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Topic: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (John Carey)

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  1. #1

    Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (John Carey)

    Hello everyone!

    It's been quite some time since I posted here. I would like to share with you what I would consider my finest work to date, both in terms of my compositional ability and my work with GPO. I spent about 10 months on this one, from April 2011 to January 2012. The aspect of this piece that I am most proud of is that I believe it is the epitome of what I have been trying to accomplish stylistically and harmonically for the past six years or so.

    The majority of the thematic and harmonic material (particularly in the first and third movements) is derived from a single four note pitch class set (C, G, Ab, B) whose numerous permutations generate an immense amount of unique ideas throughout the work.

    The first movement begins with a hazy Lento passage in which the primary motif (based on the aforementioned pitch set) of the work is introduced by the viola. The music builds to a dramatic "Maestoso" passage. The rest of the introduction maintains a dreamy atmosphere, until the section marked "More Lively," where the piece is quickly whipped up into a frenzy and then scarcely loses momentum from that point forward. The rest of the movement is fast, fantastical and very loosely structured. Here there are definitely some strong influences from composers such as Ravel, Szymanowski, and Sorabji.

    After the movement relentlessly pushes forward, it hits its climax and plummets downward, ending with a very short reprise of some of the opening material. The second movement begins shortly thereafter. This movement, a theme and eleven variations, is the "core" of the work, so-to-speak. After introducing the theme, variation one begins, which is based on a two-note viola ostinato which has been described by my composition teacher as "obsessive." Variation two has a very sporadic, unpredictable quality. Variation three (marked "Pizzicato") exclusively uses pizzicato for both the soloist and the string section. Variation four gives the impression of a lop-sided waltz, alternating between 5/8 and 6/8 meters. Variation five ("Ritmico") is faster and, as implied my the marking, quite rhythmic. Variation six is based on fast orchestral arpeggios formed from polychords. Variation seven ("Sostenuto") slows the movement down immensely and is comprised of quiet, sustained sonorities. Variation eight (my personal favorite) is a dream-like arabesque that contains some of my richest harmonic work. Variation nine picks up speed again, leading to a very dense, chromatic variation ("In a confused manner") in which the theme is combined with the first movement's pitch set. Variation eleven ("Maestoso") is the climax of the movement, which is followed by a virtuosic cadenza and a mysterious coda.

    The third movement again derives the bulk of its content from the original pitch set, now juxtaposed with the rest of the themes from the first two movements. The majority of the movement is toccata-like (perhaps containing sections somewhat reminiscent of heavy metal music), barring one extended section that occurs before the coda, in which all of the past themes are increasingly broadened and combined simultaneously. After this, the music becomes frenzied once again, reprises the first movement, and then builds fiercely to its final climax.

    Anyway, on with the music!

    Recordings:

    I. Lento - Maestoso - More lively - Giocoso
    II. Theme and Variations
    III. Allegro molto

    Score

    Thank you for listening! Any and all feedback is greatly appreciated.

    P.S. To hear more of my music, please visit my website (http://www.johncareycomposer.com) and YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/johncareycomposer).
    Please visit my website - www.johncareycomposer.com

  2. #2

    Re: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (John Carey)

    Very very nice, John! Tthis will sure shine when performed by live musicians... Didn't have the time to listen to it all, but it's a perfect blend of solid writing and modern harmonic ideas, a combination I really like... Will come back soon to listen more as I have the time, congratulations!

  3. #3

    Re: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (John Carey)

    Excellent work John. First of all, I admire your dedication and what a great piece, it's amazing. Keep up the good work and I hope to hear from you again soon.

    Greetings
    Film Composer
    Visit me: http://www.andinomusic.com
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  4. #4

    Re: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (John Carey)

    Viola was the first instrument I learned...so how can I not like this?! We need more talented people like John writing works for viola! Bravo!

  5. #5

    Re: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (John Carey)

    Have very much enjoyed listening to this. It's always good to hear new music - it spurs me on to keep composing! Thanks very much. All good wishes to you.

  6. #6

    Re: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (John Carey)

    Very luminous, haunting, always surprising. Found I had to keep listening to see what was around the next bend. Is this 12 tone music? If so, it's easier on the ear than most I've heard. I hear the Ravel influence in the pizzicato (his String Quartet), but I'm not familiar with the other composers. A monumental effort, and very effective use of the Garritan Libraries. I can imagine the work you had to put in to get it to sound this good! I'll check out more of your music, John. Keep up the good work!

    michael diemer

  7. #7

    Re: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (John Carey)

    Great, John.

