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Antarès

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Jean-Jacques di Tucci
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Leonard Slatkin, conductor/Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano Thu., Jan. 22, 2004, 7:00 PM
© Richard Freed
Montpellier, where Jean-Jacques Di Tucci was born, lies in the Languedoc region, not very far inland from the Golfe du Lion, and happens to be a remarkable center of musical activity. The city has its own regional Conservatoire National and is home to both the Orchestre Philharmonique de Montpellier Languedoc-Rousillon and the annual Festival de Radio France et de Montpellier Languedoc-Rousillon , which two entities have brought into being a substantial number of significant works. One of these, Guillaume Connesson's Supernova, was given its American premiere by the National Symphony Orchestra under Stéphane Denève in November 2001; like that work, M. Di Tucci's Antarès , whose U.S. premiere is being given in this evening's concert, also relates to a star.

M. Di Tucci, who now lives in a coastal town a short distance to the southwest of his birthplace, began his formal musical studies at age 18 at the aforementioned conservatory in his native city. Before long he was teaching piano, performing in chamber-music concerts, and also taking part in jazz performances. He was about 30 when his emphasis shifted from performance to composition. He then enrolled at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Lyons, where he studied composition with Gilbert Amy and musical analysis with Robert Pascal.In 1995 he was graduated with honors in composition, analysis and orchestration, and in the relatively few years since then he has achieved a good deal of recognition both in and beyond his own country, as documented by numerous competition prizes, major commissions, and prestigious premieres. He received the Reine Marie José Prize in 1996 for his QuatrePoèmes de Jacques Dupin (for mezzo-soprano and four percussionists), he served for two seasons as composer-in-residence to Montpellier orchestra, and this month, in addition to the U.S. premiere of his diptych here in Washington, his recently completed Rivages II was introduced in Paris and Amsterdam under Myung-Whun Chung.

One finds in M. Di Tucci's music a transparency and color sense that reflect his admiration for such 20th-century compatriots as Debussy, Dutilleux and Boulez. He has not, however, subscribed to the tenets of any particular "school” but has crafted his own musical language. Basically, as he defines it, it comes from the principle of discourse, but he places supreme importance on matters of form and always strives for balance between continuity and its opposite. In his approach, both textures and thematic motifs are developed from harmonic constructions, and, as one commentator has expressed it, "one can often detect in his sound-universe a sensitivity very close to nature.”

Antarès , composed under a state commission, was given its premiere in Montpellier on January 18, 1998, with Lucas Pfaff. The composer advises:

Antares is the name of the "alpha” star—that is, the brightest star—in the constellation Scorpius. Its strangely beautiful red color identifies it as a star that is dying. I have observed and admired this star for a long time; in my eyes it symbolizes the mystery of the universe, the unattainable.

To suggest the enchantment of this astral universe, I used an orchestration I might characterize as coruscating. The piece is based on harmonic material—a "mirror” chord with an axis of symmetry in its center—which appears in various ways through the use of brightly colored, shimmering textures, alternating with darker timbres that have a tauter feel.

Once he actually hard Antarès performed, M. Di Tucci came to feel that the work "needed a companion piece to give it greater impact.” He composed that companion piece in 2001 and gave it the title Sirius; it was given its premiere in Paris in January 2002 and it became the opening section of a diptych, its heavier scoring and more pronounced brilliance and turbulence, as the composer points out, providing a sharp contrast with the more inward, more mysterious character of Antarès. Following the precedents set by Debussy in his Images pour orchestre and by our own Charles Ives in his Holidays Symphony, M. Di Tucci advises that although he regards the two works as a diptych (on which he has not, however, bestowed a collective title), each piece may be performed independently of the other. Leonard Slatkin takes that option in this evening's concert, presenting Antarès on its own, and on Wednesday evening he will present it in its revised context as the second part of the diptych formed by the addition of Sirius.