos, and 2 contrabasses (instrumentation of actual premiere). Its running time is approximately 12 minutes. Six Degrees for Strings was premiered with conservatory performers at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on April 29, 2005. It was slightly revised after the performance. Six Degrees for Strings is based on the “Six Degrees of Separation” theory and somewhat influenced by John Guare’s screenplay and the motion picture film. It was also awarded the SCI/ASCAP Regional Student Commission Competition Prize in 2008.
“Six Degrees of Separation” is the theory that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries. The theory was first proposed in 1929 by the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy in a short story called “Chains.” Six Degrees for Strings is in 6 full sections, as one section blends into another like a series of “chains.” The opening six note repeated figure in the introduction is the main motive of the piece. This figure is explored throughout the piece using all types of compositional techniques.
The introduction introduces the six degree cell in a fugue like matter between the violins, then passing on to the solo viola in a lyrical form. The second section opens with an energetic minimalistic texture before the main melody is introduced for the first time. The dissonant melody in the violins is taken from the opening motive yet worked from a serial row of six notes. It then modulates and voiced as a three note tertian figure in the violoncellos and contrabasses. At this point the melody is spoken in a different lyrical form, answering the first antecedent with a longer expressive consequent. The section comes to a final rest as the end of the consequent is repeated. The third section is energetic and aggressive as the six note figure is contrapuntally voiced in various compositional techniques throughout the orchestra. The violas and cellos state the melodic theme before the section closes off into a harmonic pastoral-like texture. This section blends into the fourth chain of Six Degrees for Strings, with the same harmony. The opening motive comes back in its purest form as the section sits on drifting harmonies. It enters the fifth section of Six Degrees with variations of the melody and the six note figure before reaching the final climax of the piece. The sixth section, or the last “chain” of Six Degrees for Strings comes to a rest with an inverted melody of the six note figure in the violas before the violoncellos and contrabasses repeat the opening melodic consequent as the piece fades off into an eternal distance.