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Helios Choros I

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Augusta Read Thomas
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Oliver Knussen, conductor/Leila Josefowicz, violin, plays Knussen May 7 - 9, 2009
© Peter Laki
Augusta Read Thomas, one of the most frequently performed and most highly recognized composers of her generation, received three separate orchestral commissions in 2006, and decided to compose three works that would form a triptych but each could be performed separately as well. Thus, three orchestral pieces with the title Helios Choros were written, all inspired by the image of the Greek sun-god Helios and the idea of dance (choros). The first of these works, which we shall hear tonight, was commissioned by the Dallas Symphony and premiered by that group under Sir Andrew Davis in May 2007. (The other two Helios pieces were written for the London Symphony and the Orchestre de Paris, respectively.)

In the program notes for the world premiere, annotator Laurie Shulman described Helios I as a single "crescendo," and in fact, the piece progresses from the ethereal, "heavenly" sounds of the glockenspiel, mallet percussion, celesta and harps to an "earthly" dance celebration, effectively uniting the sun god with his mortal worshippers. Thomas' orchestration is extremely colorful and linear at the same time; the different instrumental timbres are like threads of different colors that can be followed throughout the piece. Soon a second tempo begins, faster than the first, with a relentless sixteenth-note motion that will remain present to the end, alternating with extended, ecstatic brass fanfares. The excitement rises steadily until the frenzied conclusion.