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Sirius

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 Sat., Jan. 24, 2004, 8:00 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, the two parts of M. Di Tucci's orchestral diptych, whose U.S. premiere is being given in the present festival, also relate to stars.

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.”

Following 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 Sirius and Antarès as a diptych (on which he has not, however, bestowed a collective title), each piece may be performed independently of the other. Antarès, in fact, was performed on its own by Mr. Slatkin and the NSO the night before last. That work, composed under a state commission, was given its premiere in Montpellier on January 18, 1998, with Lucas Pfaff conducting; Sirius, which bears a dedication to Gilbert Amy, was introduced in Paris four years later by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France under Myung-Whun Chung. The composer has kindly provided his own note on these two pieces and how they function together.
Both Sirius and Antarès are very typical of my orchestral writing. Although written four years after Antarès , S IRIUS forms the first panel of the astral diptych. It became apparent to me after the premiere of Antarès that the work needed a companion piece to give it greater impact. When I received the commission, in 2001, I imagined from the outset a work of pronounced brilliance and turbulence, to effect a contrast with the more inward, more mysterious character of Antarès. To give the orchestra this sort of forcefulness, I had to do something rather contrary to my preceding works by giving prominence to the drums (timpani, bass drum, tom toms, snare drum, bongos) as well as the brass, especially the trumpets.

Sirius is the brightest star in the sky, and is found in the constellation Canis Majoris. The title came to me as soon as I started to look for the name of a star associated with Antares, and which could evoke the character of the music I intended to write. The work is in one big movement in arch form, with the opening climax returning at the end. Between these two tumultuous moments, the central section conjures up a calmer atmosphere, at times magical, marked by the sustained presence of the two harps.

Certain likenesses with Antarès may be discerned in the treatment of the textures and the use of the harmonic material. Moreover, there are some motifs common to both works. However, in Sirius I utilize certain instrumental doublings to give greater density to the orchestral colors (much as a painter thickens his texture in the application of impasto) and to make the chords more compact, an effect that is not typical of my orchestral writing.

The introductory section is a sort of plunge into formless matter, the strings moving rapidly on a chord that embraces the sound space. Following that, the principal motif appears, expressed in an iambic rhythm (short-long) that is to be found like an omnipresent cell in the outer sections of the piece. The repetitive aspect of the percussion, the ostinato in the strings and timpani create a sonorous magma, an allusion to the seething heat of the star. A melodic line emerges, exposed by unison violins, and not without calling to mind certain musical styles of India which have influenced me profoundly. Following that, there are a few brief interventions of solo instruments which provide punctuation from time to time in the gradual unfurling of the orchestral mass which finds its full expression at the end.

A NTARES , which, as already noted, was actually written earlier than Sirius , is a different kind of piece. 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.