    Yeah, indeed, there is Ravel and loooooots of Szimanowsky, especially the first violin concerto. However, there are tinges of Berg (violin conc. and 3 pieces for orchestra) as well. Orchestration and harmonization extremely sophisticated. But what struck me was the excellent mixing. Did you do it? Garritan is difficult to mix, well, everything is difficult to mix and it gets even more difficult when one works with sample libraries. One thing I'd change: please get another solo viola library. Your music deserves that. Mix it into the Garritan soup and many things will change for the better, because the viola, especially beginning with the 3rd octave now sounds like a clarinet, then as a muted trumpet (especially held notes in steep crescendo), and then again as a bad oboe. The low registers don't do much better either. Very synthetic. This is a major work in every aspect possible, so do make this change. But the instruments of the orchestra sound quite authentic so it's OK there. And, NO it's not 12 tone music, (the author always returns to the C note center, at least every movement ending with it) but it certainly has lots of atonal moments scattered with 12 tone elements. I found Ravel mostly at the beginning, then you turn away (not a complaint ). This certainly is not an exhaustive comment. Many more things could be said after more listening. Do you have any large scale works preceding this one?

    Impressed, John.

  8. #8
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    Re: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (John Carey)

    Very impressive work here that will invite repeated listenings for sure. I just listened to the first movement
    and thought to make one critique if I may to make the recording sound even better. It has to do with panning.
    Some of the instruments are way off to the right, and some way off to the left. In a real listening space, one would
    hear the harp placed here on the extreme left actual echo quietly on the right. In other words, some of your instruments could be bussed and panned to other positions other than their main positions. Right now many of the instruments sound unrealistically isolated. Let me know what you think of my suggestion,

    Looking forward to hearing the other two movements!

    gpt

  9. #9

    Re: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (John Carey)

    Wow, thank you everyone! It is always a thrill (and quite frankly, a relief) to receive such praise, especially from other musicians/composers, who are likely to be more critical than the average Joe. This work was certainly a labor of love, and I hope that it will not be too long before we can get a chance to hear an actual performance of it. My dear friend Tyler (to whom this work is dedicated) is an outstanding violist, and is currently in the process of learning the piece; I anticipate that at least one movement will be performed (most likely with a piano reduction of the orchestral part) before the end of the year.

    Quote Originally Posted by sylva View Post
    Great, John.

    Yeah, indeed, there is Ravel and loooooots of Szimanowsky, especially the first violin concerto. However, there are tinges of Berg (violin conc. and 3 pieces for orchestra) as well. Orchestration and harmonization extremely sophisticated. But what struck me was the excellent mixing. Did you do it? Garritan is difficult to mix, well, everything is difficult to mix and it gets even more difficult when one works with sample libraries. One thing I'd change: please get another solo viola library. Your music deserves that. Mix it into the Garritan soup and many things will change for the better, because the viola, especially beginning with the 3rd octave now sounds like a clarinet, then as a muted trumpet (especially held notes in steep crescendo), and then again as a bad oboe. The low registers don't do much better either. Very synthetic. This is a major work in every aspect possible, so do make this change. But the instruments of the orchestra sound quite authentic so it's OK there. And, NO it's not 12 tone music, (the author always returns to the C note center, at least every movement ending with it) but it certainly has lots of atonal moments scattered with 12 tone elements. I found Ravel mostly at the beginning, then you turn away (not a complaint ). This certainly is not an exhaustive comment. Many more things could be said after more listening. Do you have any large scale works preceding this one?

    Impressed, John.
    Thank you. The Berg violin concerto was definitely a huge influence on this work. As far as the mixing is concerned, yes, I did it myself. I've always seemed to have a lot of success with my GPO renderings, and I can't exactly explain what I do to accomplish this... I think a lot of it really has to do with how one orchestrates, as well as how much detail one includes in the score. I find that my earlier orchestral works (which I had written before I had much of an understanding of the craft) don't sound nearly as convincing as this one does.

    Regarding your comment about finding another solo viola library... I WOULD LOVE TO. Unfortunately, I have done quite a bit of research, and have yet to find a solo string library that has won me over to the point where I would be willing to shell out the money for it. I think the biggest problem is that a lot of the well-regarded string libraries do not provide adequate audio demos so one can really assess their capabilities (LASS First Chair being a prime example). Any suggestions?

