photo by Dina Bova


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for orchestra
duration: 13'
first performance: 13 July 2002; NJPAC Newark, NJ; New Jersey Symphony; Lawrence Leighton Smith, conductor
availability: rental  |  perusal score
recording: non-commercial
detailed orchestration: obligato: solo vn and vc; 3(I=picc).3(III=cor A).2+bcl.3 – – timp – 3perc: xyl/chimes/crot/BD lg and med susp.cym/Ch.cym; mar/ glock/3 tbl/mtl.wind chimes/lg ratchet/BD; vib/tam/sm susp.cym/SD/4 tom/bongos – hp – pf(=cel) – str


*Please note that the included audio excerpt for Vortices is from an older, unrevised version of the score. While it retains many similarities to the final draft, it is not an entirely accurate representation of the work in its final version.* 

When I was in graduate school, the words "vortex" and "vortexing" were code among my group of friends for practicing, composing, or any other kind of activity that would demand the full temporal, mental, and physical resources of its practitioner. Writing Vortices in great haste during the last two weeks of January 2000, and under a looming deadline, certainly required me to "enter the vortex," such as it was — at least in the context of my and my friends' understanding of the word.

The first performance of this draft happened at the Manhattan School of Music the following spring. The following fall, I revised the piece extensively, trying to fully bring the idea of a vortex into play. Although always an integral part of the idea of the piece, it was only at this time that I was able to realize this concept, inherent in the thematic textures created from rhythms that accelerate and then slow down in different combinations of woodwind and percussion instruments. Amidst these rhythmic textures are also a wide assortment of sonic swirls, eddies, and cosmic clouds of sound, made by overlapping tuplets of different instrumental colors. (Alas, the excerpted audio clip contains only a small portion of these latter elements). The final version of the piece was performed by the New Jersey Symphony in the summer of 2002 as part of a workshop program for young composers and conductors.

In a dramatic sense, the piece is also somewhat like a vortex. It climbs up to a "whirling" frenzy during the climax of the piece, and then settles into a ominously serene, floating haze of strings. Bubbles of woodwind and percussion color rise to the surface while a solo violin and cello duet reiterates the opening melodic theme in an intimate, yet charged, cadenza. After the climax of the duet, the orchestra begins whirling once more before a disintegrating "explosion" marks the end of the piece.