    As far as my harmonic language and the tonality of this work is concerned, the only influence of twelve-tone techniques that can be found in this piece is the use of pitch sets as a basis for motivic and harmonic development. There are no tone rows, or any other sort of serialized elements, though I tended to be rather strict in many sections of the work to refrain from using any material that wasn't in some way produced from the original pitch class set (C, G, Ab, B: named 4-7 according to the popular system designed by Allen Forte, which can also be spelled in the prime form (0, 1, 4, 5)). I found that the amount of harmonic and thematic variety that can be created from one set of pitches is quite astonishing, and thus, I made strict utilization of this technique a major aspect of this work's conception. I was somewhat concerned that the end result may come across as overly meticulous or even academic, but thankfully I see that this is not the case!

    Composing this way was quite fun, because it sets limits for yourself compositionally (which makes it much easier to keep a work with many free-form qualities such as this one from seeming random) and makes the process of realizing many of your ideas feel almost like putting together a puzzle -- you hear something in your mind that you want to put in to the piece, find that it cannot be easily created with the set you're using, and so you must find another way to get the notes you need to create what you're envisioning. It's difficult to explain exactly how this works; perhaps I will post an in-depth analysis of how this piece was conceived if anyone is interested. Those that I have explained my processes to in detail have all agreed that they developed a much greater appreciation for the work afterwards. I have not employed this method in any pieces that I have composed since (or at least to such an exhaustive extent), but it is certainly a technique that I enjoyed using, will use again, and would recommend to other composers.

    To address your final comment, I wouldn't say that I have any particularly "large scale" works preceding this one. My Sonata for Cello and Harp is my longest work aside from this one, at 30-35 minutes, but I wouldn't exactly consider it to be a large scale work. As far as orchestral works go, I have written two symphonies, a piano concerto, and an orchestral rhapsody that are all available on my website (and I believe most of them have also been posted here), but these pieces are comparatively much shorter and less sophisticated; I had written them between the ages of 14 and 17, and hadn't yet received any formal training in composition. The second symphony has potential to be a large scale work, but much revision will be required before I would rank it alongside this work, or really any other piece I've composed within the past four years. However, I am currently working on an oratorio that will undoubtedly be my longest work to date.

    Quote Originally Posted by georgeptingley View Post
    Very impressive work here that will invite repeated listenings for sure. I just listened to the first movement and thought to make one critique if I may to make the recording sound even better. It has to do with panning. Some of the instruments are way off to the right, and some way off to the left. In a real listening space, one would hear the harp placed here on the extreme left actual echo quietly on the right. In other words, some of your instruments could be bussed and panned to other positions other than their main positions. Right now many of the instruments sound unrealistically isolated. Let me know what you think of my suggestion,

    Looking forward to hearing the other two movements!

    gpt
    Thank you for the suggestion; I will certainly keep this in mind for future renderings. Do you think a simple application of Kontakt's Stereo Modeller output would achieve the desired result?


    Thanks again to everyone for your kind and helpful feedback.

    -John
    Please visit my website - www.johncareycomposer.com

  10. #10

    Re: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (John Carey)

    John,

    Sorry for not replying to your inquiry about solo viola packages that could be of our attention. I've been away from the forum for awhile. My problem is tantamount to yours. A few months back I bought a whole new strings library. It does not have solos and has few articulations, but had good demos and its price was slashed. De demos were sweet and good all right, but what an ENORMOUS disappointment when I tried to layer its high strings onto another library's tracks!! I tried it alone too and it sounds terribly. I am not a novice at all and hoped that by adding the library I'll finally obtain some decent high strings sound for my spweeping symphonic pop melodic lines. To my knowledge there are NO packages out there that will give one really good high strings sound, solos included. To me, even the high end string packages' violins/violas' demos sound harsh and brittle after leaving the first 1 1/2 octave. That in f and ff. In p and pp they are weak, like a pathetic whimper, and full of white noise (what the manufs. call bow noise). Of course, with each new version there's great hype and reining with endorsments, but sound quality just remains unsatisfactory. Yea, there will be 5-6 new articulations in the package, some of which are rarely used, but of course the package can be advertised like "new and improved". This is still valid for Vienna, for ex., who have a great rendition of Barber's Adagio. Everything goes well untill the melody starts climbing. Then all hell breaks loose because of the higher registers.

    So this is, in my opinion, the state of string libraries to date. It may change but so far I am not too optimistic. Manufacturers also locked their audience into the belief that this state of affaires is OK, that "mockups" don't have to have such great quality because after all,they're just mockups. And many, if not everyone, are satisfied with the notion. I told people that if we call our opuses mockups, then we'll get mockup samples and it'll become our fault that we fall for the manufs'. bunk. They say that I've become spoilt by years of accompanying strings and conducting orchestras. However, when we'll begin to really demand better samples for our $1000 then things may start moving.

    Keep up the good work, John.

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